From a New Language to a Common Approach - Dangermond’s Message for ESRI UC 2007

By Joe Francica

_As I approached the ESRI UC this year I wondered, what would Jack focus on in 2007? After nearly 40 years in the business, Dangermond still shapes the discussion, not only for his customers but also for a broader community of geospatial professionals. In 2007, he seems to have moved the theme he emphasizes often, "GIS as an emerging language," to "GIS as rich data model" with "modeling" being the operative term. This year he is emphasizing the results of GIS, the work of GIS, the technology advantage of GIS. His main point: GIS is the essential tool in business process improvements and best practices. "To classic geographers, (GIS) is just this mechanical thing. No, I don't think so. GIS is to geography what the telescope was to astronomy," said Dangermond.

There was a greater emphasis on obtaining "results" in his remarks offered as part of the Senior Executive Summit (SES), a day-long seminar of high-level invited attendees. This was an audience that wanted substance and Dangermond delivered with examples from ESRI customers who implemented GIS solutions:
  • Cook County Housing - increased the number of inspections by 33% to 25,000 inspections per year
  • Nashville Electric - with 100 calls per day, demonstrated a 23% increase in service calls
  • San Diego Paratransit - provided 20% more trips per hour
  • Monarch Beverage - with 300,000 deliveries per year, recognized large savings in operations that were mission critical to the business
"GIS at the macro level, and the many organizations that are using it, is starting to guide human action and the evolution of the planet itself," said Dangermond. "GIS is becoming more real-time. It is giving a common operational picture. Where are my field workers when I need them?"

An operative phrase: "common operational picture." Once reserved for military parlance, it is now taking hold within many types of organizations, as they begin to see the spatial relationships their data reveal and comprehend their own dependencies on geospatial information. There are as many instances of the "geographic war room" in business settings as there are in military situations. "Getting the geographic advantageï¿1⁄2I want that makes my business better," said Dangermond.

So, what Dangermond is attempting to do is shift the discussion from just using geospatial information in the context of visualization tools (think Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth) to viewing it as an essential enterprise information technology. Even though he understands the advantage that "consumer GIS" is bringing in terms of technology awareness, he refuses to offer it up as just eye candy. Hence, he intends to inform as many high level executives as possible with the notion that if you are not managing your business processes with at least an eye on the geographic phenomenon taking shape within those processes, you are not seeing the entire picture ï¿1⁄2 the entire common operational picture.

In simpler terms, Dangermond called for "The 'geographic approach' a new way to plan a new way to behave a new approach to action considering the stack of things that need to be thought about to understand the future." This geographic approach centers on doing more modeling of geographic phenomenon because the opportunity for data collection is here and the time to use those data more effectively for even minor decisions is now. The tools are easier to use and therefore more people should be using them for essential business planning and decision support. "If I am the world's expert in flood modeling," said Dangermond, "I can build a model and give it to you, to share my models. These knowledge bits are important." The essential message: sharing models, not just data, to build a knowledge base, not just a database.

Published Friday, June 22nd, 2007

Written by Joe Francica

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