Decision Making with Real-Time Data

GIS is a platform for understanding our world. In the past, the data that fueled GIS could only represent a specific moment in time. But now, a number of new technologies are combining with ArcGIS to enable the real-time collection and sharing of data. The result? A dynamic platform that enables real-time visualization and analysis.

This dynamic platform, and the innovative tools that are being created with it, were the focus of a recent GovLoop and Esri meetup in Washington, DC. Nearly 75 people gathered to hear presentations from Esri and two partner companies about how they’re using GIS to capture and display real-time information and data.

“We’re talking about bringing your maps to life,” said Mark McCoy of Esri Partner OSISoft. “It gives you situational awareness of what’s going on on your map.”

In 2013, OSIsoft announced a partnership with Esri, that led to the creation of a product, PI Integrator for Esri™ ArcGIS™ which makes real-time maps an easy reality for the enterprise.

McCoy and his co-presenter, Craig Diffie, talked about a concrete example where OSIsoft and Esri are able to bring together space and time on their platforms to solve real-world issues.

“Think about power grids,” Diffie said. He explained that millions of homes are connected to the grid, and as we all know, tree lines can break during storms, power lines go out, customers lose electricity, call center phones light up, and dispatchers try to send servicemen to the right area — but they can’t always find where the outage is exactly.

“Don’t we have a way we can dispatch with a bit more precision?” Diffie asked. “New power grid maps are only printed a couple of times a year, and updates and new information are just not there.”

That’s where ArcGIS and PI System come in. “Any device with a time and a place can give its data to the PI System info,” said Diffie. “Then the PI System gives it to the map. Now when power is lost, homes without power turn red on the map automatically. Experience dispatchers can look at this and identify the pattern immediately and send the dispatcher to the right place.”

The maps are also rewindable — which gives users the ability to go back to previous events and figure out patterns on the map. For example, dispatchers could rewind their outage map, notice that tree branch breaks in one area have caused several outages in a year, and use that information to decide that it’s time to put their power lines underground.

Lorenzo Gonzalez, the CEO at Valarm, also presented at the Esri/GovLoop meetup. Valarm is a sensor solutions company that facilitates rapid deployment of real-time, mobile sensor networks.

“Our tagline is that we can monitor anything, anywhere,” said Gonzalez.

Valarm’s innovative approach connects industry-standard sensors, makes them location-aware, and streams their data to the cloud or to private networks. It can be a general-purpose platform for remote environmental monitoring, mobile data acquisition, and asset/vehicle tracking. And the best part? It only takes a $120 Android phone and an $80 dollar app to deploy the Valarm app.

Earlier this year, Valarm teamed up with the University of Southern California to perform an air quality pilot study on a shuttle bus in Los Angeles. On the bus the team deployed a Valarm device with the Valarm app running on an Android device connected to a USB sensor for Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). All of the mobile, geo-tagged sensor data was uploaded in real-time to the Valarm Tools Cloud, allowing the team to visualize the most polluted areas along the route.

The event concluded with Esri real-time GIS expert Mark Bramer, who will discuss the power of and best practices for geofencing and attribute filtering to help sort and make sense of large amounts of incoming data.

Real-time GIS has many applications for the public sector. If you are looking for more resources on GIS, be sure to check out some of GovLoop’s resources below.

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Esri was founded in 1969, it realized even then that geographic information system (GIS) technology could make a difference in society. GIS helps people to solve problems at local, regional, national, and global scales. Access maps and apps at Be sure to check out all the
 GIS resources produced by Esri and GovLoop.

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David B. Grinberg

Awesome post, Catherine!

More folks at all levels of Gov need to learn more about GIS and leverage it to enhance mission-related work. Kudos to you, Pat and others for highlighting this important topic.