And Now For Something Completely Different: ArcGIS Schematics

When I started this blog, I didn’t imagine I’d ever blog about ArcGIS Schematics. I looked at it shortly after ESRI acquired the product and it was, how shall I say, a little rough. Since then, I have always kind of thought of it as a refugee from the Island of Misfit Extensions.

I have recently had the occasion to dig into Schematics more deeply. I won’t say that familiarity has disavowed me of the “refugee” impression. It’s probably safer to say that I am beginning to be able to bend it to my will.

ArcGIS Schematics rolls with a rough crowd

So why am I delving back into Schematics? Essentially, I am supporting a group of analysts that do most of their work in ArcGIS. There is an increasing amount of non-spatial data which they want to visualize as links and nodes and analyze. Schematics purports to fit that bill and do so without needing to introduce another software tool. I am working at a location that has an ELA in place. With an ELA, every problem starts to look like a GIS problem. Basically, I am putting Schematics through the paces to determine if it can meet requirements before looking at other tools that would require an additional purchase.

On the plus side, Schematics does have some tools that enable network analysis on schematic diagrams. Tools such a finding the path between two node and finding loops can expose links that may not be obvious in a complex diagram. It would be nice if there were a tool that allowed you to find all paths between nodes but I haven’t found one yet. Also a potential plus is to link up your diagram with a map where nodes or links have a spatial representation. I haven’t played with this yet and don’t know if I will.

On the minus side: The diagrams look pretty rudimentary. The stock symbols are very basic and the symbol editor is outdated. I haven’t found a way to load in an image as a symbol. The designer tool, where you define your node and link types, define your data source, queries and the like is very cumbersome, unintuitive and non-visual. It looks like a bad VB6 app and may very well be. The designer is a separate executable that is only loosely integrated with ArcCatalog and ArcMap (although this may not be a bad thing). Additionally, controlling diagram layout is very clunky and would be cumbersome for a large diagram.

Out of the box, I would not put Schematics in front of an analyst. It is too cumbersome and complex and there are tools that do what it does better. I have not had the opportunity to delve into its ArcObjects API to see how much I can streamline things. Given my experience so far, I may not bother. ArcGIS Schematics is beginning the emit the faint stench of bitrot as it doesn’t look like any real attention has been paid to it in a while. I will push forward with my dalliance with it for a little while longer but the jury is still out as to whether it will be a long-term solution.

  • Rick

    Bill, while some of your observations are true others are way off base if you had more experience and training on using the products you are evaluating. The Schematics extension has a full team working on it and is continually being added to and improved. From configuration, there are new Rules, new Algorithms and a new Builder that have been added at 9.3. So to the basic end-user’s (in ArcMap) eye it may seem that it hasn’t had any attention, but to the integrator or application developer, a lot has been done.

    The Designer tool is for configuration only…it should not be put in front of an analyst. 1 person in a company should configure the look and feal of the Schematics functionality using Designer. The rest of the analysts that actually create diagrams based on that configuration simply use ArcMap. They never need Designer… You were correct in it being an old VB6 app though.

    I can tell you that there is a massive change for the end-user coming for 9.4 from what you describe above. Schematic diagrams will no longer be displayed as a custom single layer with hard coded symbology and labeling. The diagrams will be stored as features. The end-user will use core ArcMap labeling and symbology. Designer becomes Schematic Dataset Editor and is now a much nicer .NET application. Since the old pains of setting symbology and labeling are gone (just using core ArcMap), the configuration is greatly simplified.

    Feel free to contact me directly for more information, demonstrations or to give us your suggestions.

  • Rick,

    Thanks for stopping by. Your response is somewhat encouraging and, as an integrator and application developer, I will continue pushing forward for a while longer. The end-user perspective/experience is nonetheless important because their demand will determine the success of the solution.

    Based upon my current experience, the changes you cite for 9.4 will be welcome and will help the product a lot.

    As I proceed, I will keep an open mind. It’s the least I can do as it sounds like ESRI is putting resources behind improving the product. Stepping back, I see that the tone of the post is somewhat more negative than I typically prefer to use. I thank you for responding in a more balanced manner than the original post.

    BTW, my e-mail address is on the “About” page of my blog. If you want to e-mail me your contact information, I’d be happy learn more.

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