Tip 3: Getting Help
One of the problems I faced when starting to use GIS was that there was so much to learn, and so many ways to get stuck! Often finding the best places to get answers to problems was something of a rights of passage. Things have changed since then of course - a lot of oil companies these days employ dedicated GIS support staff that users can ask, but what do you do when the support guys put their map reading skills to use while trekking around Nepal? Fear not, the next in our series of GIS Tips takes a bit of a detour and looks at sources of information available for getting help with ArcGIS.
First off, there's the official ArcGIS Desktop online help produced by ESRI. This contains lots of information on how to use the generic tools, and is an excellent place to start when you want to learn the basics of the application.
Secondly, there is lots of useful stuff posted on the ESRI 'Resource Centers' website, including links to free data sources, templates and tutorial movies (these are actually available in the online help but until I found them on the 'Resource Centers' pages I hadn't noticed them). The 'Resource Centers' also contains a link to the ESRI 'Support Center', and I've found this to be extremely useful over the years. If you've ever had a problem with ArcGIS the chances are that someone else saw it before you, has figured out how to resolve it, and posted something in the support site 'Knowledge Base'. Failing that, try contacting ESRI Support - you're probably paying for 'support and maintenance' so you might as well get your money's worth!
For a slightly 'behind-the-scenes' view on what ESRI is up to there are plenty of ESRI blogs to check out. These can be interesting when you want to see what's coming in future releases or if you want to get additional information on a specific product, such as ArcGIS Explorer. There are so many blogs that its often easier to subscribe to them via an RSS reader (such as Google Reader, shown below), so you can check them all from one interface.
Last but not least there are a whole host of other independent ArcGIS resources out there (like Exprodat's own blog site, also available via RSS). I'd like to pick out one in particular which is called 'GIS Tips & Tricks' - its a relatively new site, nicely laid out and puts up useful generic ArcGIS based workflows, including workflows using common third party products. It also has an RSS feed so that you can add it to your chosen RSS reader application.
So, there's no excuses for getting stuck next time your GIS support has gone on holiday...
Posted by Chris Jepps, Technical Director, Exprodat Consulting Ltd.