Viewing entries posted in December 2017

Insights for newbies

Ella Insights blog

Posted by on 23 December 2017

Blog written by Ella Mroczek, Graduate Consultant, Interpret Geospatial Solutions

“Insights for ArcGIS is a web-based, data analytics workbench where you can explore spatial and nonspatial data, answer questions you didn't know to ask, and quickly deliver powerful results.” - Esri

Christmas came early this year with the release of Insights for ArcGIS 2.1! Insight licences are now also available through ArcGIS Online – no Portal required, thanks Esri! I got my hands on a licence and was able to experiment with creating a workbook. In this blog, I want to share two ways you might want approach Insights, if you are using it for the first time.

Most people using Insights will have a specific purpose in mind – which is great!  Insights is fast at producing sleek graphs, tables and maps. If you have a specific theme within your data that you want to explore further, you can instantaneously build visual analytics to provide the answers you need. The other advantages of this approach are:

  1. The workflow you follow to build your workbook is automatically captured in a process diagram

  2. The data in the workbook can be easily updated

  3. Once the workbook is built it can be shared for others to view

  4. The ‘data cards’ that show the infographics in your workbook are linked. For example, if you select something on a graph, it will highlight on the map, or vice versa. This adds a level of user interactivity and automated connectivity between fields and data not seen in any other Esri product, it’s a powerful way to find quick answers.

Reporting is a key component for many organisations, and I believe this is where the power of Insights truly lies. Insights allows spatial and non-spatial data to be plugged into a workbook, relationships to be established, and data filters specified. Changes, spikes and trends become immediately apparent in the infographics and these irregularities or patterns can then be explored further on the map at the attribute level. I like to think of Insights as a supercharged Excel spreadsheet that has been specifically designed for integration with spatial data.

But what if you don’t know what you want to know? You can also approach Insights heuristically, with the aim of discovering new relationships or trends within your dataset. This means that instead of having specific questions to answer, your goal is to find out the questions you need to ask. Insights is integrated with ArcGIS Online, which means you can use insights to initially scope out your data and use ArcGIS Pro to do the heavy analysis or to prepare your data schema. You can then use insights as your method of presenting or sharing your findings with others. The advantages of this approach are:

  1. Analysis on Insights is done on the fly; plug in your fields and out comes a new map layer or graph. The analytical options are not necessarily suitable for your requirements or are incompatible with your data. Bringing data into ArcGIS Pro allows you to either prepare the data for Insights or do other targeted analysis.

  2. Exploring your data in Insights, with the ability to examine attributes across fields and datasets both graphically and spatially, might mean you uncover a pattern or trend you weren’t anticipating.

The images included in this blog are from a worksheet I put together displaying visual analytics for motorcycle crashes occurring in Northland. It was fascinating to see crash data displayed from this perspective, even by creating a simple worksheet from raw data I was able to much better understand the relationships between different factors that contribute to a crash.

To sum up, I would highly recommend giving Insights a go yourself.  Sign up for a Free Trial, plug in your own data and let me know what you think ( Currently Insights workbooks cannot be shared outside your own organisation, so for now, let’s get talking about it!

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Merry Christmas from our team

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Posted by on 22 December 2017

Our Interpret Geospatial Solutions offices will close at 2pm Friday 22nd December and reopen at 9am on Monday 8th January 2018.

If you urgently need to speak to a member of staff over this period, please contact Steve Abley on mobile 021 556 864.

We would like to wish all of our clients, staff and family a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. We look forward to catching up with you in 2018. 

 Group04 High

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My Windows Dev Stack - Part 4: Editors and Linting

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Posted by on 20 December 2017

Blog written by Stacy Rendall, Principal Spatial Researcher, Interpret Geospatial Solutions

This post is part of a series which describes my development environment from high level technologies down to specific apps - it should be of interest to anyone doing Python or web development. See the first post for a general overview of the technologies that make up this stack.

Installation instructions and configuration/settings for tools introduced in this series can be found in this Bitbucket repository.


What I like in an editor

Different people have different preferences in editors: some people prefer a fully-featured integrated development environment (IDE), while I tend to like something quicker and less cluttered. Given the amount of time you will spend using an editor it is important that it fits in to your workflow and supports you to work efficiently. I used Sublime Text 2/3-beta for over five years, but there were always a few annoyances around how projects were managed, the convoluted process of installing plugins, and the feeling that you had to put in a lot of effort to get it set up right. As a result, I would often trial new editors and IDEs, which is how I found my new favourite editor - it is made by Microsoft, although (despite the name and icon) it is not actually related to Visual Studio the IDE!

Visual Studio Code

VS Code is cross-platform, free, easy-to-use, feature rich, fast and well designed - it can do a lot, but it doesn't get in your way. It has a raft of handy IDE features that I had never used beforehand, but I would now struggle to live without. Some of the best VS Code features:

  • excellent user interface
  • well set up "out of the box", particularly:
    • great plugin management and integration
    • Git integration - including diff and merge conflict resolution
  • IntelliSense (tooltips which can tell you, for example, the inputs and documentation for a function you are calling)
  • simple and effective project management
  • lots of different syntax-highlighting colour schemes available
  • many of the best features from Sublime Text, including:
    • multiple cursors
    • command palette
    • configuration via JSON files
  • other features and integrations out of the box:
    • markdown preview
    • integrated terminal(s)
    • linting
    • debugger

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Visual Studio Code showing Git integration, IntelliSense and integrated Cmder terminal

See the Bitbucket repository for installation instructions (via Scoop), configuration settings, some Sublime-like keyboard shortcuts, and instructions for integrating Cmder into VS Code

Other editors of note

If you are doing a lot of HTML/CSS then Adobe Brackets (also free) is well worth a look - it has an amazing set of tools for front-end development, although I have found it a little unstable with larger projects.

If you just want a simple, clean, fast code editor (and nothing else) I would also recommend trying Sublime Text (it can be trialled for free).


Linting is the process of running a program that checks for common code errors and conformance to defined styles (these can be external styles, such as the Google JavaScript style, or your teams own internally defined style). Linters will pick up some types of code errors and common "gotchas", like mixed indentation in Python, meaning you can fix them before you attempt to run the code. Common styles, on the other hand, mean that everyone in your team is encouraged to write code in the same way, making it quicker and easier to work together on the same code.

There are lots of different linting tools available for different languages, with differences of implementation, standards, ease-of-use and configurability. VS Code supports integration with a range of linters and allows you to see errors/warnings/suggestions inline (kind of like spellcheck in Word).

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Linting JavaScript in VS code - warning that a variable has not been defined

See the Bitbucket repository for installation instructions and initial project configuration files for the below

Python: Flake8

The most popular linter for Python is Pylint, but it has a couple of problems: it is hard to configure on a per-project basis, and it doesn't seem to install (easily) on Windows at the moment. Flake8 is an alternative linter that works and supports configuration per project (by placing a .flake8 file, like the one in the Bitbucket repository, into the project directory).

JavaScript: ESLint

There are a variety of JavaScript linting tools, but I haven't tried them extensively. ESLint is the default JavaScript linter that ships with with VS Code: it is easy to set up and configure with different rule sets, so I haven't had to shop around at all! After installing ESLint (instructions here) just place the .eslintrc file from the Bitbucket repository into your project directory.


This series of blogs has presented a bunch of development tools which I use daily that play together quite nicely. This set of tools will not work for everyone, but I would encourage anyone doing development to think carefully about the programs they use, how they work together, and continuously find ways of doing things better, faster, and more efficiently!

This is the last post of the series - I hope you have found it useful and picked up some handy tools! I welcome any feedback or comments at

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Quis Mentor ipsos Mentors?

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Posted by on 19 December 2017

Blog written by Chris Morris, Group Manager at Interpret Geospatial Solutions

From 2-3 December 2017, members of the New Zealand Emerging Spatial Professionals (ESP) came together for a mini conference/AGM in Taupo.  It was a weekend of thought-provoking presentations and learning, combined with fun events and socialising. Throughout 2017, the ESP group have been growing into their new-found status as the most interesting and progressive kids on the block, and wanted to recognise companies and individuals in the community that have helped ESP members grow. Out of this, the Mentor of the Year and Organisation of the Year awards were born.

It just so happens that I was awarded "Mentor of the Year" and Interpret was awarded "Organisation of the Year".  I'm so proud of these awards, as I believe this reflects the values and attitude towards graduates and emerging spatial professionals that I have personally endorsed and which permeate thoughout our organisation.  I want to personally recognise Nathan Hazelwood, without whom the ESP would probably not exist. He is a mentor to many and had he not removed himself from the nomination round, I am quite sure he would have won and been well-deserving of that win.

Nevertheless, for me winning this award got me thinking about being a mentor and mentorship in general.  It’s fair to say that most mentors do not set out to become mentors, rather their role elevates them to a position where others look to them for guidance.  How that guidance is delivered though, is what separates mentorship from line management - a point I’ll come back to later.

I started to think about the mentors I have had thoughout my own life and came to the conclusion that mentorship is a very personal thing.  Most of my mentors have not been formal, in that they were assigned to me or me to them.  Instead they have been people that I have met, who have offered a take on the world that I resonated with and wished to emulate.  In some cases, they may not have even known that they were my mentor, because I have admired their capability from afar.  That is the thing about mentors, you don’t just have to have one and you don’t have to have the same one forever.  Mentorship should be fluid because you are not trying to become a clone of someone else, rather a mentor should help you become a better version of yourself.

Mentorship can be an activity that helps guide you through your career.  It’s something in which both the mentor and the mentee participate in, with a shared recognition that the intention is to gain insights or make decisions about a particular career situation.  Alternatively it can be a conversation had over a coffee that provides a bit of general guidance about dealing with an issue at work.  Both provide value which will help to shape an individual's career.   And it is this, I think, where being a mentor and being a line manager differ somewhat.  Mentorship is about guidance, helping someone find a path rather than telling them which path to be on.  It’s about sharing experiences, not defining an action.  It’s not about the company but about the mentor - sometimes company and mentor values will differ.  Ultimately being a mentor is about being a sounding board and helping the mentor navigate a destination that often they already have in mind, even if they don’t know it themselves.

So I offer thanks to my mentors, you have helped me become the person I am.  And I would encourage anyone who doesn't have a mentor to seek someone out, who can help you with some of the hard questions in life.  Their guidance can be invaluable in shaping your path.  And finally a huge thank you to the ESP for highlighting the importance of mentors through these awards. 

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Posted by on 18 December 2017

Blog written by Stacy Rendall, Principal Spatial Researcher, Interpret Geospatial Solutions

This post is part of a series which describes my development environment from high level technologies down to specific apps - it may be of interest to anyone doing Python or web development. See the first post for a general overview of the technologies that make up this stack.

Installation instructions and configuration/settings for tools introduced in this series can be found in this Bitbucket repository.

Is there something better than cmd.exe?

As with package managers, Windows users are really left out in the cold when it comes to terminals, having only cmd.exe and PowerShell to choose from by default. As a developer, you probably need to use the command prompt alot, for running scripts and reviewing output, so a more user friendly terminal can make a big difference!


Cmder is based on ConEmu terminal (a really great alternative terminal for Windows), but adds a few useful features:

  • Clink completion, which provides command-completion, history and line-ending capabilities,
  • Git integration (depends on Git install type) which can also enable a range of awesome Unix commands, and
  • a great colour scheme out of the box!

Combined with the fact that you get nice fonts, transparency options and configurable colour settings, Cmder is a real joy to use - making everything easier, and helping you become more confident with the command line.

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Cmder using "ls" and integrating with Git

See the Bitbucket repository for installation instructions (via Scoop) and handy hints

Stay tuned for the next (and last) post of the series, which will describe my preferred code Editor and Linting. I welcome your feedback or comments at

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End of year fun at Terrace Downs

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Posted by on 14 December 2017

To finish 2017 on a high, our Christchurch and Auckland staff and partners were invited to attend an action-packed day at Terrace Downs in Canterbury.

Early afternoon on Saturday 9th December, we jumped onboard a bus in central Christchurch, to be transported to the Rakaia Gorge for a fun-filled 30 minute jet boat ride. Discovery Jet treated our team to a variety of twists and turns on the river, with a backdrop of stunning high country scenery.

Many in our group chose the option to be dropped off upriver, to back walk along the Rakaia Walkway. It was a picturesque walk which took about 1 1/2 hours through bush, with scenic lookout points to the mountains and river.

Some team members preferred to play nine holes of golf at Terrace Downs, thankfully the weather held off just long enough for an enjoyable afternoon of golf.

After a quick freshen up, everyone came back together for drinks, followed by a delicious Christmas-themed dinner.

Thanks to our social non-club for organising this amazing day out for our team, it really was a day to remember! 

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Wins for Interpret at the NZ Emerging Spatial Professionals Awards

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Posted by on 5 December 2017

At the recent Emerging Spatial Professionals (ESP) conference held in Taupō, the awards for "Organisation of the Year" and "Mentor of the Year" for supporting recent graduates were announced.

We are very excited that Chris Morris was announced winner of the "Mentor of the Year" award and Interpret was awarded "Organisation of the Year, for the Private Sector". Congratulations also to Environment Canterbury for winning "Organisation of the Year, for the Public Sector".

We are thrilled to have our organisation recognised for supporting spatial students and graduates. We really value the contributions that our junior team members bring to our organisation and our team leaders are absolutely dedicated to helping them grow as professionals. We have been working hard to design and implement a graduate program this year, for our emerging professionals to develop their goals and measure their progress.

We are especially proud of Chris Morris, who has been leading the Interpret team for the past year, and has contributed enormously to our awesome team culture and highlighting the importance of mentoring within our organisation. Chris is passionate about GIS and his team, always making time to offer guidance and share his knowledge to those new to the industry. You can read his tips on writing a CV and preparing for an interview on our blog.

Thank you to the NZ Emerging Spatial Professionals group for organising these awards.  It is wonderful to see so many organisations and mentors nominated and the spatial industry supporting emerging professionals. 

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My Windows Dev Stack - part 2: Version Control

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Posted by on 5 December 2017

Blog written by Stacy Rendall, Principal Spatial Researcher, Interpret Geospatial Solutions

This post is part of a series which describes my development environment from high level technologies down to specific apps.  It should be of interest to anyone doing Python or web development. See the first post for a general overview of the technologies that make up this stack.

Installation instructions and configuration/settings for tools introduced in this series can be found in this Bitbucket repository.

What is version control?

You can think of version control as being a little bit like Track Changes in Word, but for code (where you will want to track the multiple files that might make up your project). Version control can be quite useful in helping you keep track of code in solo projects, but it becomes essential when you are working with a team, so that you can see who changed what and why, and manage what happens if two people made changes to the same thing.

You are probably already doing it

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Do you have folders like this?


If you do, then you are kind of managing your versions, but without any of the benefits of doing it properly!

How version control helps

  1. Manage your old versions, allowing you to jump back or forward at will
  2. Create branches, which are working copies of your project (while the current version is safely stored away); a branch could be used to do some testing or development, and once the changes are complete they can be merged back into the main code base (or discarded if you don't need them any more)
  3. When working in a team, version control can help you keep track of who has changed what, record why changes were made and easily manage merging changes if different people have both altered the same piece of code
  4. Remote version control repositories (e.g. Bitbucket, GitHub or Visual Studio Team Services) allow you to easily work across different computers or between different users


Git is one of the most widely used version control systems, and is relatively easy to use from the command line or various GUI tools (such as GitHub desktop or even your code editor). Git is also really well supported across, and integrated into, a wide range of development tools - for example Microsoft Visual Studio Team Services features Git as its default version control system.

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Git history across multiple branches


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Handling a merge conflict in Git with Visual Studio Code (note that different tools handle this differently)


See the Bitbucket repository for installation instructions (via Scoop) and handy hints for using Git

Stay tuned for my next post, which will describe my preferred Windows Terminal. I welcome your feedback or comments at

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NZ Emerging Spatial Professionals Conference and AGM 2017

ESP Awards

Posted by on 4 December 2017

Blog written by Ella Mroczek and Nick Dragunow, Graduate GIS Consultants, Interpret Geospatial Solutions

The Emerging Spatial Professionals (ESP) group is made up of professionals, graduates, and students interested in GIS as a field or career. Nick Dragunow and I were fortunate enough to attend the 2017 Annual General Meeting (AGM), held in Taupō during the first weekend in December.

On Friday afternoon, we closed ArcMap, waved goodbye to Clover (our office dog), and made our way south through the perilous Auckland traffic. The conference kicked off on Saturday morning with talks from Ian Smith (Auckland Transport), Sean Audain (Wellington City Council) and Duane Wilkins (Land Information New Zealand) – three experienced and insightful speakers. Ian spoke about his role at Auckland Transport as Enterprise Information Manager and his passion for integrating geography and GIS into mainstream IT. He believes that in the future, our greatest challenges and opportunities will result from digital disruption and the ways in which we integrate innovative technologies into the workplace.

Sean spoke about his role as Innovation Officer at Wellington City Council, describing the search for common truths and problems across the city’s administration and the steps he takes to solve them with GIS and data visualisation.

Duane shared his overseas experiences implementing GIS and mapping initiatives in Afghanistan and Iraq. His presentation also included workplace bullying and the manners in which this might be resolved. A big thank you to the presenters, for taking the time to attend and sharing such interesting insights.

The weekend also included orienteering and other map-related activities, providing us with a opportunity to head outside and explore the local area. In addition, five minute lightning talks were delivered by ESP attendees. To hear about such a wide range of topics, technical capabilities, and interesting research from such a small pool of professionals was brilliant! Topics ranged from drones, data science, and robotics to volunteer mapping in Ghana. Nick and I both gave lightning talks (on the importance of personal projects and geoids, respectively), and appreciate the opportunity we were given to present to our peers. Congratulations to everyone who gave it a go, particularly Melanie van Enter, who won the prize for the best lightning talk, for her presentation on spatial analysis, Archey’s frogs, and climate change.

Saturday night wrapped up with a dinner and quiz night – a chance to catch up with everyone and reflect on the day's learnings. A big highlight for us was the announcement that Interpret was awarded NZESP's “Organisation of the Year” and our Group Manager, Chris Morris, won “Mentor of the Year”, both in recognition of our support and ongoing development of graduates.

Overall, it was an awesome conference.  A big thanks to the committee and Nathan Heazlewood for their hard work and time taken to organise this event. If you were on the fence about coming, definitely check it out next year!

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FME Workshop

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Posted by on 4 December 2017

Blog written by Daniel Nutsford, Senior Consultant at Interpret Geospatial Solutions

On Wednesday 29 November, Interpret held a workshop for our clients in Christchurch, to share our experience in FME and help others to better understand the capabilities of FME.

Attendees ranged from FME experts, to those who had never used the software before. I sat somewhere in the middle of this group - while I have used FME a handful of times and witnessed FME magic in various work places over the years, I still count myself as a bit of an FME rookie. It might not be surprising then that I was quietly impressed with some of the live demos my colleagues presented. Several FME workflows were presented over the afternoon, some covering basic data translation and others demonstrating much more complicated and automated workflows. Below is a quick summary of some my personal highlights.

FME and Webhooks – Todd Davis 

Interpret is a member of the Statistics NZ FME Vendor Panel, providing support to help create workspaces, custom transformers and get the most efficiencies out of FME processes for significant projects within the organisation. Todd, a certified FME professional, has been working closely with Statistics NZ along with various other organisations.  During the workshop, Todd shared some of his FME knowledge on these projects and demonstrated how easy it is to work with web services using FME Server. With a simple FME workbench, webhooks and a twilio account, he triggered an automated phone call to one of the workshop participants. 

FME can act as a wrapper between websites that can’t natively work together. It pulls information in one from end, processes it accordingly and spits it back out again. Todd’s workbench (which was published to FME Server) connects to an Uptime Robot Webhook and monitors the realtime status of websites. As soon as a website goes down, FME receives a notification from Uptime Robot, reformats the response and creates a customised call to twilio - a webservice that allows for the creation of automated phone calls and text messages. If you’re managing critical websites or services a customised phone call or message to the right person is much more useful than a generic email or alert.

This is just one example of how FME can be used to integrate webservices. Via other methods this task is complex and would require significant programming, but with FME Server and the right skill level a full prototype was up within 30 minutes.

PDF to GIS Translation – Alex Oulton

Alex, also a certified FME professional, demonstrated how FME can automate complicated and time-consuming tasks by chaining together multiple workbenches. Alex was recently tasked with extracting traffic signal loops from technical PDF drawings. Traditionally the extraction is done one by one due to the complexity of the PDFs and is a time-consuming process. Here’s how Alex automated the workflow with FME. This demo got very technical, very quickly!

As a precursor to FME, the PDFs were first passed through a conversion process to extract CAD vectorised linework and text strings. Based on the success of this process, OCR (Optical Character Recognition) and raster to vector tracing software was additionally used if required. The CAD drawings were then consumed by FME. As the CAD file moves through the workflow it is processes by three separate workbenches.

1)      Pre-validation – Workbench checks each CAD file for valid line and text content. Files that fail checks are flagged for resubmission (requires human help)

2)      Traffic Signal Loop Identification – Cutting a long story short, FME automatically detects the traffic loops within the CAD file using shape detection (loops are visualised as polygonal areas). It then scans the traffic loop for any valid text – the traffic loop value? To orientate the entire intersection plan, another process detects the north arrow from the plan and, combined with an azimuth calculator, generates the angle required for True North correction.

3)      Postprocessing and publishing - A final process validates the output, applies a spatial projection, and modifies the traffic loop location to appear correct when overlaid on the road network. The results of the process can then be viewed on an interactive online map. 

While this demonstration was highly complex and required an FME specialist to develop, it highlights that complicated workflows with very specific applications can be broken down into several workbenches and processed accordingly.

FME and 3D – Hamish Kingsbury

Hamish has been working with the NCTIR (North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery) team on secondment, creating and maintaining FME Desktop and Server workflows. This work has improved processes, timeliness and capability for reopening State Highway 1 following the 2016 Kaikoura Earthquake.

The work Hamish has been doing at NCTIR uses high res imagery and lidar (<0.5m), which conveys the scale of the slips in an easy to understand format and allows the user to create their own web scenes on demand. It uses an opensource WebGL JavaScript library called three.js, which requires the imagery as a jpeg and the heights as a csv.  FME was used to crop and convert the lidar and imagery to the correct locations and formats. The web scenes are viewable on phones and tablets as well as desktops and laptop computers.


FME, APIs and ArcGIS Online – Daniel Nutsford 

While I am pretty new to FME, I have plenty of experience with similar workflow builders such as Esri’s ModelBuilder and I was curious to see how FME compares. I decided to do some work with Auckland Transport’s realtime GTFS feed. After a few hours of playing around I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to publish live bus locations to a Web Map hosted on ArcGIS Online.

Connecting to webservices like APIs is FME 101. The workbench calls the Auckland Transport realtime API, and parses the JSON response. After some basic attribute manipulation and a vertex creator to plot the lat/lon values, FME connects to ArcGIS Online and overwrites an existing hosted feature service with the new bus locations. FME and Esri get along like a house on fire, and connecting to, updating and publishing services is very easy (I could also have published to GIS Server if I wanted). While my workbench was far from pretty and most likely offended many of the FME experts in the room, it was incredibly simple to create and required absolutely no programming. A big thumbs up from me!

That’s a very brief recap of just some of the demos presented at the Christchurch FME workshop. Interpret have another two workshops scheduled for Auckland and Wellington in February 2018. If you are interested in attending either of these workshops, please email with your details so we can send you an invite. 

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