Inaugural “Geospatial Conference of the West” Disrupts Geospatial in Laramie and Beyond

By Cathy Raney

In Laramie, Wyoming during the third week of September, a group of geospatial professionals from across the West gathered for the inauguration of a new phase in the 25 year history of the Esri Southwest User Group (SWUG) Conference.  The Geospatial Conference of the West is SWUG 2.0, a user conference that has been re-envisioned to explore the many different technologies and solutions available to geospatial aficionados, professional and novice alike.
The Wyoming Geospatial Organization hosted the four-day event, providing the forum for speakers, thought leaders and presenters from across the country and across the industry to discuss the latest developments in IT and geotechnology.  Following the conference theme of “GeoTechnology: Informing Conversations, Building Partnerships,” opening plenary speakers Jim Geringer and Christian Carlson from Esri, Scott Ciabattari from Google, Patrick Cunningham from Blue Marble Geographics, Ian Schneider from OpenGeo (now Boundless), Pete Southwood from Autodesk, and Michael Terner from AppGeo gave attendees their take on the landscape of our fast changing profession.  Keynote speaker Learon Dalby, vice president of Geolocation Solutions at Sanborn Map Company, summed up the discussion with his presentation on how the old ways of governmental IT procurement stifle technological innovation.  A by-product of this is the creation of data, masses of data, that get stored and barely used.  Meanwhile, the public has been embracing the new technologies, and, with open source and other mapping solutions, creating their own data.  And using them.
Michael Terner, executive vice president at AppGeo, offered the takeaway line of the opening day when he asked attendees to consider using “the best of breed” for their software procurement and use.  With so many avenues available and products to try at minimal cost, it is conceivable that tools and technologies could be tailored specifically to the tasks to be performed.  So rather than trying to make one size fit all, a geospatial professional – especially one with some programming experience – could have an entire toolbox of software products to choose from with each one tailored to the job at hand.  All with the goal of getting the information into the hands of those who need it, rather than drowning in data yet starving for information, according to Dalby.
With conversation suitably stimulated, there was plenty of buzz over the following days.  Presentations on geodesy, remote sensing, modeling, Web mapping, best management practices, and more kept the conversations going, including a thought provoking discussion on the privacy issues surrounding the collection of big data. (Do you really want that much information about your life available to everyone?)  Not to mention the fact that Google Glass made its GeCo West debut at the Technology Expo on Tuesday night.  Yes, it’s true. Google Glass came to GeCo West!  Thank you, Scott Ciabattari.    
“Okay Google!” 
Other noteworthy offerings during the conference included presentations from Dr. Laituri and her student Steve Chignell (Esri Outstanding Student award winner) on their work at Colorado State University’s Geospatial Centroid. CSU’s Extension Service STEM specialist Claire Dixon spoke about the 4H Youth Science Day Experiment – 4H Maps and Apps - they developed for the National Science Foundation competition.  Esri provided a catalog of hands-on training courses for ArcGIS version 10.2 that ran concurrently with the paper presentations and was very well received.  The pre-conference workshops offered added training value, and the technology tours of the 3D CAVE and the UW Data Center were amazing! 
3D “master” glasses 
The closing plenary offered attendees one more thought to take home with them as moderator Jeff Hamerlinck of the Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center led panelists Alan Buss and Steve Prager of the University of Wyoming, Jim Verley from the WY Department of Education, and Joe Berry from Colorado State University in a discussion of their points of view on STEM and Geospatial STEM.  That was an amazing discussion to witness and well worth the price of admission in itself! 
The evolution of SWUG into the Geospatial Conference of the West was a natural step in the growth of this conference and one that follows the general direction of the geospatial industry as a whole.  With the technology becoming more democratized, the focus of our industry is evolving from create, create, create, to use, distribute and share, share, share.  So it only makes sense to reinvent a user conference, creating one that is open to all, user and provider.  While the inauguration of the Geospatial Conference of the West was small in terms of numbers, especially compared to recent years, the enthusiasm of the participants to gather as much information as they could and the variety of information available to them over the course of the conference delivered an incomparable value.

Published Thursday, October 24th, 2013

Written by Cathy Raney

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