Conference Report: ESRI’s Business GeoInfo Summit

By Adena Schutzberg

_ESRI's 2006 edition of it Business GeoInfo Summit hosted about 250 attendees from a variety of different industries. Workshops were held Sunday, with formal sessions Monday and Tuesday.

Dangermond's Introduction
ESRI president Jack Dangermond introduced what was essentially the theme of the event: "gaining the geographic advantage." He explained it simply: "Here is better than there, here helps us be more profitable, more efficient, more environmentally sensitive."ï¿1⁄2 Pursuing the geographic advantage, he argued, will transform how businesses do things, hopefully, for the better.

After introducing some of the reasons businesses use GIS, he went straight to the technology, highlighting three ESRI "suites": desktop, server and mobile. They offer interoperable, comprehensive, flexible, standards-based solutions, he explained. He listed the existing and upcoming highlights of each:
Desktop GIS ï¿1⁄2 better maps, better 3D, addressing time, maps that change to support real time change, more sophisticated spatial analysis, and interoperability. Desktop GISs, Dangermond noted, are personal productivity tools and also authoring tools for the Web.

Mobile GIS ï¿1⁄2 will become pervasive for workers (the case has been made) and perhaps for consumer (the jury is still out). For the worker, some will be fully independent, some will be "sometimes connected," and some will be fully connected and perform high level analysis in the field.

Server ï¿1⁄2 is a new IT platform. It can be thought of as a GIS database offered as a service to many types of clients ï¿1⁄2 free, thick, mobileï¿1⁄2 Interestingly, when Dangermond asked the audience for an example of a geospatial Web service we all use, it was quiet. Then someone said "geocoding." No one screamed out Google Earth; Dangermond had to say it himself. While he describes Google Earth (and MapQuest) as sweet, fast and simple, he noted their limitations ï¿1⁄2 they support only "their" data.

Dangermond did make it a point to highlight one product in particular: ArcGIS Explorer. It will be released in June, he said, and looks "exactly like" Google Earth. Dangermond quickly rescinded that bold statement and said it had the same form factor as Google Earth. "Unlike Google Earth, it can task models and analysis." Dangermond also spoke briefly about ArcLogistics Route, Business Analyst (desktop and server), BusinessMap and data products. ArcWeb Services (some 100 layers mostly for U.S.) cost $25 million to develop. He was clearly interested in showing off ESRI's commitment to the Web model for GIS.

How important is business to ESRI? ESRI GIS revenue (software and services) runs $500 million in the U.S. and $800 million worldwide. About 20% of that, some $150 million, comes from retail and commercial customers (real estate, retail, banking, insurance). [corrected 5/4 -Ed.] So it's very important, he concluded.

Business Scenarios
Instead of doing feature function demonstrations, ESRI staff presented two scenarios highlighting perhaps a dozen products. One involved an earthquake and how it would impact the supply chain of a motorcycle manufacturer and an insurance company. The second involved a market expansion plan,ï¿1⁄2 including site selection, media planning and the development of a call center.

I wasn't the only one who felt the demos went over my head. Several attendees confirmed that while these sorts of demonstrations might be down the road for their companies or clients, few were ready to understand, let alone implement such systems.

The bottom line in these demos, to me and presenter Johan Herrlin from ESRI New York, who leads the technical team for the commercial group, isn't the technology itself, but the tools to integrate it. He described the enterprise service bus (the demos used technologyï¿1⁄2 from iWay) and how it enabled integration with almost no code. He explained over lunch that in the not so distant past ESRI was outside the IT space, but now with this new platform, and other things, it's right in the thick of things.

Herrlin also noted how business continuity is helping push GIS in business. Continuity plans are how businesses "keep going" during disruptions like earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, terrorismï¿1⁄2

As the scenarios and products whizzed by, my concern centered around whether we have the people in place to envision what to integrate to solve business problems. That's not a trivial issue; ESRI and others are working to get more GIS into business school curricula. Clearly, the company has its money where its mouth is: I dined with students and faculty from the University of Redlands (CA) and West Chester University (PA) and visited with a former colleague from Bridgewater State College (MA).

Case Study
Clare Kanter, the associate marketing manager for Nature Valley Granola Bars (part of General Mills) put the company's "Where's Your's" Web campaign in perspective. (I wrote about it in March in the All Points Blog.) Nature Valley was looking for a way to spruce up its Web presence and partnered with ESRI to provide the mapping component. Oddly, she said it was because ESRI could provide the high resolution imagery, which is in fact delivered by GlobeXplorer, that helped seal the deal. The website allows visitors locate and describe their "Nature Valleys." She noted that the site has about 450 posts to date and that it's currently ranked as the number 2 new travel site. I agree with several attendees who deemed it "cute" if not revolutionary. On the other hand, we are mapping geeks, so of course it's not revolutionary!

User Presentations
The user sessions filled the afternoon. Richard Stier, Executive Manager at General Motors listed out how many ways the company uses GIS for everything from fleet tracking to legal challenges to locating new franchises. The most memorable example was a dealership that was built on top of a hill. Unfortunately, since research shows that most people patronize businesses they've driven by, and this one is not visible from the main roads, there'd been a bit of a location error.

Don Hinman, an executive vice president at Alliant, highlighted why he and sometimes we are GIS ï¿1⁄2 geospatially illiterate (I forget what 's' is for).ï¿1⁄2 He ran through a number of issues, mostly focusing on data. To conclude he offered the future of segmentation. He argued that currently it's a snapshot until the next snapshot. The future is a "video of data." That is, it's time to tap into something more like "real time" data.

The final presentation was from Keyspan Energy.

While the high level overviews of what may be in the future for some subset of companies is valuable, there seem to be many companies (and businesses that need to serve them) that need the first steps. Perhaps this sort of information is covered at other events, but I was looking for a bit of a directive.

I keep going back to a keynote I heard years ago by Keith Bentley, of Bentley Systems. This was just as the Web was taking hold and businesses were trying to figure out what to do with it. He offered specific suggestions: do this, then do this, etc. (The one I recall is putting the employee handbook on an intranet.) While that might seem patronizing, at the time I thought it was, its actually quite valuable in these times of turbulent technology change.

Additional blog entries about the conference:

Published Wednesday, May 17th, 2006

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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