The ESRI Executive Summit - A quick review

By Joe Francica

LBS Summit - Review The ESRI Executive Summit - A quick review

In a large room, a day preceding the ESRI User's Conference, ESRI gathered some of the most distinguished professionals in the GIS community and put them in front of some of the more distinguished users of the technology.At 300 strong, this executive summit attempts to gather the best and brightest, and ask them to do more than what they are doing.And to do so, they are challenged by those who helped to start this thing called GIS.Dr.Roger Tomlinson chaired the summit, and he provided context to an agenda of speakers who are the "stars" of GIS.Some "quick takes" on the event.

Jack Dangermond provided the keynote presentation for this event.He introduced GIS to the audience by way of an advanced "GIS 102" session to provide a framework and vision to technology evolution.Most of these people understand the concept of GIS but perhaps are not aware the breadth of applications for which GIS can be used.Toward the end of his presentation, Dangermond provided this observation: the growth of GIS is not being driven by consumers; but by the growth of systematic knowledge and tools.GIS helps save money and time, and guides decision making.GIS is a "new language," and "The Geographic Method" helps to understand physical relationships.He also challenged the audience to take the individual focus that we often give to GIS through personal use of desktop mapping software, and connect data and GIS models between and among our organizations.

Former Mayor of the City and County of Honolulu, Jeremy Harris, and now a visiting professor at Univ.of Stockholm, knows GIS.As a one-time city manager, and then as mayor, he knows the power of GIS technology. He reminded the audience that deploying GIS takes a large upfront investment with very little short term return.But then, with persistence beyond the initial GIS implementation, you get a very large return with very little long term cost.In addition, he cautioned that "you can't do anything without community involvement," and that you need to use GIS to help them to visualize the results of potential decisions.Harris offered a warning about the deterioration of cities due to urban sprawl and pollution.He believes it is possible to transform a city to make it more sustainable but knows that cities are struggling to meet existing needs.However, he is a staunch believer that GIS has to be the core of the solution and he demonstrated that by talking about the enterprise GIS that Honolulu has developed over the last 15 years.

Harris "gets it" as Tomlinson reminded the audience, while not too many politicians understand the full potential, nor have the political fortitude, to go the distance that GIS requires to realize that long term gain.(See also the interview with Harris from 2004)

Vanessa Lawrence, Director General of Ordnance Survey (OS) has had a short but exemplary career in public service to Great Britain.In 2001, fewer than 40 of 500 departments in the UK government were using GIS.Why? People were not talking about the uses and benefits of GIS.She believed that the OS should demonstrate that geography had significant potential and application, but she needed a catalyst to jump start the process.

The 2001 outbreak of Foot and Mouth (Mad Cow) disease helped to show how GIS could be used to help prevent the spread of the disease to Europe. Maps were used to follow the spread of the disease across the UK.The politicians finally realized that maps, not spreadsheets, could help them visualize the potential of information analysis, and thus decision-making.Plus, access to the information became a major incentive.A pilot plan was launched in May 2002 following an announcement by the department minister.The OS was to provide data to any of the 500 government departments and agencies who wished to have the data until 2003.That project helped to launch the OS into a new era and one that involved massive cultural challenges to Lawrence as she attempted to drag the OS into the 21st century.Today, the OS sustains itself through a "user's pay model," an unique cost recovery system whereby the OS is obliged to recover costs by licensing its intellectual property and use any profit to invest back into the organization.Lawrence has helped to reform the data license agreements to make it attractive to OS' partners.

Dave Cowen, Geography Department Chairman at the University of South Carolina and chairman of the National Research Council's Mapping Science Committee was blunt.Cowen's bemoaned the current situation with the U.S.national mapping agencies: "Why can't we have what they have in the UK? Why can't we coordinate efforts? Why haven't we done it by now? Let's get on with it!"

Cowen believes certain things need to be recognized at the national level of the U.S.government.

  • A sense of urgency
  • Tools and infrastructure that make geographic information so accessible that it can not be ignored
  • A true national GIS; seamless, consistent and current
  • A GIS of a quality that supports decisions making - including national multipurpose cadastre and high resolution terrain data
  • A coordinated system of local, state and federal data maintenance programs
  • Adequate and stable funding
  • Mandates - coordination, metadata and synchronization
  • A workable an equitable governance model
  • Research program that will further automate labor intensive operations, support critical applications and make decision makers more accountable
  • A trained workforce
He had this advice for the USGS.
  • GOS isn't truly the one stop but is an interesting experiment.
  • The national map is not national
  • The Federal Geographic Data Committee needs to be real!
In the afternoon keynote session, Dr.David Huff, professor emeritus at the University of Texas, Austin, provided these reasons why GIS software has different adoption rates between the public and private sector.That is, why haven't we seen the growth in "business GIS" applications that we've seen in local, state and federal government? His reasons:
  1. Public personnel are familiar with GIS
  2. It is clear how GIS would benefit their operation
  3. Benefits versus costs are identifiable in the public sector
  4. Public sector personnel are enamored with the bells and whistles of GIS
  5. Private sector CEOs are only interested in bottom line
  6. Most CEOs are not familiar with GIS
His suggestions for increasing adoption of GIS in business:
  1. Promote GIS in MBA programs
  2. Promote and assist in development of business GIS degree programs
  3. Offer onsite GIS classes to particular businesses
  4. Provide GIS articles in business trade magazines that stress useful business applications
The Summit concluded with a brief talk by famed primatologist, Dr.Jane Goodall, known worldwide for her work studying chimpanzee habitats in the Gombe National Park.She believes that GIS and satellite imagery are making a difference in understanding and preserving chimp habitats but wondered that if the technology had been available in 1960? Maybe we could have stopped the degradation of chimp habitat that we see today.

Published Thursday, July 28th, 2005

Written by Joe Francica

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