Jack Dangermond, founder and president of Esri, gave the closing keynote of the Urban and Regional Information System Association (URISA) GIS Pro Conference in Portland today. Having attended the event since 1968, he shared how the association shaped his thinking and the creation of GIS. The first 50 years of URISA have been about creating a forum for sharing ideas, learning and building friendships. The organization has been an important place where GIS has defined itself. It has also supported many interests, nurtured ideas, and where some of those ideas have died.
It has been an association that evolved over different generations of technology. When we started it was the mainframe world of handmade software. Our field radically expanded when it became more accessible with workstations and desktops. Our users have gone up in order of magnitude with every stage. Now it’s about to change radically, and what does that mean for the association?
GIS is so compelling now because maps communicate; they integrate and create a means for collaboration; with spatial analysis we create understanding; geodesign promises a better future; and new technology is extending GIS into a platform accessible broadly on any device. These functions are what’s needed and wanted, because we require greater understanding and efficiency. We are living way beyond our means on our planet, where we are over the line in our impact on the world. GIS provides a kernel for making the world a better place.
GIS is leading to geodesign where we integrate science and design with the conscious creation of the future. We are all designers of the future, where it’s not about the data but about bringing data together to understand. We design strategies, businesses use location and create designs for decision making. Geodesign is both a new and old field, where we look at different alternatives for decision making. The more we formalize this frontier, the more our data will leverage what’s needed and wanted to create a sustainable world.
The groundings coming from URISA laid down a fabric of understanding. It was the place for early GIS projects and systems to be presented, where we came to understand planning and systems. We worked through user needs and design process. We understood what people need and want, what data we need to have, and the pattern of GIS systems evolved.
Through studies on city after city, it became clear that all cities do the same thing, and a framework of geospatial functions that all require geospatial thinking emerged. Generic tools and workflows - buffers, routing, search, etc. - feeds different workflows to manage geographic data that form the base maps for decision making. Data models ringed with GIS tools, became the pattern.
The cloud platform is combining technologies that are making the world come alive. GIS is at a major turning point that deals with cheaper, easier and faster technology. GIS in this environment turns into a platform for an entire organization. Google Earth became such a big deal, because it’s cloud based, accessible, and easy to use. Now with accessibility, and no longer hard integration issues, it’s unlocking a whole new potential.
This platform is leveraging multiple trends, re-imagining what GIS is. We will change, who we serve will change, and the responsibilities of the GIS analyst will change. We don’t have to fear this, it means integrating geographic knowledge into everything. Geography as a science is going to become pervasive that integrates all types of geospatial information. This is good, because if we have a chance of making it as a species, we need to bring spatial awareness into how we behave.
Web maps make this information available in simple forms on any device in catalogs where it is easy to discover what you want. The maps provide a window into information where analytics can be built in as services. The new medium replaces or is additive to the traditional SQL database. Supporting visualization, query, editing and analysis. It’s like Facebook for geography -- people are sharing and creating new experiences. The Web Map means No GIS. We can look at our GIS from any device anywhere, just like we look at our e-mail.
The experience allows for the breakdown between groups to unlock data. It will open up our world with enabling technology and tools with a new generation of collaboration and sharing. People are getting on board because the openness means we can mine, mashup, and map the data with ease. Everything that we created earlier has been hard with the need for agreements on data models, and formal arrangements. Now with the cloud the integration is easy and everyone can make maps.
The future is a hundred fold increase in how maps will be used with billions of people using the technology. It should be everyone. There will be more integration into policy, business intelligence and design. Place-based approaches will be easy instead of awkward. We will have greater citizen engagement with more open government.
While the technology is evolving, data and technology aren’t enough. People will promote and create this next level of engagement, and URISA will continue to provide the point for discussion on how to share and understand what works.