According to Jack Dangermond who led the plenary sessions on the first day, this year in San Diego 12000 people from 130 countries were in San Diego for the 33rd Esri International User Conference.
I gravitated primarily to the utility sessions. According to Bill Meehan, who is responsible for ESRI's utility business, there were 750 utility folks at this year's UC.
GIS is being used in diveerse areas including environmental monitoring, climate change, permafrost melting, sea level rise, agriculture, water resources, aquaculture, pollution remediation, energy resources management, land information systems, urban design, utility network management, wasteshed modeling, utility pole inspection, sewer rehabilitation, port management, indoor GIS, iInsurance risk management, health-related mapping, law enforcement, mapping where space debris might fall, flood risk mapping, storm tracking and damage assessment, geodesign, crowdsourcing for collecting a variety of data, interoperabilty, citizen engagement, government transparency, cartography, geology and mining, automatic generalization of different scale maps, story maps, portals for infrastructure, and open data, to mention just a few of the things that were singled out in the plenary session.
Some of the areas that were singled out for special recognition were
- Special Achievements in GIS award went to the Dartmouth Atlas for showing geographically how outcomes and the cost of medical procedures varies depending on location across the U.S.
- The Hong Kong Lands Department received the Enterprise GIS award for their land management system which they started in the 1990's and is now in its second generation.
- Tbe President's Award went to Direct Relief which distributes different types of equipment to people around the globe in need with 99% efficiency according to Forbes.
The theme of this UC was GIS transforming our world, not only changing the physical world as we know it, but also changing our perception of the world and how GIS has and will fundamentally help us collectively build a better future. A classic example that has impacted everyone on the planet is GPS or more generally GNSS. As a number of speakers including Dangermond said we are never lost any more and that is fundamental change to how we perceive the world.
Some of the major themes that emerged at this UC are common to many software and service providers in the IT sector, but some of these are new or unique to ESRI.
We are facing serious global challenges, in particular climate change, which both at the Geodesign Summit and at this UC conference appears to be a personal challenge for Dangermond who sees GIS as contributing in major way in creating a more sustainable future. He sees GIS helping to change how we think and act and how we do basic things such as design.
GIS across the organization
A theme that was pervasive throughout the conference including in the utility sessions was the need to make GIS pervasive across the organization because 90% of the data that organizations are collecting and managing has location. This was also true in utility sessions I attended, where the thrust is to expand the use of GIS outside of the traditional area of records management into other departments.
Vertical industry "templates"
In the utility and telecommunications sectors there is a major effort underway to create preconfigured vertical "templates" for specific vertical industries. In the utility sector one was announced yesterday for the electric power Industry, and others are underway for gas and telecommunications. These templates are a collection of data and tools for vertical industries and are available as open source on Github.
The web was pervasive, It was hard to find a session where the theme that desktop GIS is being transformed into web GIS did not come up. It doesn't mean that the desktop is going to go away in the near future, but sharing data, applications, and apps is being recognized as a common goal and web GIS makes this very easy to do. This includes web portals for accessing enterprise data over the web.
A lot of the traditonal desktop GIS capabilities are now being made available in the cloud so that all you need is an iOS or Android device or a web browser. This is also available to large enterprises who need to keep their data on their own servers for security reasons. Cindy Salas from Centerpoint Energy demonstrated ESRI's cloud capability but running "on premise" completely wthin Centerpoint's fire wall.
Being able to integrate location and the spatial dimension into enterprise applications such as ERP (SAP), business intelliegence (IBM Cognos), Salesforce, MS Dynamics, and Excel spreadsheets is a new focus for ESRI. They have already created plugins for several well-known applications.
In the past when you talked about mobile in the context of utilities, you were normally dealing with Panasonic Toughbooks which could cost up to $6 000 each. At this conference just about every application was able to run on a variety of low cost mobile devices including iOS and Android mobile devices. One of the sessions I attended was about the National Broadband rollout in Australia where the 500 field folks who are doing 300 000 pit inspections were all equipped with iPads, which you might have thought were too fragile for pretty rough field work.. This project has been underway for something like 18 months and todate only two of the iPads have been damaged.
Spatial data volumes whether from sensors at utilities, from LIDAR scanning of transmission lines, or from earth obsevration satellited are now reckoned in terabytes. There were sessions on spatially enabling Hadoop, SAP HANA and other big data management systems for managing these data volumes.
In the utility track managing real-tme data from sensors on transformers, smart meters, phasors, and other devices and enabling near real-time decision making was a common theme. A general event processing capability that can be triggered by rules has been added to the quiver to make this possible for any data stream.
In the area of imagery, Digital Globe imagery can be accessed with 4-5 hours of acquisition.
Big data and real-time means that we need to be able to understand what these huge volumes of data are telling us and then enable decision-making, automated or human mediated, as rapidly as possible. If a transformer is running hot, we can't wait a week until the next service check to reconfigure the network because by then we may have reduced it projected lifetime by 10%. There were "location analytics" sessions in most of the vertical industry sessions including utilities.
Software companies like ESRI and Hexagon are now in the content busines. And with the data beng made available in the cloud, you can access it through web GIS or desktop GIS. The data includes traditional topographic maps, digital terrain models, imagery from earth observation satellites from Digital Globe and others some of it near real-time (fr example, from Digital Globe within 4-5 hours of acqusition), demographics, and others.
Dangermond's term for this is the "living atlas" because this body of content is intended to be dynamic, real-rime and comprehensive. The goal seems to be all the data you would need to manage the planet.
Some of the content explicitly mentioned includes
- community. content
- 30 cm coverage of the US
- 60 cm coverage of Western Europe
- imagery for the middle east and asia in total covering 2/3 of the world
- demographics, at the zip code, county, state, and national levels
- scientific maps including environmental, energy, infrastructure, and terrain models
- landscape layers
This data is accessible to web and desktop applications and makes it very easy to do standard spatial analytical things like multi-criteria suitability or site selection mapping. Users can also publish their own data to the cloud.
This has always been a strong focus area for ESRI and from Dangermond's perspective with the challenges the world is facing, GIS professionals will be even more critical in the future. There is focus on advancing spatial literacy to a broader audience than in the past.
Laser scanning is a major source of important data for the construction industry (right of way determination and construction progress monitoring), utilities (transmission vegetation management), and other industries. ESRI has made this a focus area and there were a number of sessions devoted to managing and analyzing point cloud data.
Dangermond specifically singled out 3D as a major capability area for ESRI. There are specialized 3D products, but 3D is also being built into ESRI main stream GIS and spatial analytical products.
3D city models
At the plenary there was a demonstration of how to quickly build a 3D city model from 2D data, including extruding buildings from a 3D building footprint and height, adding textures depending on building types, and then tools for analysis such as zoning and shadow analysis and visualization including flythroughs. These models are sharable on the cloud as web scenes requiring only a web browser (with no plugins) or iOS mobile devices.
At the UC ESRI is demonstrating a prototype of a product designed specifically for geodesign.
Dangermond specifically mentioned the newest national open data initiative in Peru.
There are sessions specifically on editing and manipulating OpenStreetMap data.