Cloud and GIS: A Perfect Match for Collaboration

Jack and Laura Dangermond founded Esri in 1969. Today I had the privilege of hearing Jack talk about Esri, and some of the new features and products that Esri now offers at a press briefing at the 2012 Esri International User Conference. In particular, Jack spoke about ArcGIS Cloud, and his vision of how the collaboration of ArcGIS and cloud software will transform an industry, and drive increased collaboration and improved decision making for government.

During the plenary session, Jack stated, “We need ways of understanding and planning our world. GIS is evolving into a new platform: cloud GIS. This is making geographic understanding pervasive. Cloud GIS integrates all types of geospatial data, models, and applications and makes them available as web maps. The cloud is agile and flexible. Esri is moving GIS to the cloud.”

Esri is synonymous with GIS. Esri has over 350,000 clients, 2,900 employees, 10 US offices, 80 distributors worldwide and over 1,600 business partners. Esri crosses multiple sectors, public and private, international, state, local and federal government agencies. The scope and depth of their work and clients is impressive. The annual conference has nearly 16,000 attendees, coming from all corners of the globe. During the press briefing Jack stated, “People use GIS everyday, fighting the war in Afghanistan to location analytics.”

The key theme and takeaway of the presentation was a reminder that government is facing complex challenges, which requires new ways to collaborate and sharing of information to help find new and innovate solutions, GIS is one part of the solution. Agencies are increasingly pressed to find holistic solutions to complex challenges. By layering complex data and showing the impact graphically and visually, leaders can easily improve the quality of decisions, and understand the scope and depth of challenges agencies face. This process can aide decision makers to plan smarter cities, improve public works projects, manage resources, understand land use, identify education trends, learn the impact of poverty reduction initiatives, and dozens of other public sector programs.

Jack’s discussion of the ArcGIS and the cloud was remarkable. Jack described how the combination of ArcGIS and the cloud has created a platform for GIS, and has allowed for the development of increased collaboration across agencies. Jack listed some of the benefits of cloud and ArcGIS, identifying six functional areas as benefits for users:

  1. Content management
  2. Intuitive Mapping
  3. Sharing and Collaboration
  4. Web and Mobile Apps
  5. Enterprise Integration
  6. Open Interoperability

Jack stated, “GIS is a niche technology for the enterprise of many different areas, the goal is to expand that platform for an entire organizations, being able to interact with maps, geographic data, anywhere, anytime.” The expansion of GIS is readily seen across government; Jack reported very high adoption of ArcGIS cloud adoption.

Likewise, Jack was clear to mention the three kinds of markets Esri attracts for users. The first kind of user Esri attracts is those already in the GIS community, already using Esri, and likely, many of the people in attendance at the Esri International User Conference.

The second group of users that Jack identify is other users within the agency, but not necessarily engrained in the GIS community. Interesting examples that Jack provided was the CIO community, noting how CIO’s are embracing GIS and looking how to implement across the entire enterprise. The combination of ArcGIS and the cloud allows GIS to reach a broader community, this is transformative for government. The ability to connect and collaborate through compelling maps, was at the heart of Jacks talk.

The final group was developers, who have access to rich API’s from ArcGIS software. Jack mentioned that a new office was opened in Silicon Valley, with the sole goal of supporting the developer community.

During his presentation, Jack put special attention towards describing GIS as a “language,” which can be used to tell a compelling story. Jack stated, “GIS is a technology which is about condensing down all of our data, all of our information, our data and science, into a language that is understood by everyone.”

Jack continued to describe that by developing this language, users can integrate knowledge about geography, data and information to be used to solve critical problems society faces. There is a pressing need for people to have access to information, locate facilitates, understand relationships, and learn how these elements are all interconnected. Jack reminds us that maps tell a story, and in the digital age, maps have great meaning to help understand the increasing complexities of the public sector.

By telling a compelling story, maps allow decision makers to leverage technology to drive improved decisions, solve complex problems, and tell better, more captivating stories visually. With the use of GIS and cloud, agencies are now connected through GIS. The connectivity does not stop with just the computer and cloud, users can connect through any device. Now, with the mobile access, people can share real-time maps and data and use this information to improve how resources are allocated and how decisions are made. The classic example of this is thinking through using GIS and mobile in a crisis to disperse resources to the most desperate areas, using information from first responders in the field back to decisions makers to allocate resources efficiently.

Truly, the use of cloud and GIS helps facilitate breaking down barriers and as Jack states, “allows people to use a new medium to share information.” Collaboration with GIS and the cloud has far-reaching impacts for government efficiency and how services are delivered.

There are dozens of really fascinating examples from Esri. Here are some resources for you to view. Esri has a great collection in their Maps Gallery, if you would like to see more examples. Esri has a great blog keeping tabs on the conference, sessions and the latest news, you can check it all out here.

When Esri was founded in 1969, it realized even then that geographic information system (GIS) technology could make a difference in society. GIS helps people to solve problems at local, regional, national, and global scales. Access maps and apps at ArcGIS.com. Check out the Communications & Citizen Engagement Sub-Community of which they are a council member.

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Chris Cairns

That’s a smart move to try to create a development community around the use of the company’s GIS API’s.

Lindsey Tepe

Looking at their maps gallery, it’s amazing how versatile GIS functionality is. It will be interesting to see how the use of GIS evolves throughout government.

Pat Fiorenza

GIS is super interesting to me – this conference was eye opening for the potential for GIS in government. It’s incredible how many partners Esri has and super interesting their goals to become expansive across agencies.

I’m excited to see what the developer community can do with the API’s, probably a lot of really cool projects on the horizon.