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esriuc logoJames Fallows welcomed executives to the Senior Executive Summit, a precursor of the Esri International User Conference. This group of 300 senior-level leaders in business, government, academia, and IT meet yearly for a discussion of the power of GIS technology across a wide range of applications. The content focuses on the ability of GIS to provide a new understanding. This event was previously moderated by the “Father of GIS,” Roger Tomlinson, and Fallows is an apt replacement as an award-winning international story teller with a boyhood connection to Esri’s founder and president Jack Dangermond.

Fallows spoke to two main drives for journalism are the drive to understand how things work, how may it be solved. The other is to find a way to explain and communicate, helping others better grasp the information that you’ve derived. GIS has been a revelation for both finding things out about drought, income, flow of goods, racial segregation, etc. Mapping also helps explain things readily once you’ve compiled information.

Fallows has been working on a story about small-town resilience, and mapping has been a huge help to him and his wife as they work on this project. The tools of technology and connectivity have had a transformative effect, but it also has drawbacks with some polarization of economic opportunity and has raised more awareness of the environment. GIS is a tool for redressing some of these issues at all scales of government, for businesses to find efficiency, for NGOs to come together to address common problems and to empower individuals to better interact with the world.

Jack Dangermond welcomed the group, speaking to the need for spreading the knowledge about the technology and the need to share real experience and to learn from others. Esri is now in its 47th year with a focus on users, growing globally with a product and platform that empowers users. The company uses information, science and technology to make a difference in organizations.

There are more than a million individual users of GIS that started in government, but with growing use in business. The heart of GIS is the science of geography, with an integration of all the other sciences. Today’s problems with population and environmental challenges are driving an urgency apply these technologies and transforming the way we see the world and the way that we act in relation to our world.

GIS is delivering value across a wide range of uses at a lot of scales from buildings, to land-use plans and then on to the planet for issues of climate change and predicting the future. GIS delivers value by uncovering efficiency and aiding decision making. GIS has become an enterprise platform for government and business, with more access internally as well as externally through the open data movement and empowering citizens and customers.

GIS is about managing and applying geographic information. Applying information is the big game. GIS leverages three concepts:

  • it’s a way to integrate data via spatial location
  • with the database you can create understanding of spatial patterns with spatial analysis
  • the ability to share and disseminate this data is further empowered with the connectivity of the Internet and access through mobile devices

The data is becoming richer with our understanding and drive to measure everything such as with the Internet of Things and Big Data Science. The Web GIS is increasingly the way that we deliver and view this information through a system of system that connects but does not replace existing systems. It’s also a system of engagement, with connection, access, rights, roles and the ability for real-time interactions via maps. Web GIS is becoming a nervous system for the planet.

The role of GIS, through technology enablement, is spreading outside of GIS departments and empowering everyone. It is now transforming the hierarchical structure of IT, and making inroads against the stovepiped information management toward a networked pattern for more shared understanding. Rather than duplicating investment in data and tools in each department, it creates an open and collaborative platform for innovation. Many are opening their data to enable others, with geography bringing us together.

Chris Capelli, corporate director of Esri, spoke about the power of a map to empower discovery. GIS is seen as an authoritative “system of record” in many organizations giving context to assets and resources.

Many customers leverage GIS to respond to business issues, and  this is what makes it an effective technology. People use maps to give simple authoritative answers, particularly for navigation, and we are all experiencing maps in a different way. We are getting quick feedback from our maps with a presentation of authoritative data, rather than trying to decipher and understand the map.

Realizing the true value of GIS requires us to enable everyone to use, make and share maps from any device anywhere anytime. We should dream toward leveraging our data and systems on any device. The work done to this point with GIS is revolutionary, but we need to close the gap to make it available to everyone.

Capelli suggested steps to making GIS a better enterprise system, with:

  • one corporate system
  • no user limitations
  • three clicks or less to information
  • uniformity of all maps — scales and symbols shared
  • as easy to use as an iPad 

He also suggested steps to further empower your organization:

  • fully making an enterprise system with spatial analysis, asset management and all the power that’s possible with GIS
  • empowering your GIS professionals to enable everyone
  • create a destination portal with a central place for information (an enterprise search engine for mapping)
  • integrate GIS with other mission systems and data assets based on location
  • configure COTS tools and then deliver and empower customization
  • getting involved personally as being user #1, elevating importance and relevance and improving decision making
  • create a series of maps that illustrate performance, status, change, exceptions, forecasts and alternatives. Maps tied to objectives help everyone understand how to make positive change.
  • organizing effectively to place GIS appropriately to match desired outcomes, rather than centralized, you align the tool to missions and mission teams
  • a culture of sharing and collaboration is needed, leveraging identity and roles to enable and promote the culture of change

Technology hasn’t always solved problems, but it has created problems. Leadership and a strong business case are important as is a clear vision of how it applies to the mission. When a new technology is presented part of it is finding the person with a passion to implement it.

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