Comparison: Esri vs. Google Maps - LIU

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Google Maps ... Esri vs. Google Maps: power struggle or apples and oranges? .... Google Earth, ArcGIS Online vs. Google Maps Engine, ArcGIS Web. APIs vs.

September 2012

Comparison: Esri vs. Google Maps Links Over Coffee

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Esri vs. Google Maps: power struggle or apples and oranges? Everyone knows Google. I‟m willing to bet that at some point in your life you have used Google Maps. That is why, very often, when dealing with new clients looking to establish an online map presence, this question arises; “Can‟t you just do that in Google?”. Google has its strengths; it is a great tool to visualize a few points on a map and everyone already knows how to use it. Google also has some drawbacks, especially when integration to an existing GIS (Geographic Information System) is needed. Enter Esri, a complete GIS solution with software components for every conceivable application (desktop, mobile, server, custom development, etc). Esri has the ability to work with a variety of data formats, usually the data we work with (or acquire from data warehouses) is already in one of these formats because the data custodians are already using Esri. All this means less data conversion (which in turn reduces possibility of error), automation of workflows for updating data (property boundaries, civic points, etc), and of course maintaining the integrity of an existing GIS. Why is a GIS so important? Well, it isn‟t always previously mentioned, if you just have a few points on a map you can get away with using Google. Want to show the world your favourite fishing locations? - Google can help with that. Want to show property boundaries, wastewater infrastructure, building footprints, contours, etc,? - Esri can help with that. A main advantage of using a GIS is that it allows more complex modelling of your data, either online or offline. For example, using Esri technology out-of-the-box models/ scripts can be deployed to a server environment where an end user can invoke the task right on the web app. The range of geoprocessing tasks that can be published online is vast; there are hundreds of possibilities and also the option

to code custom tasks. The power of a GIS is the ability to answer complex questions, and nowadays the technology is in place to allow us to ask these questions, and get answers, online. Both Google and Esri produce some amazing basemaps. In certain areas one wins over the other, but overall they seem pretty well matched. As long as you are not charging your clientele to use your basic Google map you do not pay anything to Google. Esri has countered this with ArcGIS Online, a place where you can upload data, create data and share it with anyone. Esri has also made their tiled basemaps available for private/ commercial use free of charge (whether you are making money from it or not). Google has also created the Google Maps Engine where users can upload data to the cloud and share maps. We, at LGS, have always approached the cloud with great caution. Understanding the security threats posed to data stored in the cloud is a major reason we do not employ Google based web applications (not to mention some of the finer points in the Google License Agreement). This is why we employ our own private network cloud based services, and this is also why we use Esri technology—because Esri gives us the ability to create, manage, and share a GIS which is 100% secure. LGS is heavily aligned with Esri. The reasons for this are many. The data we deal with on a daily basis, the same type of data we use for the LIU, comes from various sources but the native format is always the same, shapefile. Using Esri products we can create a beautiful looking map on our desktop, send it to our large format printer and also send it directly to our secure data center to be served dynamically through a user friendly web application (such as the LIU). The LIU, for example, requires constant updates of cer-

tain layers; at minimum, on a quarterly basis, we refresh the civic, road, and property data. This data comes from the provincial government and is stored as shapefiles. Therefore, when we make an update we basically need only „copy and replace‟ the old files with the new. Data format is something we deal with everyday, and as a GIS company dealing with other parties it helps when data conversion is minimized. LGS performs a lot of complex geoprocessing analyses and tasks, for example, site selection based on specific criteria. For this we use the powerful Esri desktop application, which also allows us to publish the results online if need be. In the offline world, Esri beats Google hands down, no contest. Google just does not have a desktop application that can do what Esri‟s can do. Nevertheless, Esri and Google do have many competing applications; ArcGIS Explorer vs. Google Earth, ArcGIS Online vs. Google Maps Engine, ArcGIS Web APIs vs. Google Maps APIs. Needless to say, there is certainly an online power struggle going on here, however, it is not possible to say one is better than the other, they are both successes in their own right; it all depends on user needs. Undoubtedly, they are both big players and will continue to improve their offerings. Simply put, LGS chooses Esri because it fits with what we do everyday and it allows us to expand into new areas when the need arises (online, mobile, etc). The future is intriguing, Esri‟s and Google‟s philosophies are approaching one another; Esri is becoming more user friendly and open to the public, while Google is slowly becoming more involved with GIS integration. GIS is a quickly evolving field and one must stay abreast of the technology to stay viable. For now, we are sticking with the leading GIS software provider.