Intelligent Nervous System for the Planet

Recent technological advances are creating an enormous impact across the broad geospatial community, enabling users to not only share their data, but to synthesize it into interesting collections of advanced information for the planet. Increasingly, maps and geographic information are being organized into all types of layers that help us understand almost everything about our world. This fast-growing trend has been adopted by hundreds of thousands of organizations worldwide, enabling more people to use GIS to explore the numerous geographic patterns about our world.

This recent evolutionary stride is transforming GIS into a system of distributed web services (shared by many organizations globally) that can be accessed and leveraged on the web by interested communities. GIS adoption and use are rapidly spreading beyond GIS professionals to become relevant to virtually everyone. Because all GIS items are shared web services, you can open and interact with any item by simply referencing its URL.

We like to imagine this global GIS as the “intelligent nervous system for the planet”. The more people are able to collaborate and share information, the stronger this GIS foundation becomes.

Marrying technologies

Spatial analysis and modeling have historically been a desktop GIS task. Traditionally, GIS commands and tools were used throughout the GIS community and compiled into geoprocessing scripts for scientific modeling and computation. With cloud computing, Python scripts and Jupyter, notebooks are rapidly being adopted for spatial analysis and data science for processing and analyzing this data across vast networks of cloud computing. These scripts are being taken to where data resides (in data cubes in the Cloud). Python scripts are also incorporating and applying Machine Learning, statistical modeling and Deep Learning logic, marrying these with all kinds of other scientific computing methods.
Meanwhile, IoT networks are providing rich observations in these Cloud networks and data is being integrated into rich spatial analytics. Geoprocessing and maps provide the integrating language of GIS. Esri’s ArcGIS platform includes over 1500 tools that can be used to program sophisticated analytical, data science and automation workflows. These can be integrated with other scientific tools to develop advanced analytic results.

Investing in innovation

At Esri, our goal has always been to focus on the changing needs and aspirations of our users. We are a strong business with a stable financial foundation for supporting the work we do. However, we do invest heavily in building and enabling GIS software. Each year, we invest about one-third of our revenue in advancing our fundamental technologies. We also work hard to develop training and support, books, blogs and newsletters for helping our professional community stay current.

User adoption of the ArcGIS Online Web GIS throughout the world is increasing at an annual rate of close to 30%. Currently, this community is generating 2-3 billion online maps daily. It has created and shared over 27 million items in its collective Online GIS, and the rate for adding new items in 2019 exceeded 40%. This information sharing ethic has added tremendous value to the ArcGIS platform.

Interestingly, our investments in GIS are advancing beyond our expectations for reach and impact. Our users represent organizations throughout the world that are creating and managing change using GIS. Our goals have been around supporting our users’ good work and learning from (and responding to) their needs. Most users see the work that they do as being supportive of their own organizations. In this new age of activism, we are seeing the impact and contributions of the GIS community reaching beyond individual organizations to enable bigger achievements and impact.

In this new age of activism, we are seeing the impact of the GIS community reaching beyond individual organizations to enable bigger achievements

Democratizing information

ArcGIS Portal is part of both ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Enterprise. Portals provide a critical technology that controls access to appropriate information that you are entitled to view and use. They also prohibit you from accessing information that you do not have rights to view or use. Your identity (single sign-on) is how information access is controlled. Each organization establishes and controls identity and information access through its portal. One of the key goals of the ArcGIS portal is for small workgroups and organizations to assign identity to members and to control information access and collaboration. These capabilities extend beyond organizations to communities.

Web GIS is about participation, access and sharing. You are granted access to the information that is appropriate for you. In this way, through your identity, portals provide shared access across communities of interest. As far as building trust is concerned, there are multiple aspects to that, which include protecting personally identifiable information and supporting and sustaining community efforts. We are careful about how we manage system identity in our community-based Web GIS. We feel community systems in which information is shared and used requires a system of identity in which users can be granted access when appropriate.

Our GIS portals play a critical role in maintaining and controlling information access through identity and logins. This configuration work is performed by each organization. In turn, each organization determines access to each information item that it provides and manages. They can set access to be publicly open, to be shared with individuals or named groups, or to keep these items private for the individual creator or provider.

Going beyond simple data sharing

We haven’t really felt the impact of the global economic downturn in a strong way. While there is no magic mantra to tide over recession, one way we like to think about what we do is going beyond simple data sharing to generate higher level information items and interpretations that provide users with deeper insights. These information items will be the most important asset for organizations, and GIS provides a framework for data that gives it context and meaning — that’s why it is called ‘Location Intelligence’.

Geospatial technologies can definitely help in this area. Applying GIS helps organizations make better decisions, work more efficiently and increase overall understanding. One major advantage that these technologies offer is transparency and insight.

Combining different skillsets

It has always been difficult to find application programmers and analysts who are up to speed with the latest tech breakthroughs, especially in the rapidly innovating field of GIS. There is a time lag in staffing up. For example, web programmers are in high demand. And so are advanced GIS analysts, who have deep experience with traditional professional GIS tasks combined with experience at implementing new Web GIS patterns.

Interestingly, both these GIS communities are combining their investments and missions to create and share amazing data collections as well as to create web maps and apps that fuel the broader Web GIS trend.

Author Bio

Jack Dangermond is the founder and president of Esri. With a background in landscape architecture and urban design, he and his wife, Laura, founded Esri in 1969 on the idea that computer-based mapping and analysis could make significant contributions to geographic planning and environmental science. Since then, Esri has become the global market leader in GIS and location intelligence, with 49 offices worldwide, 11 dedicated research centers, and a strong user base of about 350,000 organizations around the world. Dangermond has received many acknowledgements and awards for his contributions to the fields of geography, environmental science, planning, and GIS, including 13 honorary degrees.