Archive for GIS

Enthusiasts to GIS Mecca – ESRI User Conference 2008

ESRI logo on door

GIS – Geography in Action; that’s the theme. On the product side the emphasis was simplification and stability. There is a lot to cover from the conference, so I’ll start with an overview of day one. 



San Diego Convention Center

San Diego – clear sunny days, not too hot. You want to be outside but need to be in. The sprawling convention center is ready on Monday – primed like a pump to handle the throngs of ESRI enthusiasts about to descend on the place. 


The event rings of a sort of Mecca for GIS practitioners (no religious disrespect intended). They come from near and far – 14,000 from more than 120 countries. (Only the Olympics have more international representation?)  And they venture from afar to see and hear what the company, its partners, and its customers are up to. And to meet people of like interests. Four days, hundreds of sessions, a huge exhibit hall, a never-ending map gallery, special interest group meetings, and numerous social events.



The plenary – the main event, the kickoff. Colorful kites adorn the front stage while three huge screens occupy the waiting audience with questions – geography questions. (Tough questions, too!) Meanwhile, gentle eclectic music with an international feel plays. 


Jack begins by welcoming the masses and he asks us to stop for a moment and meet another person. I turn around and meet a guy who’s at his 11th ESRI UC. When I tell him it’s my first, he says, “It’s all about Jack. That’s all you need to know.” I laugh. And it turns out that does not seem at all true – after the opening day, Jack stepped into the background and let his employees, partners, and customers take over. They had more than enough to share and do without worrying about Jack, it seemed.



Dirk Kempthorne, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, said that GIS is changing how we abstract our world, how we reason about the world, how we organize and communicate. He referred to the vision of explorer and scientist Alexander von Humboldt as the foundation of Interior’s vision. Kempthorne also suggested that in the future GIS will be more pervasive because of all human action related to place. But he stressed the importance of reaching users outside the room – those not now using GIS. Reaching them is the only way to make GIS part of the infrastructure. 


Various product announcements followed Read more

GIS Developers Not So Agile Yet

Chris Spagnulolo released results of his Agile GIS Survey 2008, the first survey of GIS developers about agile. Of the 347 responents, 32% said their organizations use agile practices. This compares to 69% who said they use agile in a separate survey of the general developer population by Scott Ambler done a year ago.

Chris offers that after GIS developers start using agile practices, they use them in the same way as what her calls “mainstream” developers. In the results, something pops out at me. More than half of the respondents said they did not know when their organizations would adapt agile practices and more than 14% said they think their organizations would never go agile. Along with some other questions along these lines, it seems that GIS developers are likely to remain less agile than the rest of the development world.

In Chris’ whitepaper analyzing the results, he postulates that GIS is certainly lagging the rest of the market in terms of agile adoptation, and it is really not that far behind. The reasons for the difference are not clear from the survey results. Perhaps GIS developers are more resistent to change. Maybe management and customers don’t see the value. This is an open question.

Could it be that developing GIS applications is somehow different in a way that makes it agile-unfriendly? Or maybe organizations that are now have the main GIS developement activities tend to be conservative and thus less likely to embrace agile – governments, utilities, and large contractors serving them. I didn’t see anything in the survey results indicating the industry the respondents work in.

This survey is a great first step in better understanding of the GIS developer community. As Chris suggests, future surveys and analysis will help us better understand.

Jack Dangermond: “This is no longer a dream. It is actually starting to work”

2008 ESRI Federal User Conference

Today in frigid Washington D.C., the 2008 ESRI Federal User Conference started. I attended and share here some observations on the opening presentation by ESRI’s President, Jack Dangermond.

This is the 20th version of the federal user conference. ESRI officials told me that 2,500 pre-registered, an increase of 600 from 2007. Incredible growth for a technology conference these days.

DC Convention Center

The nice new Washington Convention Center is the venue; the rooms are, well, roomy. The food is decent … but let’s move to the good stuff.

Jack Dangermond kicked off the plenary discussing how his audience is “working on the nation’s problems.” He showed dozens of maps covering about 20 categories of applications including humanitarian programs, emergency management, environment, energy, defense, homeland security, and facility management. The heart of his message was that Read more

Can GIS be Agile?

Chris Spagnuolo
Agile GIS? Many would assert that’s a contradiction of terms. Not to Chris Spagnuolo, with whom I recently talked, and the leading evangelist for agile GIS. Chris is a manager at Data Transfer Solutions (DTS), a growing geospatial services spinout from Space Imaging, with headquarters in Orlando, Florida. Chris and some Ft. Collins cohorts, including Dave Bouwman (another agile evangelist), recently joined DTS and are developing customer solutions using the Microsoft .NET framework with ESRI’s development stack. Chris and the DTS development team adhere to the growing agile development philosophies, specifically Scrum.

Rugby ScrumScrum is a rugby term for packs of players binding together for strategic advantage. Scrum is also a project management method that is growing in use for software development. Like much of agile, Scrum is not new, first described in an article in 1986. Its key traits are iteration and incremental progress. For a more complete explanation see Ken Schwaber’s paper “What is Scrum?”. Schwaber’s Advanced Development Methods, Inc. developed and used Scrum way back in the early 1990s. Today, some claim significant productivity increases using Scrum.

Back to Chris, who’s worked in GIS for more than a decade, in project and product management, some with ESRI. He spent time recently investigating agile practices for development and project management and began applying them to GIS projects. His blog, Chris Spagnulolo’s GeoScrum, provides ongoing commentary on his experiences using Scrum for GIS projects with DTS. The team is using Scrum for a project underway with the Colorado Department of Transportation and another with Tahoe Integrated Information Management System. All new DTS projects will apply Scrum from the start.

Chris told me that while he knows Scrum works on GIS projects because he’s seen it make a difference, clients have to be educated about the changed way of doing things. That clients can see product pieces every two weeks or so and the pace of change is rapid are foreign to those used to traditional project methodologies. The iterations and constant client review at the core of Scrum methods provide unprecedented visibility into the ongoing work.

Educating the GIS world on the benefits of Scrum is an ongoing challenge that Chris tackles with his blog as well as by working with agile proponents such as Rally Software Development Corp., an agile software development tool and services provider. With Rally, Chris can go after some tough customers such as government contractors used to fixed scope contracts that require additional presentations and seminars to understand how to contract for such projects.

While Chris promotes GeoScrum, he believes there is nothing particularly unique about GIS development and project management. All the reasons that agile and Scrum work on other projects in other markets apply here. But the GIS community, for whatever reason, seems a bit more traditional in its methods than many other sectors.

The buzz is loud around agile practices in the software development world. There are large conferences, books, Web sites, seminars, and agile-specific vendors. The big vendors in enterprise application development tools (Borland, Microsoft, IBM, BMC etc.) all have agile positions. For its part, ESRI recently hired a VP of Product Management touting his agile background. This is cause for optimism amongst agile proponents in GIS because where ESRI goes, many in GIS generally follow.

Where all of this will end up in GIS remains to be seen. But the benefits are now emerging often enough that GIS developers and project managers ought to be taking a close look at agile methods including Scrum. Short cycles and ongoing business involvement mean that Agile processes provide early warning as well as the ability to change course without too much pain during a project.

DTS Ft. Collins teamMeanwhile, while his methods may be new to GIS, Chris and the DTS team will continue to build proof for what he so strongly believes the old-fashioned way — one successful project at a time. (From left to right, the team is Mike Juniper, U.G. “Vish” Viswanath, Jeff Germain, Chris Spagnuolo, and Dave Bouwman.)

GIS Finds the Sunshine in Florida

Jason Spalding

The Geo Factor interviewed Jason Spalding of emGISt who recently started Find GIS, a Web site focusing on GIS in the state of Florida. Jason answered questions about his goals for the site and what’s happening in Florida.

TGF: What is Find GIS?

Find GIS is a comprehensive GIS Web site catering to the Florida GIS industry. The site includes, but is not limited to: Florida GIS data download sites, GIS resources (blogs, tools, and user groups), GIS staff contact information (state agencies, counties, and cities), and University GIS Departments throughout the state.

TGF: Why did you start it? What do you hope to accomplish with the site? What have you already accomplished?

I started Find GIS in order to upgrade my Florida GIS Data blogspot. I created the blogspot more than four years ago as a way to assist GIS users in tracking down Florida GIS data and to keep the Florida GIS Community in the loop on related industry news and events. It was also a central location for clients, customers, and users to so they could download their own GIS data.

With Find GIS, I hope to assist GIS users throughout the state by providing them a one-stop industry resource. I am a big believer in having GIS data available as public records as defined under the Florida Government-in-the-Sunshine Law (aka Florida Sunshine Law), which is part of our state’s public record statutes. I also hope to use the site as a platform for myself and like-minded users to make contacts within the industry that are willing to pursue innovative ideas with regards to GIS applications and Location Based Services. Even though companies such as ESRI have been around for decades, I feel that the industry in general is still in its infancy and is changing every day. One of my favorite “pastimes” is to brainstorm about new ways that the power of GIS, GPS, and LBS can be harnessed and applied to everyday life.

One of my top GIS industry-related accomplishments to date is my pursuit of obtaining Palm Beach County’s parcel shapefiles under Florida’s public records laws. It was nearly a year-long saga that I pursued through the Attorney General’s Open Government Mediation Program. Briefly, Palm Beach County had a resolution in place that required any private entity to sign a data license agreement and pay a $20,000 “License Agreement Royalty Fee” in order to be able to obtain a copy of and redistribute their countywide copyrighted parcel shapefiles. The obvious issues were that the parcel shapefiles were copyrighted public records, and were created using tax payers money. Therefore, the records should have been available at the cost of reproduction as defined under the Florida Sunshine Law. The end result was Attorney General Charlie Crist, now Governor Crist, issued an Attorney General’s Opinion in my favor and the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners voted to rescind their GIS information policy resolution. Anyone can now download the latest version of these parcel shapefiles from Palm Beach County’s FTP site at no cost.

For full details, please see the early 2003 news articles on Find GIS, as well as the Attorney General’s Opinion (AGO #2003-42) which was issued on September 3, 2003.

A few of my other minor accomplishments recently were getting my original blogspot to the top result (out of 1,000,000+ returns) for a Google search of “Florida GIS Data”, obtaining over 8,000 subscribers to the Florida GIS Data News Feed, and the launch and promotion of the Florida GIS Data Sharing Network. The network is a Google Group and forum of GIS users across the state that share their industry knowledge and resources. The group has recently surpassed 500 approved members, the majority of whom reside within the state of Florida.

TGF: What is your professional background? Your company affiliation?

I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering and currently hold an EI (Engineering Intern) license. I worked within the land development division of a local engineering firm for four years prior to developing a serious interest in GIS in 2002. At that time I started a small GIS consulting business, emGISt, Inc. (Enterprise Management & Geographical Information System Technologies, Inc.) which I continue to run today.

TGF: What is the business model for the site? How will it support itself or make money?

Good question! I need to Read more