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Dangermond JackJack Dangermond gave the opening talk in today’s Senior Executive Seminar, an invite-only peer-to-peer discussion on the power of geographic information systems (GIS). He touched on the evolution of the technology and the impacts that it has had to change the world.

GIS has been embraced widely for a number of reasons:

  • maps (particularly with online efforts of Microsoft and Google) have become a widespread communication medium
  • spatial analytics is starting to become powerful to unravel the interactions of our world
  • mobile devices and other connected tools are making these tools usable anywhere

GIS is delivering value in agriculture, human health, economic development, conservation, public safety, and business efficiency. GIS is tied to scientific endeavors to monitor and understand our world. It also connects to creating a better future with better land use plans and cleaning up environmental impacts. GIS helps us understand, preceding action — changing the way we think and the way we act.

GIS is becoming an enterprise business platform for the likes of companies such as Walmart, resembling the mind of Sam Walton who used to fly around the country and buy up land for his retail operations. Harley-Davidson uses customer details to understand who and where their customers are. Starbucks has a concept of third place, where your home is the first place, work is your second place, and Starbucks is your third place. These are big companies that are embracing the tools, and using them to improve operations.

Government is also using GIS as a governmental platform, with an integration of operations through the tools to improve collaboration and understanding. China is one of the more sophisticated users with a national system, as is Indonesia with a president that promotes the technology. India is also using GIS to create a more connected and transparent government connection with the people.

GIS is at a major turning point according to Dangermond. GIS started as mainframe file-based delivery system, migrated to PC desktops, then a client-server with a database-centric view, toward analytic services and application-centric delivery. What’s emerging is a new pattern of Web GIS that connects desktops, browsers and devices through a solutions frameworks that are powered by cloud-based services. This is a federation of geographic information that is transactionally maintained as a nervous system for the planet. Managing the substance of the mission locally, served out as appropriate to anyone that needs the insight of the information.

The technology is maturing, with billions of maps created a month, and a half a million building and sharing the information on ArcGIS Online every day. This next-generation system is the sharing and serving of information in a new Web-GIS pattern, outside of the traditional one-unit GIS department of the past. GIS will continue that way, but what’s happening with today’s rapid pickup is the fanning out of insight out to everyone else in the organization. This pattern is also fully integrated into enterprise system that’s not your old man’s GIS any more.

Shell Oil had 350 GIS users, and then began sharing this information a year ago, and now have thousands. This provides a whole new dimension that allows executives to look at a whole new bottom line, including both production and environmental impact. This lets us extend and amplify our systems.

For the past few decades, the effort was a strong database as our highest goal. The pattern of Web GIS is different, allowing us to bring distributed services together dynamically. This on-demand online effort enables a more flexible and agile approach. Web services and the standards of W3C and the OGC help us bring this information together dynamically. We can bring together the classic maps and imagery as well as enterprise data, social media, sensor networks, and even big data — harvesting and using very large data, and expressing that geographically. This makes GIS dramatically easier.

GIS is all about integration, and with Web GIS we can bring together the entire content of the web in new patterns. We can model and understand relationships, patterns and processes dynamically and easily with much less effort and specialization than was required in the past. Web GIS is also starting to have an impact on how organizations work, breaking down the barriers between disciplines.

Dangermond discussed that with mobile access nobody is lost any more. Suppose we can help organizations never be lost, that GIS as an enterprise technology can help with that. Within GIS is a kernel of possibility that we can transform our world.

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