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.
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"
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 Dangermond quickly rescinded that bold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.
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).
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!
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.