The Cooperative Geodatabase

ArcGIS is the flagship product of Esri (Environmental Systems Research Institute).  It is a software suite that has established itself as a powerful and ubiquitous player in modern GIS.  It is not, however, a one-size-fits-all solution.

Esri has a dominant presence in academia and in the public sector.  Those environments generally deal with non-proprietary data and publish geospatial information for public consumption.  This paradigm could be called "Know and Show."  The use of ArcGIS, and Esri technologies in general, is more challenging in a commercial environment.  While there is clearly a need for spatial intelligence and analysis, such information is often a trade secret.  It is usually shared internally and with clients on a need-to-know basis.  This paradigm could be called "Collect and Protect."

Any complex work environment demands an enterprise database.  This is a rather vague term which usually relates to the capabilities of the database server and the number of concurrent users.  Similarly, an enterprise application is one which supports some degree of collaborative use and data sharing.  Both terms tend to be vendor-specific and only imply support for multiple users -- which often falls short of the operational need within a business enterprise.

The distinction between database and application can also be blurred, making adoption decisions more difficult and misleading efforts to correct or circumvent problems.  An enterprise application which presumes exclusive use and control of an underlying database management system (DBMS) is generally less adaptable to a business enterprise in which a variety of users, tools and legacy systems must cooperate successfully.  ArcGIS, for all its analytic and cartographic power, is exactly that kind of system.

How, then, can an ESRI geodatabase be adapted to situations where user access and row-level security are required?  SpherAware grappled with this problem in 2016 on a project that used both ArcGIS Desktop and Server and required offline and 3rd party data manipulation with advanced user-based security.  We were able to achieve those results with an adaptation to the ArcGIS data schema which we call "The Cooperative Geodatabase".

The concept leverages some of the many ways a modern DBMS can supplement the capabilities of client applications.  Although direct GDB administration via ArcGIS is no longer possible with this design, some powerful capabilities are unleashed by using SQL Server Management Studio instead.  Schemas, triggers and custom functions all play a part in automating essential behaviors. For ArcGIS, the result is a unified environment for data collaboration without the encumbrance of constant replication and synchronization.

Building a Cooperative Geodatabase is a custom development challenge.  Every situation will present unique challenges and some may go beyond the scope of our initial project.  SpherAware can help with this, either as a design consultant or with hands-on development.  This whitepaper describes the design concept in detail.

Posted in ArcGIS, Business, Database on Feb 13, 2017