My Take - ESRI’s 2004 User Conference

By Joe Francica

It's hard to quibble with success.Jack Dangermond spoke to the throng of ESRI software users and stakeholders with one objective: make certain that the faithful remained, well, "faithful," as well as "impressed", "enlightened," and "enthralled." The litany of user applications stories that comprised one-half of his presentation was indeed impressive.Mr. Dangermond spent close to 45 minutes discussing users applications, telling the audience at one point, "You are working on all the world's problems." It is Mr.Dangermond's way of challenging his user's to understand their place in the larger scheme of how business and government utilize spatial information for profit and service, respectively.

Mr.Dangermond's Keynote Address at the 24th Annual User's Conference in San Diego, illustrated the fact that ESRI is still an extremely product-driven company.ArcGIS 9 was the center point of the conference this year.While most of its competitor's are talking about industry solutions, ESRI continues to focus on the enhancements to its flagship product.The company more fundamentally addresses industry data models, workflows, and web services. They have put enormous effort behind publishing data models for specific industry applications.I think it is this approach that endears customers to the company.Argue though you may about the quality of software products -- which has the best user interface, or spatial query workflow -- ESRI has a monopoly on publishing models from which users can build enterprise databases and distributed applications.They function as starting points for users to help them visualize data relationships and potential applications.

But some work remains.One of the product enhancements that drew applause was the ability to directly connect and read the data formats from competitor's, without translation.This would be old news to user's of Intergraph's GeoMedia which originally developed data servers to integrate proprietary data within a single map window.And the data interoperability issue was addressed through the discussion of the partnership with Safe Software, called Data Interoperability Extension - capabilities for reading proprietary data structures.Safe Software works to the advantage of many software solutions, ESRI being just one of them.

Automated map text placement with overprint avoidance was hailed as a unique feature, but again, this is not necessarily a new advancement.Letter kerning around features was, however, a unique improvement, as are some of the other features of Maplex, ESRI's tool for cartographic enhancement.

Mr.Dangermond, as is so often the case, offered a vision that will get people thinking about how to share complex workflows.Package up the workflow...ship it off to other users and essentially accelerate project development.That's visionary, but it also assumes you are using ESRI software, such as ModelBuilder. Still, if you can simplify repetitive tasks, especially ones that require multiple operations, sub workflows, and data, it's a very beneficial concept.

Mr.Dangermond also reported on the release of a "GeoPortal Toolkit" that was an outgrowth of its work on the Geospatial One Stop for the Office of Management and Budget in the U.S.Government. It will allow a more rapid deployment of web services for agencies looking to publish data as a web service.He also announced ArcEngine, essentially ArcObjects for developers.And he focused on some of the performance improvements in ArcGIS 9.For more details see our Overview Report on ArcGIS 9 and the Top Ten Enhancements..

ESRI is now 35 years old.Mr.Dangermond said, "We're financially strong...not by coincidence...thanks to your support.We are growing; we have zero debt." This year's conference saw growth as well, to approximately 13,000 attendees. And certainly this conference is all about the successes and challenges of ESRI users, which are an extremely prolific group in terms of contributing to this conference.If the conference is a sign of the technology's overall growth and prospects, then the GIS sector of the broader information technology industry is indeed healthy.

Published Thursday, August 19th, 2004

Written by Joe Francica

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