Has ArcGIS Web App Builder made other platforms like Geocortex obsolete?

ArcGIS Web App Builder faces off against Geocortex

A question that has come up a lot since the advent of Esri’s Web App Builder is whether companies creating custom built GIS applications or products to make app building easier are really relevant anymore. I have to admit, when Web App Builder first appeared I thought it would be the death knell for companies that specialized in custom GIS solutions for non-programmers, however in my experience as a GIS consultant that has not proven to be the case.

Why are organizations still using other platforms, such as Geocortex, as opposed to jumping on the Web App Builder bandwagon? I believe resources are the biggest consideration. While basic app building using Esri’s out of the box tools and widgets is pretty straightforward, expanding the capabilities of basic Web App Builder through the development edition to make more complex web apps can be a tall order even for an experienced GIS analyst. Additionally, small organizations may not have access to many development resources and when they do those resources are often limited or overburdened.

technology, development, & costs

Other advantages that are often overlooked when considering other options for expanding GIS web app development capabilities are time and training. Using a framework designed to help the non-programmer build complex apps saves time by not having to learn to write code. I’m not implying some people are incapable of learning to code, I am simply saying learning takes time and often a significant amount of it.

As with any technology there is also the fact that you must keep up with changes to the technology. How many of you had apps built using Esri’s Flex or Silverlight API’s? A former company I worked for had its hands full when migrating from Web ADF to Silverlight only to have to migrate again to HTML5 shortly thereafter.

Technology is evolving at a faster pace and as it does how we use that technology changes as well, so there are definitely significant advantages to letting someone else deal with updating the underlying technologies as they evolve.

Unfortunately, even technologies meant to be easier have their own challenges. In the case of building GIS applications you must have the knowledge to create and manage the data these apps rely on to function. So even with companies like Geocortex the user must still understand GIS and how GIS data is maintained and managed. Depending on the size of the organization and the number of different departments, data management can be challenging. Believe it or not, I am actually a pretty good mechanic and often friends ask me why I take my car to someone else to get the oil changed when I was the one who installed the engine. As with most things in life it comes down to time and where that time is best spent.

does one size fit all?

Finally, let’s not forget one important fact. Software packages are rarely, if ever, all things to all people. More often than not choosing a platform comes with a series of trade-offs. Customers are often faced with the decision to prioritize functionality and pick the solution that checks the most relevant boxes. Interestingly enough there are many GIS clients that don’t really care about maps at all. To them a map is just a nice addition but reporting is really what they are interested in. I often hear that Geocortex has much better workflow, reporting, and printing functionality then Web App Builder, so if these items are high on the list of needed functionality it may be a better option for some organizations. Web app builder development edition does have some functionality build around Workflow manager but the online version does not. The Business Analyst widget also has some reporting functionality but it is very limited and printing is relegated to the basic functions of the print widget.

Which One?

So, has ArcGIS Web App Builder made other platforms like Geocortex obsolete? No, I don’t think so. I believe there will always be a market for easy to implement app solutions which expand on core functionality. When choosing a solution for your organization it all comes down to your needs and the resources available to meet those needs. Just like with any major technology there is no one stop solution for everyone and as technologies continue to evolve more companies will likely pop up to fill specific needs as they arise.