Mobile GIS, What You Can't Do with Fulcrum

17 July 2012 by Anthony Quartararo

I’m repeatedly asked by new fulcrum users as well as those considering it about our product roadmap. One of the more common questions we get is some variation of the following:

“Does fulcrum allow line or polygon collection in the field “or” Can I do GIS analysis in the field?”

I’ve been puzzled for some time with these questions and I can only surmise that users have been convinced by other software providers that these features are a “must have” capability. But, when pressed, the users who pose these questions find it difficult to really pinpoint a specific use-case that absolutely demands these features. I often use the analogy that if you buy an Acura in Florida, you get heated-seats. Heated seats in Florida, for your car. The answer isn’t because users (car buyers in Florida) demand it, it is because it is cheaper and more efficient for Acura to make them this way. You pay for it whether you want it (use it) or not. There is no option for unheated seats, even in Florida. Again, this makes sense for the manufacturer to do - it’s an easy sell in regions that get cold during the year, and the relatively small user-base in Florida is simply won over by other shiny buttons.

whiteboard

My take on these questions is that some mobile data collection software providers feel it’s a great up-sell for them to be able to offer a feature and capability in the rare event someone may want to use it, even occasionally, and make the rest of the user-base pay for it, whether they want or use it, or not. Users get accustomed to asking these questions because, well, sadly, it’s been their only reference point for many years. Whatever the industry leader says must be the way it should be, right? Why else would they make something if the market didn’t demand it?

Would you rather eat at a restaurant that offered 100+ mediocre dishes or one that serves a dozen exceptional ones? You might be tempted to think the 100+ offerings provide a competitive choice to users, and perhaps technically that is true in principle, it’s just not a user-focused strategy. The same is true in the GIS industry, particularly for mobile data collection. The name says it all - mobile data collection. Not mobile big-data analytics, not mobile GIS, not mobile enterprise mapping and not even mobile panacea. Just collecting data. Thats all. That’s what users in the field need.

I’m convinced that people stating they “need” mobile data collection tools to “do” other things have been persuaded by sales and marketing hype (but not actual performance) intended to ensure the inertia of leadership stays the course. In fact, part of the art of marketing is to create demand for “stuff” where there was no need to begin with. Think “new Tide”.

Well, we’re not completely done with our product roadmap for fulcrum, not by a long-shot, but we’re sure that it won’t be all things to all people. We take great care in the craftsmanship that goes into fulcrum. It’s designed to do one thing and one thing only - collect data in the field. Doing so, better than anyone else in the market today is the business challenge and yes, a touch of marketing as well to counteract the misconceptions propagated across the GIS industry.

So no, you won’t be using fulcrum to delineate, in the field, on foot or any other means, the area of an agricultural plot or a parcel - do that from your desk, with imagery or aerial photography, preferably via OpenStreetMap, but not on a mobile device in the field. You also won’t be tracing routes with fulcrum or sketching or redlining. There are other, smarter ways of doing those things, even in the field, than trying to replicate or emulate a desktop GIS on a mobile device (particularly a handheld). You also won’t be doing complex geospatial analysis or modeling or animated GIF-type simulations on any mobile device inside fulcrum, at least not with software built by us. If you’re that determined, we’re not going to tell you “no”, just visit our API and knock your socks off, but don’t bury us with unique and one-off feature requests once you’ve painted yourself into a corner. We’d rather you go talk to ESRI for that, they will gladly help you find a problem for their solutions (or is it their solutions for your problems or their problems for your solutions - oh whatever).

If you’re focused on collecting data in the field, I’d suggest you give fulcrum a try. We’d love to hear suggestions and feedback on what works, what doesn’t and what you think should be in our product roadmap, but remember, if it’s not a solution to a problem in the field, we probably won’t build it.

Anthony Quartararo

About the author

Anthony is our CEO. He thrives on solving impossible geospatial problems for Governments, industry and commercial business, anywhere, anytime.