Alex Lange

Alex Lange, Solution Architect, Pro-West & Associates

Configure, Customize or Upload: What Are My Options?

It’s not every day that, when considering a GIS project, you need to consult a dictionary, but maybe it should be! While many factors go into deciding how to complete a project – cost, time, staff resources or technology – we should also consider how to categorize our options for GIS projects that will help clarify those factors.

The first is configurable. Looking at the configurable option, we can define it as “using out-of-the-box tools or processes that can be leveraged with your data to complete a task”.


Another way to put it is that we already have data, and we may have workflows in place to create and maintain that data; we just need to put that data into something that accomplishes what is needed. So, the question becomes “How much do we want to alter the way we do business to fill this need?”. The configurable option allows, in most cases, for a minimal number of updates to data and/or processes to product a quick and easy solution. Often, those solutions are the most powerful to the user – and the most efficient.

Now, let’s look at customizable and define it as developing a unique tool or process to create a new way to perform a task, meaning that you or someone else is going to build a one-of-a-kind solution to carry out a given task.

In today’s world of modern technology, the customizable area tends to be the development of web tools or desktop applications that are, essentially, commissioned by organizations to be their own tool to perform asset management, conduct work orders or publish data to the public, for example. They have the advantage of being made to do exactly what you want, but they can have drawbacks – time, cost and maintenance.


The last option we are going to look at is upload. Upload, in this case, is defined as taking your current data and uploading it into a pre-built tool that is designed to do the tasks for which it was built. This could also be considered an RFP option because here your organization is looking for a solution that does most, if not all, of the tasks that the organization is looking to perform and simply adding their data to the existing tool. Often, we see these costing between the first two options we looked at, but can also be a fast option for deployment, depending on your data.

You may have already seen the that three options laid out here not only have clear definitions but have shown they still intertwine with each other, so that a solution could have components of one or all three. And, as the title of this article would suggest, we are now going to look at how Esri’s ArcGIS Online aligns with the three options available.

Starting with uploadArcGIS Online stands on the principle of taking your already existing data and bringing it into a web-based system to utilize the GIS content. While this is an “upload”, ArcGIS Online does not go any further in dictating how you use the data after it has been added into the system. Certainly, we can only use the options that ArcGIS Online has available to use the content, but the user is not told or limited because the organization can produce new data and applications and connect back to our original data layers.


Here is where things get interesting…

ArcGIS Online provides pre-built tools in the form of applications like Operations Dashboard or Web AppBuilder, widgets like the Smart Editor or connections to desktop software like ArcGIS Pro. Those tools are not “customizable” because we are unable to alter the tools themselves. But, through other Esri products – Arcade Expressions, ArcGIS Notebooks and Web AppBuilder Developer Edition, to name a few – we bring the world of “customizable” into the ArcGIS Online system. The ability to have internal or external developers extend the reach of ArcGIS Online exists and is very much alive, and in a scalable way. From the simple dynamic pop-up through an Arcade expression to a programmer setting up a script to create a new data layer in Notebooks or on an organization’s server, there are “customizable” options in the ArcGIS Online world.

We return now to a place where ArcGIS Online shines. While ArcGIS Online may have some of the best pieces of upload and customization, ArcGIS Online is a configurable technology. From the field to management, ArcGIS Online offers up configurable applications, tools, widgets and much more to allow a whole range of organizations to take their data and build out what they need. Each out-of-the-box tool has a specific purpose, and that is a game changer.

Not only that, but these configurable options are many and varied. Survey123 is a configurable mobile app for inspections, surveys or gathering feedback from the public or internal users. Operations Dashboard is a configurable management tool to give supervisors an overview of departmental processes or display the detailed information behind data layers. And, widgets are configurable tools in web applications that allow users to view, manage, filter and consume content in ArcGIS Online.

Have I made my point?!

ArcGIS Online is a powerful system that has best of all three world: configurable, customizable and upload. So, the next time you or your organization is considering your options for a GIS project, I would ask you to do one thing: define your options! Because, when you lay them out, those options may point in one distinct direction.

A configurable system with so much to offer.