has become tradition for major events, I wrap up our coverage of the
2009 ESRI International User Conference with these key themes that I
teased out of the event.
Calm Before the...
This year's weeklong event in San Diego had a calm about it. There was
definitely excitement in the air from both ESRI staff and attendees,
but it was subdued. There were no big announcements from ESRI to
generate universal buzz. Most of the ânews" had been shared well before
the event. Why this calm? Perhaps it was the economy. Perhaps it was
just ESRI's typical conservatism in the marketplace, made even more
conservative by the economy. Perhaps it's simply a result of the
maturity of the technology, the company and the user base.
Image Processing Ahead
ESRI's longtime relationship with Leica/ERDAS changed in recent years,
leading the company to team up with a number of other players including
ITT VIS as a partner for image processing. At the same time ESRI's own
image technology has grown and will take quite a substantial step
forward in ArcGIS 9.4 with on the fly color balancing,
ortho-rectification and pan sharpening of raw data. In the same way
that ESRI has reached out to surveyors to support survey data, it is
now courting image analysis users to support remotely sensed data. ESRI
seems to be laying a framework to not only include access to these
spatial data types, but also to provide basic tools, at first, and then
later, more advanced analytical solutions. Underlying those technical
advances is a commitment to integrate these analyses and data types
into geospatial workflows. LiDAR didn't get much play this year from
ESRI, though LizardTech announced a new product for it, but I expect we'll hear more about it in the coming months.
I was hoping ESRI would outline suggested use cases for the cloud for
different user organizations at this year's conference. Instead, I
think users got just the first part of the story: how ESRI is tackling the cloud.
Perhaps that's because ESRI is still thinking through the role it wants
to play. (Gartner, the technology research and advisory company,
suggests we are two to five years from widespread adoption, per one
slide shown in a cloud session.) What attendees heard, mostly in broad
strokes, were ESRI's own plans for the cloud.
That term has come back into fashion in 2009. I learned about geoFuse (a GeoEye portal that offers tools to explore imagery and ultimately acquire it), Microsoft and ESRI's Fusion Core Solution
("to help public safety and homeland security professionals more
effectively prevent today's evolving physical and virtual security
threats") and even Rolta's GeoSpatial Fusion
(which provides a "geospatially integrated view of ... critical
information and work processes"). My suspicion is that these companies
are trying to bring the term, which I for one associated with military
apps and U.S. Fusion Centers, into more general use. The battle over
who will own the marketing term has so far not produced a winner.
This year, unlike others in recent memory, ESRI didn't highlight its
relationship with a major IT player. Perhaps the economy is making such
relationships more challenging or perhaps competitive issues prevent
such "lovefests." Microsoft announced not one, but two new products
with ESRI: MapIt
got just a mention in passing on the main stage; the Fusion offering
got even less buzz, though it is a more vertical solution. ESRI showed
off an iPhone app, but didn't mention Apple in any significant way.
ESRI typically wants to be more than "just another third party
developer" with key players like Oracle, Microsoft, Google, Autodesk
and others. I'm thinking back to ESRI's celebration of its relationship
with SAP onstage a few years ago as an example of such an intense
When GIS required souped-up hardware, the speediest new Sun box or
server was an attention getter at the User Conference. The hardware at
this year's event included many ruggedized devices, some "not so new
anymore" interface tools like the touch table and the "new to GIS" Wacom pen-controlled device.
Adapx hardware still draws a crowd and seems to have many converts,
especially with its new "voice-to-text" solution, but outside of that
solution hardware has become invisible, perhaps by its "genericness."
ESRI has made significant strides in using social media to communicate
with users in general and about the User Conference in particular.
While tweets were flowing (I estimate about 500/day), blog coverage
from non-ESRI bloggers seemed to be a bit sluggish. (Why write full
blog posts, when you can zip off 140 characters?) I was not monitoring
Facebook, so I can't comment on that. Did the use of these tools
enhance the event? While I'm sure there was value for many in tweets
about free food, pins and upcoming sessions, I found the pithy quotes
from speakers at sessions I didn't attend particularly poignant. I also
appreciate that tweeters in particular were quick to point out
(ostensibly to ESRI) opportunities for improvement for the User
Conference as well as the software products. I am very curious how ESRI
will parse and use all this feedback in the near- and long-term.
Inspiration in One Session
ESRI hit a homerun in the second half of the plenary on Monday. After lunch, speakers Hernando de Soto and Dr. Willie Smits had everyone riveted (and many quotes flying on Twitter). There was also universal praise for a mentor and students from Maryland
who shared their work on the main stage. In contrast with past years
when Jack Dangermond explained the importance of the work many users
do, complete with their own maps on the big screen, this year
exceptional visionaries shared their larger mission and how it is
changing the world. My sense is it was simply a different way to "get
to the same place." I heard many, many people note they felt they had
received their annual "dose" of inspiration during those few afternoon