Esri holds many national and local user conferences throughout the year. Their leading conference happens right about this time each year in San Diego California, with this year’s 34th User Conference landing on July 14-18. Formally known as the International User’s Conference (now just User Conference or UC), it is the premier world GIS event, with participants from 130 countries among the 16 thousand people in attendance. To put that in perspective, by most accounts there are 196 countries in the world. This year the Esri UC drew participants from about two thirds of countries in the world. With the first day dedicated to the plenary session and keynote address, the next four days are packed with 1,397 moderated paper sessions, industry focused sessions and technical workshops organized into 71 different topic areas. All in all it is a bit overwhelming with so much relevant information to choose from and try to adsorb in such a short period of time.

MB1In order to energize you for the week of information overload, the first day is all about the big picture, success stories and what coming in future releases of ArcGIS software. This is all done wrapped in a wall of screens with beautifully orchestrated music and graphics to produce a completely immersive experience.

Esri Founder and President Jack Dangermond opened the conference with the theme “GIS – Creating the Future”. He shared his perspective that the practice of GIS is at an evolutionary threshold. He sees GIS maturing beyond spatial analysis and moving into full-fledged geo-design, encouraging us to see ourselves as geo-designers to provide the world with fully rounded solutions and alternatives to the many problems we face. He also indicted that he feels that something is a-foot and left us to see if we agree with the rest of the day’s program.

As is Jack’s UC tradition, he shared the best of our work, with submissions from around the world organized by category and displayed, with trends discussed. MD iMap was recognized for the new GIS Data Portal in this part of the plenary and later in the day more fully in a dedicated section on Open Data and the World Bank. CGIS worked as part of the GIS Data Portal implementation team and among other items created the data graphics making the site more attractive and easy to navigate.

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First Day Highlights

There was too much on this first day to provide any level of detail on all the incredible presentations in this blog post, instead here are the highlights and links back to the video taken of the presentations in case any of them catch your imagination.

  • The City of Minneapolis and their use of GIS to recover from the devastating blow of the economic down turn of the past few years.  Their team dropped from 8 to 3 GIS professionals. Their success came from completely reinventing their workflow, empowering their cliental to be self-sufficient in working with GIS data and embracing cloud based GIS solutions.
  • The port of Rotterdam’s use of GIS to transform from being the world’s largest port to being the best port in the world. With a ship coming or going every 6 minutes and a 4 hour sail time from the entrance point of the port to the farthest berth, optimizing and managing real time data in their GIS was key to their success in reengineering  port operations.
  • Starbucks IT’s use of GIS to support operations and new store location analysis. Looking to expand in areas with emerging smartphone use (demographics highly correlated to visits to Starbucks) and looking for optimal locations for their Starbucks Evening store rollout (wine, beer, desserts, a spread of cocktail party finger-foods, and more).
  • Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority demonstrated its use of 3D GIS as a crucial planning tool for one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Impact analysis, alternative plans and meeting design metrics in an expedited manner were all successful outcomes of applying geo-design concepts and practices.
  • U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Spritzer shared her views on the value of open data in a keynote speech titled America’s Data Agency – Expanding Economic Opportunity with Open Data.
  • Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan, NOAA Administrator, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, US Department of Commerce (and former shuttle astronaut) shared how she is striving to bring earth science to life for global and national environmental challenges and decisions we all face.
  • Will.i.am (via Skype from Australia) talking to Jack Dangermond after an Esri staffer showed off a prototype of the smart watch he is developing, which includes an a really innovative voice activated Esri mapping application that is a peek into the future (or the past, as I think Dick Tracy had this watch)! Will.i.am explained that this project is part of his efforts in a larger program to empower youth in disadvantaged areas similar to where he grew up.
  • Jane Goodall (video message) provided a follow up to her 2005 Esri UC Keynote address on the threats that chimpanzees face. She talked about how GIS-supported land use management plans for villages around critical habitat areas are making a real difference in conservation efforts to save space for chimpanzees.
  • Sonora Elementary students from Springdale, Arkansas will surely impress you with the way that GIS can be connected with education. Their teacher Charlie Fitzpatrick introduces two of his students and they steal the show talking about their projects.
  • World Health Organization and the Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation representatives (Dr. Bruce Aylward and Dr. Vincent Seaman) delivered a joint keynote presentation on the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. This in-depth presentation stepped though the intensive efforts to reach the last pockets of polio in the most difficult locations to reach on earth, and how GIS is vital tool to for fill this mission.

What was evident from the prominence and diversity of these presentations was there is indeed something “a-foot”. From my perspective it was that Esri did not so much promote what their products could do, instead they let the stories of their products speak for themselves. These were indeed very powerful stories that spoke to the transformative power of GIS in action. There was another thread woven throughout the week’s paper and industry focused sessions that reinforced this notion of real change in the air both with the science and practice of GIS.  It was apparent that the transformative steps Esri has taken with its platform over the past several years and its efforts to make GIS more accessible are all coming together in a unified fashion across all fronts within the organization. Esri seems to be laser focused on its client’s success in a way that I have not seen before, providing complete solution sets for complex problems and implementations.

Special Achievements in GIS

In the middle of the conference each year Esri recognizes exceptional work in GIS by presenting “Special Achievements in GIS” or SAG Awards. This year the State of Maryland was recognized for OSPREY–Innovative use of GIS for Emergency Management that makes a difference. Barney Krucoff accepted the award on behalf of the Maryland Department of Information Technology (DoIT) and the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). CGIS is a proud partner in developing the OSPREY suite of tools in support of emergency management and the citizens of Maryland.

Michael Bentivegna (CGIS), Barney Krucoff (DoIT), Mickey Brierley (FEMA – formerly MEMA)

Michael Bentivegna (CGIS), Barney Krucoff (DoIT), Mickey Brierley (FEMA – formerly MEMA)