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FileMaker and Friends: Spatial Data Visualization Increased by 300%

Technologies mentioned in this article: ArcGIS, HERE Maps and HERE JavaScript SDK, Node.js, FileMaker, iOS

Most of us watch, in awestruck horror, news of devastating tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. We mourn with the stricken, lift prayers or donate to relief efforts. Some volunteer to help the survivors. But soon, when the first responders leave and reporters move to the next political scandal, blockbuster movie, or sports upset, the disaster fades from our minds. This is when Rostan Solutions mobilizes to manage the massive cleanup of trash, ruined homes, and hazardous materials. Their work is vital for restoring communities after tragedy strikes. Over many years, Rostan has developed the expertise to efficiently manage this complex but critical task. They track hundreds of workers on dozens of crews and must provide reliable spatial data reports so stricken communities receive timely FEMA assistance, and local governments can gauge progress.

When Rostan was ready to update their custom application, they came to Scott Howard Consulting because of our experience building large solutions with complex integrations in a wide variety of industries.

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Over the next few articles we will explore the technologies involved in Rostan’s newest version of their debris management solution: HaulPass. In this article we cover the web application that gives local government and other agencies interactive maps and advanced search filters to view debris removal progress and download disposal receipts for entire projects.

Our initial web application was built using the HERE Maps JavaScript SDK. HERE’s documentation was straightforward which ensured that development was speedy. As Rostan saw what was possible with the web maps and their requirements advanced, HERE’s SDK could not keep up, so we switched to ArcGIS for its more advanced mapping technologies.

ArcGIS is a much more robust mapping platform and has become the industry standard for spatial data visualization and querying. Its lengthy list of features provide many benefits, but also came with a few drawbacks. First, the architecture of their JavaScript libraries is overly complex, unintuitive, and minimally documented. Development was arduous and slower than other mapping libraries we had evaluated. But we worked through these challenges and developed an elegant solution that met Rostan’s needs better than other popular, easy-to-use libraries. When we compared the search, display, and reporting performance of the first HERE Maps solution to our ArcGIS application, we saw an increase of over 300%!

When working with a data set of 18,457 pickup and disposal markers, the improvements of ArcGIS compared to HERE Maps was hard to believe at first. HERE Maps successfully rendered about 50 markers per second without critical errors. With a data set this size, it would take around 738 seconds to complete and display a large query. With ArcGIS, we rendered the entire set in 43 seconds!

One thing to note about ArcGIS: because of its architecture, in order to fit our desired custom- use case, we needed to duplicate the data on the map through two different layers, one for graphics and one for spatial queries. This means that we processed twice the amount of data 300% more efficiently than HERE Maps did.

Our backend technology never changed as we switched to ArcGIS. We built HaulPass on the innovative FileMaker platform for the data backend, and desktop and iPad apps, as well as a custom Node.js application as our middleware API to serve up the data to power our web application.

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In the next article, we will cover the custom iOS app we built to allow FileMaker Go on the iPad to read from and write to RFID cards using Infinite Peripheral RFID scanners.

If you would like to talk to us about implementing any of these technologies in your solutions, please call us at 844-396-7301 or fill in our contact form below.

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