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Esri UC Plenary Explores Democratization of Geography

July 30, 2015  - By

Last week, Esri held its 36th International User Conference in San Diego. With 15,000+ attendees from 130 countries, it is the largest gathering of geospatial professionals in North America.

The general plenary presentation on Monday morning is always an interesting event. Founder Jack Dangermond leads the plenary and presents his vision for the year, and years, to come. Here’s the opening Plenary video (3 minutes):

The message of this year’s Plenary was “Applying Geography Everywhere” with the central theme was Web GIS. Here is a video of Mr. Dangermond’s GIS vision (12:42 minutes):

For the past few years, he’s spoken quite a bit about the democratization of geography by making GIS capability available to an audience other than the GIS professional by expanding its impact across an organization at many levels. Here’s a slide he’s presented in the past, and I think it’s consistent with where he sees GIS heading; a global awareness and global usage of GIS apps and data.


Esri thinks that Web GIS is an enabling technology that will be a catalyst for the democratization of GIS across all of an organization’s departments.

How GIS has evolved. (Credit: Eric Gakstatter)

How GIS has evolved. (Credit: Eric Gakstatter)

During the Plenary, Bern Szukalski outlined Esri’s take on the current trends in Web GIS:

  • Portals. The windows into GIS. Thousands of public and private portals serve up GIS data and services.
  • Content. A collection of authoritative and curated content that Esri calls a living atlas, with some data being updated daily or even hourly.
  • Analysis tools. For the non-GIS professional to answer simple (or complex) queries such as emergency services coverage in a particular municipality, leveraging the living atlas content to use the most up-to-date data.
  • Smart mapping. New data-driven web cartography functionality and data exploration that leverages the right tools presented at the right time. Think of it like Google search that shows you relevant web sites based on your past web surfing.
  • Story maps. A combination of Web GIS and rich media to tell a compelling story. A new and unreleased type of Story map presented by Bern is the Story map Cascade, an immersive experience as you advance through the story and interact with map, amplifying the value of GIS.

If you want to view Bern’s plenary presentation on Web GIS trends, see the following 9-minute video:

Esri Product Roadmap

I get the feeling that ArcGIS Pro will be Esri’s premiere desktop product. When you buy ArcGIS, in addition to ArcMap, you also get a concurrent license for ArcGIS Pro (and ArcGIS Online), and you can see from the following slide that ArcGIS Pro incremental upgrades follow ArcMap. The following slide also shows the timing for the ArcGIS 10.4 release.

July 2015 GSS_html_6392f0d8

Another product Esri is going to release later this year to further promote the democratization of digital geography is a product called ArcGIS Earth. Just by the name, you can imagine the type of product it’s going to be. It’s all about 3D visualization.


Lastly, many of you may have missed the discussion about a new Esri Mobile GIS app called Survey123. There wasn’t a big announcement made, but it seems to be a powerful little app. For those of you who think Collector is a bit too structured, Survey123 might be the app for you. You can easily author smart forms following the XLSForm specification and quickly set up data-collection workflows. This is a really neat feature of Survey123, because you can create your mobile GIS data-collection pick lists and use form logic in an Excel spreadsheet instead of having to create it in the Esri environment.

It might end up being my favorite Esri mobile GIS app. But, you’ll have to wait to give it a spin because it’s not slated for release until later this year.

In other mobile GIS news at the conference, it appears as though Microsoft is concerned about Android and iOS dominating the mobile device space, so much so that Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates made a recorded presentation at the plenary. Even more interesting is that Mr. Dangermond suggested that perhaps Mr. Gates might make a live appearance at the Esri UC sometime in the future.

Bill Gates delivers an address to the Esri plenary audience. (Photo: Eric Gakstatter)

Bill Gates delivers an address to the Esri plenary audience. (Photo: Eric Gakstatter)

On the technical side of Microsoft, it looks like the end is in sight for the separate software development platforms for Windows Desktop and Windows Phone. With Windows 10, I heard that the software development environment for Windows Desktop and Windows Phone (or whatever it’s going to be called) is going to be the same, so you should start seeing Windows devices pick up some momentum next year.

That’s it for now. See you next month.

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About the Author: Eric Gakstatter

Eric Gakstatter has been involved in the GPS/GNSS industry for more than 20 years. For 10 years, he held several product management positions in the GPS/GNSS industry, managing the development of several medium- and high-precision GNSS products along with associated data-collection and post-processing software. Since 2000, he's been a power user of GPS/GNSS technology as well as consulted with capital management companies; federal, state and local government agencies; and private companies on the application and/or development of GPS technology. Since 2006, he's been a contributor to GPS World magazine, serving as editor of the monthly Survey Scene newsletter until 2015, and as editor of Geospatial Solutions monthly newsletter for GPS World's sister site Geospatial Solutions, which focuses on GIS and geospatial technologies.