Workflow automation

Successful organizations automate workflows in their enterprise systems, using both ArcGIS-based and third party tools or systems. Workflow automation has a variety of benefits, from quality improvement (ensuring that steps are completed the exact same way), to staff efficiency (reducing time spent on manual workflows) to workforce development (helping new staff get on-boarded quickly into a complex workflow by automating portions of that process).

Some common workflow automation patterns include:

  • ArcGIS Pro Tasks that guide a user through a series of repeatable geoprocessing, map interaction or editing workflows
  • Python notebooks, which are used to run Python code in a series of user-initiated steps, which can automate data transformation or editing workflows
  • The ArcGIS Data Interoperability Extension for ArcGIS Pro or ArcGIS Enterprise, which can connect to a variety of data sources, complete complex editing or quality improvement steps, and output data to other systems or tools
  • Use of an external automation platform like Microsoft Power Automate, Zapier, IFTTT or Make
  • Use of ArcGIS Workflow Manager (described in detail in the following section) to manage tasks and automate steps across an ArcGIS system

External or third-party systems usually do not have any geography-based automation, or deep connections into ArcGIS, but may have steps, methods or connectors that make it easier to connect to an ArcGIS system.

External automation systems excel at connecting to notification services, sending emails, writing data to external locations, and bringing multiple systems together in a single, automated process. When working with external automation systems, be sure to carefully consider the security of that system and the access it will have to your ArcGIS system, and understand the steps involved so that the automation does not create unexpected results.

Workflow Manager

ArcGIS offers a comprehensive workflow automation system through a software site called ArcGIS Workflow Manager. Embedded into ArcGIS Pro and available through both ArcGIS Enterprise and ArcGIS Online, Workflow Manager is a robust, scalable system for defining, orchestrating, and performing repetitive workflows, which can link together desktop, web and mobile workflows, while launching other automation steps or interacting with other systems. Workflow Manager automates and simplifies many aspects of performing and managing GIS and non-GIS work in an organization. It optimizes GIS operations by providing real-time tools for managing people, processes, and products required to complete work. It drives improvements in production efficiency by maintaining standardized, centralized, and repeatable workflows across your organization to reduce errors and inefficiencies and save time.

The most common workflow that Workflow Manager supports is a basic data editing workflow. An example use case is an editor updating spatial or attribute information for a location. A GIS specialist updates a map based on the captured information. Their work is then validated by a quality control (QC) specialist, and if there are any issues, it’s sent back to the GIS specialist. This use case illustrates the basic functionality of Workflow Manager. The series of steps needed to complete the task in this scenario is called a workflow, and one instance of a workflow is called a job. Jobs can be associated with specific properties and can be assigned to multiple members or groups in an organization. Steps can perform various tasks, such as opening a map for a GIS specialist or prompting a user to answer a question to route the job in different directions.

Workflow Manager can then extend this type of workflow by sending email notifications at key points of the workflow, managing and cleaning up spatial data versions, running geoprocessing tools to assist in initial site selection, and so on.

Workflow Manager is flexible in how it manages where a workflow occurs and can seamlessly handle all interaction points. For example, work can be performed in the field in a mobile app, data editing can be performed in ArcGIS Pro, and quality control can be performed in the Workflow Manager web app.

The scenario above is just one type of workflow. Organizations can have many types of workflows for business processes, which can include site inspections, land-use planning, document management and approvals, mobile apps, and fully automated workflows. With Workflow Manager, you can improve business processes, data quality, and accuracy; optimize resource allocation; enhance communication; and reduce your organization’s production costs.