ESRI/UC Lasting Impressions

by Matt Ball on August 7, 2008

I traveled back from the ESRI/UC late last night, having completed five full days of fairly grueling meetings, interviews and sessions. The event continues on through tomorrow afternoon, but my brain was beginning to exceed capacity. While I come away physically depleted, I have to say that I’m frankly stoked about the next full year of geospatial development.

The vibe at this year’s event was clearly upbeat and enthusiastic about the tools, and the overall benefits, of the technology. I still scratch my head about the glowing praise that the U.S. Secretary of the Interior has for the technology. I certainly don’t discount his zeal and intent, I just wish that we had this same passion seven years ago instead of suffering through many years of federal malaise and relative inaction on the geospatial data front. There’s clearly some benefit from his well-articulated vision that includes a Geographic Information Officer (GIO) for the Interior, but also some question about whether the next administration will quickly take up this call.

The “Web GIS” presentations continue to cling to me for their beautiful presentation as well as their speed, flexibility and flashy features. It’s been a long time coming to have such beautiful online interfaces, with nice animation and stunning colors. I commented on the quality of the visuals with David Maguire, and he agreed, but said it’s really just all about the user interface. The functionality has been there for over a year, but they’ve just exposed that with the simple to use and widely available ReST API, which can be consumed by java script. Then they’ve linked that to web-based GUI toolkit libraries (Adobe Flash Flex) and Microsoft’s SilverLight. Maguire feels that the ArcGIS Server experience is now ahead of the desktop, and he’s curious about where the desktop will go (more on that later in a transcribed interview).

The transparency of ESRI’s development road map is another thing that I always enjoy. You can usually get a good sense of what ESRI is up to at any given conference, but I think there has been legitimate criticism in the past about when that capability may hit the actual product. There was some good distinction this year about demos that displayed coming enhancements, and there was a nice list that displayed some of the development priority. I’m particularly encouraged by the emphasis on new analysis tools and the development taking place in the 3D space. Development in these two areas should mean some even more exciting presentations in the future.

The whole imagery space is exploding, with greater integration within geospatial tools. ESRI’s ArcGIS Server Image (known prior to ArcGIS 9.3 as Image Server) is now integrated directly as an extension to ArcGIS Server. This direct integration of imagery data handling capabilities is a significant advancement to enable better exploitation of imagery. Increasingly imagery processing tools are aimed more at analysis and data creation workflows that will make it much easier to integrate and extract intelligence from imagery. The stated release of the Landsat archive at the show means tremendous things for change detection studies. Imagery is also moving to a much more real-time in terms of delivery and observation. One illustration of this was a neat tool from Sarnoff that integrated a real-time video image from a helicopter with an earlier aerial imagery base map.

I spent a majority of my time searching down “sustainability” threads throughout the program and on the show floor. There were several times when I felt that I was being too selective, and many times when my focus on sustainability seemed to be awkward from an exhibitor’s perspective. Sustainability is going to be an enormous business opportunity for the geospatial community, but it’s still being equated with the non-profit sector and not embraced as a profit center.

I felt perhaps the most pushback when I specifically stated that we respect and appreciate the work done in the military space, but don’t find to be applicable to our focus. I soon came to find that the military is doing a great deal of sustainability thinking linked directly to cost savings and efficiency. This is true of the military bases that are embracing green building practices, renewable energy sources and environmental monitoring efforts. I find that both the vendors and the green mindset that I represent need a more open mind in this regard. While sustainability is a smaller application set for the overall geospatial market, there are not barriers to implementing sustainable practices among the different application areas. And I’m certain that we’ll see a great many more vendors focusing their efforts to develop tools to address sustainability opportunities, including the carbon market, environmental assessment, sensor amalgamation, analysis and simulation areas.

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