The 2013 Esri International User Conference took place in San Diego, Calif., from July 8-12. The audience of more than 12,000 attendees came from 130 countries, with a full third from outside the United States. This year’s theme, “GIS – Transforming Our World,” was meant to address the rapid changes that are facing our world, and the power of geographic thinking to understand and deal with the challenges. The rapid evolution of GIS is rising to the challenge, becoming more multidimensional, easier to use, with better data management and usability, and more mobile and real-time inputs, with a true Web GIS.
GIS is at a major turning point according to Jack Dangermond, founder and president of Esri. 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.
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.
GIS brings in big data and business intelligence, as well as sensor data. The Web GIS provides a new pattern for integration. Instead of database integration, the pattern of the past, we integrate dynamically with web services, with a more flexible and agile approach. The integration is through dynamic linking, distributed spatial analysis, and map mashups with visual overlay. Web GIS breaks barriers within organizations to fluidly integrate activities and departments, without having to agree on one thing.
This Web GIS framework is scaling up and transforming everything that we do. Web GIS supports the whole enterprise, making mapping and GIS available to everyone (knowledge workers, executives, public engagement, working anywhere on any device, and IT integration). ArcGIS is now a Web GIS, doing the same things that GIS has always done, but making it easier. WebGIS is powered by services, it helps organize content while managing access, and together the pieces are a platform both on the cloud and on-premise on servers.
The content that is an essential part of understanding our world provides the underpinning for this Web GIS is becoming global, with base maps of imagery and vector data. It includes vector and tabular data on people, housing, money and behavior with more than 7,000 variables. Landscape content includes physical and cultural geography (more than 500 variables). This data comes together to form a living atlas of the world, with content and applications for analysis, planning and geoawareness.
The next phase of integration with Esri is this cloud enablement, running from desktop to web and even mobile. The use of Landsat imagery services is the start of this process, but they are looking forward to getting down to the street level with the premium services that becoming part of ArcGIS Online, with DigitalGlobe and RapidEye imagery available as a paid service.
The power of this technology integration resides mainly in the flexibility of the toolset to power custom workflows, where one scientist or analyst can be serving many users with tools that are tuned to the information that users want to glean from the imagery.
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.
NOTE: There are full length videos of the plenary session available here.