GITA 2003…and more

By Joe Francica

San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A.

The 26th Annual Geospatial Information and Technology Association Conference began with an appropriate theme, given our current economic situation: "Adding Value to Your Business." Indeed, the conference, usually focused on applications oriented toward the electric, gas, water, and telecommunication utilities, was thematically recognizing the buying imperative of the utility information technology executives.Said a different way, "we're not buying more technology unless we can save or make money with it--NOW." Vendors with whom I spoke said that it was precisely for this reason they expected spending for spatial solutions to grow, even with the industry downturn.

However, for all the work of providing excellent educational tracks for attendees, it could not but reflect the doldrums of both the IT sector in general, and the utility business specifically.Attendance was recognizably off previous years numbers, disappointing many vendors.

Noteworthy announcements at the show included a formalization of the relationship between ESRI and Bentley Systems.I discussed the relationship, which had been anticipated for months, with Carey Mann, vice president for Industry and Product Marketing fo Bentley.He indicated that although, there was some overlap in functionality in the respective product lines between the two companies, that the workflow of user needs from design to spatial analysis presented an opportunity to work more closely with ESRI with a focus on interoperability between software platforms.At this stage, there are no demonstrations readily available to fully understand the workflow, something that Mr.Mann said would be more readily available at the ESRI Business Partners conference coming within the next few weeks, and certainly by the ESRI User's Conference in July.It is clear, however, that both companies want to deliver content management in a multi-user environment among the file formats created in ArcInfo and MicroStation. But user's who have purchased MicroStation, MicroStation Geographics, ArcInfo and its editing tools, will be faced with choices about which products to use.

The final panel session (more fully discussed below-See Key Discussion Issues) at the show included a timely discussion about Homeland Security in an area that the U.S.has extreme vulnerability: utility infrastructure. It was enlightening to learn from panel member Denis O'Brien an Executive Vice President with PECO, the steps his company was taking to protect its assets.From cyber-security to increased "physical security" near operating plants as well as rethinking the size and distribution of substations, PECO is not waiting for the government to tell them how to protect themselves should the lights go out.

Finally, I came away thinking that this was yet another conference with declining attendance.Perhaps not for failure of the conference organizers but more the malaise striking the IT industry, it appears that geospatial technology is not recognized for the value it affords.Yet, that is not the case.There is a need for the technology and we are simply "over saturated" with conferences.Within only a few weeks time, there is GITA, ESRI Business Partners Conference, the GEOTec Event, GIS and CAMA, ACSM, NSGIC, GIS-T and then shortly down the road there are user conferences by Intergraph, Bentley, and ESRI, not to mention local GIS technology conferences in Tennessee, California, and others.

Enough! Here's my advice: the major organizations on mapping, surveying, and GIS need to have a meeting of the minds to get their act together and have a singular conference on spatial technology.Someone's going to start losing lots of money, if they haven't already, and the fiscal reality is that the attendance is just not there anymore.URISA, GITA, ASPRS - get together folks and talk it over.It will be to everyone's benefit, especially users, to have a "mega-show." Let's face it, the major GIS show today is ESRI's user conference.It is a vendor sponsored show.A neutral venue is needed for the industry to have objective discourse.

Published Friday, March 7th, 2003

Written by Joe Francica

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