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Takeaways from Esri UC 2012

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Monday, July 30th 2012
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Read More About: esriuc, gis, surveying
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Summary:

Executive Editor Adena Schutzberg boils down at this year’s Esri International User Conference into just a few takeaways.

Below I try to condense the key announcements, ideas and “feel” of the 2012 Esri International User Conference.

Coming Back to Simple Apps

As complex and powerful as ArcGIS 10.1 and ArcGIS Online may get, the hit of Esri User Conference (Esri UC) from a product perspective has to be the ArcGIS Viewers. Esri has introduced a variety of viewers over the past 20 years including ArcView, ArcExplorer, ArcReader and a variety of MapObjects custom viewers. The goal of each, at least in part, was to trim down functionality for simple and speedy access to geodata. The 2012 ArcGIS Viewers return to that goal but with the twist of being native apps that can be customized both with and without programming expertise. As I noted in my dive into the new line of products (APB coverage), Viewers may not be the best name for these offerings. The other “back to basics” app of note: Esri Maps for Office.

ArcGIS Online is and is Not the Be All

Those attending Esri UC and those watching from a distance may feel that it’s inevitable that they will use ArcGIS Online. My hunch is that many organizations will; for some that use may be rather lightweight. They may use ArcGIS Online as a way to make data available and easily findable, but as I suggest in my latest exploration of the technology, the actual hosting may be elsewhere (APB coverage).

I keep coming back to comparing the launch of ArcGIS Online with that of SDE (APB coverage) and I’m aware that analogy is not quite perfect. Still, I feel the analogy is valuable. When SDE was launched, I think organizations felt pressured to use it and maybe even expected its use was inevitable. Today SDE is wrapped into ArcGIS and while some use it, many others do not.

UAVs are Cool ... But

There were perhaps a half-dozen unmanned aerial vehicles on the show floor and one on stage for the plenaries. I heard talk of how after completing its mission one vehicle slowly spirals to the ground to land. There was a lot of looking and probably a lot of dreaming, but the practical side of UAV use (training, getting permission to use the airspace, determining what sensor to use, etc.) seemed to still be in the background for many attendees. That said, at least one consulting firm already has experience with UAVs in the U.S. It’s working with the military, which manages its own airspace, and thus can bypass some big hurdles. Expect military bases to be the guinea pigs for consulting firms, which can then aid civilian users when the time and airspace issues are sorted out.

Still Running on ArcGIS for Desktop Version 10

While most users were looking forward to tapping into ArcGIS Online with ArcGIS for Desktop 10.1, others didn’t expect to explore it for some time. They are among the percentage of users still using ArcGIS for Desktop version 10 who are unsure about when they might upgrade. Several of the users I spoke to could not identify a compelling short-term need to upgrade, but perhaps the maturation of ArcGIS Online will encourage adoption sooner rather than later.

National Atlas “1” Campaign Out-educates Jack Glasses and Stuffed Bears

The new “1” campaign from the National Atlas (you know we have one of those online, right?) is about finding 1, getting 1 and using 1. The 1 refers to the dataset you need at 1:1,000,000. The three-panel brochure (pdf) explains all the different ways to find, get and use the data (most, if not all, of which are free). The brochure even highlights new datasets and services coming in 2013 including federal lands, Native American lands, congressional districts and urban areas, as well as Web Feature Services and Web Coverage Services. Where do these data come from? It’s the same data the country is contributing to the international Global Map effort (pdf). Educators, citizens and GIS professionals should all check out the Atlas.

Dewberry’s Jack Glasses promotion invited attendees to pick up a pair of glasses and take a picture of themselves in them and tweet it for a chance to win an iPad. 1Spatial’s stuffed bears were to be tagged in ArcGIS Online via a mobile device for a chance to win. Those are fun, but I also enjoyed the low key, practical National Atlas marketing.

Esri Continues to Evolve into a Mainstream Tech Firm

I’m sure readers who have surfed the Web even a little in recent weeks found themselves seeing ads associating Esri and its products with the term “Geofabulous.” I noted a Google Adwords ad during Esri UC describing it as “where ideas are born.” Those on Esri’s mailing lists also received a steady stream of mail about the event and ArcGIS Online. I’m sorry to report those e-mails will likely continue on pace. Esri is trying to break down its larger, more complex messages (those that might be in White Paper, for example) into bite-sized bits in a series of e-mails over several weeks.

Esri is making other changes that attendees may not have seen or heard. For the first time in my memory, Esri held a formal press conference for some 60 analysts and members of the press. The one tidbit shared that I think indicates a change in Esri’s presence in the market is the plan to open an office in Silicon Valley specifically to support developers. In short, Esri is behaving more and more like a modern, mainstream software company. That change began with the new naming convention for the company (Esri), the wider use of the corporate logo and the renaming of the products. These changes in communications are perhaps the next phase.

Developers Ponder ArcGIS Online for Services and Data Delivery

I spoke with several developers who are pondering whether and how to incorporate their services or data into ArcGIS Online. There are a number of issues to consider:

  • the practicality of moving and processing large datasets; smaller ones might work fine
  • determining a pricing scheme in conjunction with Esri; making sense of the current “credits” and how money might flow from Esri to the developer
  • exactly how to integrate the service from a technical standpoint

I don’t expect we’ll see too much action in this space until ArcGIS Online matures more.

The Show Floor: Nothing Earth-shattering

The exhibit hall floor remained huge in 2012. However, with the Survey Summit and its exhibitors mostly housed at the Manchester Grant Hyatt in San Diego, more than half the hall seemed to be dedicated to Esri. Esri’s geography hosted industry solutions, products, customer service and many federal efforts.

The few times I walked through the exhibit hall I didn’t find any specific booth overly busy. That said, most exhibitors found the traffic quite steady. More than one noted how many “new to Esri UC” attendees they met. Once-exciting touch tables (there were probably four or five on the floor) seemed old hat. The big news with many consulting and services firms seemed to be acquisitions. I’d read, I’m sure, about Thompson Reuters acquiring Manatron (press release) and Baker acquiring RBF (press release), but seeing it physically in a booth brought it home to me.

The one booth that always seemed busy (and had a trail of crumbs leading away from it) was Accela’s. That company served hot popcorn. (Thank you for the healthy snack!) On the other end of the spectrum was IDEAS, which challenged visitors to put 100 grams (I think) of candy into a cup. If you were within the tolerance, you got a prize. My 4-H friends had a good time with that challenge. I found them staging a photo of their multi-colored treasures on the white furniture at Excelis. I hope they took some time to learn about image analysis, too!

Questions Users (and I) Still Have

What happened at Survey Summit? Did any surveying publications attend? I’ve found just two articles (one by Esri and one from National Society of Professional Surveyors, NSPS) since the event wrapped up on Tuesday. Will we really have to wait for the print publications to learn what happened from other attendees?

Esri continued to be mum about the pricing model of ArcGIS Online. It was certainly not raised in the plenary and I don’t believe I heard the term “credit” used in any formal session. More than one attendee confided that this pricing model was keeping their organization from considering ArcGIS Online at this time.


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