By Alex Woodie

Esri built a solid reputation in the geographic information services (GIS) world with its flagship ArcGIS offering. Now the company is expanding its business model and catering to Web and mobile developers with a slew of location services as part of its new ArcGIS Platform, which will be a focus of its 2021 Esri Developer Summit beginning Tuesday.

ArcGIS Platform, which was launched in January, is a collection of nearly 30 separate services that developers can access via REST APIs and incorporate into the Web or mobile applications they’re building. The services are replicas of location data and GIS functionality that Esri offers through its other ArcGIS products, but they’re much easier for developers to get access to and start using than when they were tied into the other Esri products.

“What we’ve had in the past is kind of an integrated stack of technology,” says Euan Cameron, Esri’s CTO.  “But increasing we saw developers who just wanted to tap into one or two of the services. They didn’t want everything else. So ArcGIS Platform is a way of delivering that.”

ArcGIS Platform is designed to provide developers with fast and easy access to Esri’s core basemaps, which consumers might recognize from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center and other COVID-19 resources. There’s also pre-build geo-coding and routing capabilities, which are basically commodities in the GIS world.

But ArcGIS Platform goes beyond core basemaps, geocoding, and routing with a slew of other functions, such as spatial analytics, IoT integration, and image analysis. Making these services available to developer through a simple and intuitive interface was a core element of the ArcGIS Platform strategy, says Esri Product Manager David Cardella.

“It’s the data visualization tools and components that go along with [core mapping, geocoding, and routing],” Cardella tells Datanami. “We call a lot of that smart mapping, where [the software] takes a looks at the data and chooses smart defaults based on how the end users or developer wants to render the data, but also the data itself.”

In addition to GIS tools, Esri enriches location data with demographics and other statistics, which ArcGIS Platform users can incorporate into their visual analysis. Esri curates data from a number of sources, and it also purchases data occasionally. All of that ends up in what Cameron calls a “seamless fabric of content.”

Esri is selling nearly 30 individual location data services through a handful of categories its new ArcGIS Platform (image courtesy Ersi)

“But there’s also the possibility for somebody, a partner, to sell their own data,” he adds. “We have something called the marketplace, where you can purchase premium content. A developer can browse the marketplace. If they see something that will really enhance their solution, then they can purchase it and pull it into their solutions directly.”

For the most part, Cameron doesn’t seem worried that ArcGIS Platform will cannibalize sales of ArcGIS Enterprise or ArcGIS Online. The new offering is really going after a different user, one that wasn’t likely to make the investment in a full-fledged GIS platform, but needed some geo-location capabilities and data anyway.

“It’s trying to present a developer-first story,” he says. “One way to look at it is it’s taking an integrated stack of technology and almost turning it on its side and just allowing developers very easy access to any one piece of it without o having to really understand or know or care about the rest of the technology.”

In a way, Esri is taking a page out of MongoDB’s playbook for NoSQL databases. MongoDB rose to prominence because it catered directly to developers and sought to solve the data-access challenges that Web and mobile application developers experienced the most often. Esri already has established chops as an enterprise provider of GIS capabilities, and now it’s recognizing a potentially much broader market of folks who are demanding GIS capabilities.

“We’ve seen an interest from these developers, but there was too much friction in order for them to gets started,” Cameron said. “The business model wasn’t quite right. So we have a new business model. It’s a pure pay for what you use.”

There is new technology in ArcGIS Platform, notes Cameron, including a new authentication model. OAuth is too complicated for many Web and mobile app developers, so the company introduced AIP Keys, which Cameron said is more industry-standard way to get access to location services.

In addition to breaking up the ArcGIS monolith into more bite-size chunks, Esri is also embracing open source mapping tools.  If a customer wants to use a third-party mapping library, like Open Layers, Leaflet, or Mapbox GL JS, ArcGIS Platform will allow that to happen. The folks at Esri believe that their own mapping libraries are better in many ways, but they understand that many users are already invested in other tools, but the company would still like to sell them location data and other location services.    

“Developers have choices these days,” Cameron says. “If they see a better service elsewhere that’s easier to use, they’re going to use it.  Even if it’s actually not a better service, if it’s easier to use, they’ll use it instead. So we needed to make sure we made these services as easy to use as possible and we had a nice simple business model that was super transparent.”

Cameron and Cardella will be presenting a session on ArcGIS Platform Tuesday morning at 8 a.m. PT during the first plenary session at the Esri Developer Summit, which takes place virtually this April 6-8. While there is a fee to access much of the Summit, the plenary sessions are free. For more information and to register, go to https://www.esri.com/en-us/about/events/devsummit/overview.

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