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 “our world needs a new approach on how we see things and do things; to apply what we know to all the little decisions we make.” Jack presented the notion of a “Geographic Approach” as an emerging framework to help solve the big problems around the world.

Jack DangermondGIS is, of course, the underlying technology for the framework which leads to better decisions and greater efficiencies. While he seemed distressed about his inability to have much impact by changing individual habits and consumption, Jack glowed that “GIS is becoming an instrument of evolution.” He also said that the Geographic Approach is important for creating a sustainable world.” A big idea.

Jack went on to lay out the types of geographic knowledge and patterns of GIS. He made a point to dwell on the GeoWeb as complementary to the desktop/server/federated implementations, not a replacement. He said that Microsoft and Google want to merely extend search to include location and they are driven by advertising dollars, and are each spending $150 million per year building and refining their base maps for that purpose (not necessarily to address the needs of GIS professionals). Jack encouraged GIS professionals to tap into these data sets using ESRI technologies.

There was a brief discussion of an upcoming ArcGIS 9.3 release “in the spring,” he said to chuckles. He responded, “OK, make fun of me” apparently in reference to past missed dates. He admitted to performance and other problems in 9.2. A few 9.3 features were highlighted including improved mapping and labeling, geographically weighted regression (very cool), and 3-D visualization. Other ESRI people demonstrated these things to a sleepy audience that barely reacted to what ESRI was clearly hoping would excite them. Well, I got excited, and I’m not even an ESRI customer! Maybe the breakfast was too light or the coffee not strong enough …

The ArcGIS Server platform was the next topic and the product enjoys, said Jack, most of ESRI’s development resources. He discussed the new and fast on-demand image service, role based security, improved mashup capability using REST API and JavaScript, a new mobile application, and better interoperability. ArcGIS Explorer is on version 450 and is ESRI’s Google Earth equivalent. But it does more GIS and integrates better with ESRI data, he said.

Jack closed reiterating his call for a Geographic Framework to address problems, calling it a framework that “lets us chart a brighter future and is already helping.” One can not argue with this call to arms. There is so much data, so many tools, and lots of people expertise. Can it be corralled to address the world’s biggest problems? Jack Dangermond is in a position to know, and he thinks so. How will that occur? That’s another presentation.

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