GISCafe Special Report: ESRI User Conference Plenary Session
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GISCafe Special Report: ESRI User Conference Plenary Session

By Susan Smith

July 25, 2005 -- On Monday, once again the ESRI Plenary Session kicked off with ESRI president Jack Dangermond’s warm welcome and his GIS vision of the future. The theme of this year’s conference and his talk, “GIS – Helping Manage our World” was illustrated by examples of people using GIS for a variety of tasks: tectonic history, natural resources inventories of geology and vegetation, earthquake modeling and visualization, managing tsunami disaster relief, hurricane events, suitability modeling, planning – to name just a few.

The program was slightly different this year: the morning included a user demo by Kevin Sato, ArcGIS network analyst for the City of Murray, Utah, announcement of the President’s Award, product development announcements and strategies. In the afternoon session, Dangermond spoke on “GIS in Society,” students from the Waterville Elementary School in Washington gave a demo, and the audience was treated to a wonderful keynote by Dr. Jane Goodall.

President’s Award

The President’s Award this year went to NESA, a Danish company. Rene Vedo, NESA IT and customer service vice president of information, headed an effort to rebuild their entire organization built on GIS, with SAP and GIS integrated.

GIS Vision – the GeoWeb

Dangermond said that we need to bring together our analysis into a framework. The concept of the GeoWeb was introduced, a system of systems where individual systems will be connected. GIS Web Services will provide the framework for this. There will be many communities of consumers, situational awareness, LBS and wireless sensor networks, GIS networks, more synergy between different communities, and much easier exploration tools. The vision of GeoWeb is just a vision of supporting collaboration.

However, what will enable this GeoWeb will be grid computing or service oriented architecture, increased bandwidth, larger storage, web services standards, mobile technologies, real time networks, GIS software, and faster processing.

ArcGIS 9.2

The technical foundation for ESRI’s strategies is ArcGIS 9. What it includes basically are the following: an enterprise GIS server, embeddable component libraries, and a developer’s framework. With the upcoming release of ArcGIS 9.2, ESRI’s software strategies include:

  •         Enhanced ArcGIS desktop
  •         Strengthen and simplifying geodata management
  •         Extend ArcGIS server
  •         More mobile GIS

    In this release, ESRI has focused on quality, usability and performance.

    Hundreds of user requests have been taken into consideration in the development of this product. Clint Brown, director of software products, said that users ask that ESRI “slow down” and reaffirm fundamental goals of helping solve problems, and address the quality of software and usability of the system.

    Server products are in a family working with desktop products. This year ESRI is releasing a new version of ArcExplorer, for which improvements include the following:

  •         Desktop products improved
  •         Improved ArcGIS extensions
  •         Data compilation /Editing

    Old COGO instructions will be added in ArcGIS 9.2.
    Complete workflow for cadastral measurements will be implemented inside the GIS There will be better support for rendering and georeferencing.
    More interoperability support on both server and client sides.
    Data interoperability extension supports a process of conversion, new data sources and converters, and includes the conversion of the schema. With this tool you can bring the schema maps and semantic maps over, changing the data into a geoweb for distributed collaboration.

    Advanced cartography will be available for creating high quality maps.
    ArcMap new tools for editing, symbology, conflict resolution and generalization. Cartographic generalization tools will be in 9.2 and will support multiple representations associated with a single feature.

    Using symbolic representation, designers can design and have that represented in a geographic database with new geographic sketching.

    For geoprocessing to support very large vector datasets, the new ArcGIS 9.2 will have the ability to do model looping to look at time and space, have all geoprocessing tools on a server, tools for manipulation, supporting time in GIS, real time sensor network, model looping, multiple dimension data sets, and NetCDF files. This was the first I have heard of NetCDF, which Dangermond explained is the standard for integrated time in GIS.

    Some enhancements that got a lot of applause:
    Real time tracking – serving and analyzing real time data.
    Animation in all applications 3D visualization and 2D maps and charts
    Improved charts – linking charts and tables with maps, supporting time, animation and charts.

    In the server environment, geodata management improvements include:
  •         Data modeling
  •         File and work group geodatabase
  •         Simplified administrations
  •         Distributed data management
  •         Spatial SQL
  •         History archiving
  •         Non version editing

    ESRI has been developing a series of data models that support users’ standards in various fields, that can be used with the geodatabase. The idea is to have these data models available that can be used for perhaps states, counties, and local governments interchangeably.

    Managing terrain surfaces may be solved with a new terrain type that is coming in ArcGIS 9.2. Included will be stronger image/raster capabilities, dynamic orthorectification and pan sharpening with faster loading into the SDE environment. This will be used for working with huge data sets, and terrain can be used for further analysis for input into other models.

    A new product, the Image Server, serves imagery and processes imagery in a server environment on request from the client. It can link the acquisition of images through the server very quickly and serve it up in real time. With Image Server you can add additional services to the server dynamically. Image Server has access to raw files and can see imagery from different viewpoints.

    Users have requested a better way to manage distributed data, for the replicated geodatabases and to be able to collaborate between two different organizations and two different locations, synchronizing updates with change only updates.

    The geodatabase is being extended at the core level, providing OpenSQL access to all DBMS platforms. Any geodatabase can access data at the core level. “These changes will better integrate our technology with other technology,” said Dangermond.

    With 9.2, ESRI will release a personal engine and will embed a database engine and SDE in personal and workgroup implementations of the geodatabase.

    Improving ESRI server platforms involves more integration, extended functionality and more security.

    A major release of ArcIMS can be expected with many improvements in simplifying the install and administration, better performance and better support for Java and .NET.

    ArcGIS Server 9.2 will support globe services, routing and tracking, all geoprocessing functions, will work in web services environments, and plugs directly into enterprise computing environments to support enterprise applications.

    ArcGIS Server supports what are called “smart clients” – which catch data in devices like phones, etc. and are embedded in focused applications. Smart clients support integration with GPS, and give you GIS services from server environments.

    ArcEngine 9.2 is designed for developers, and has added many new controls for ease in the desktop environment.

    In summing up the company, Dangermond noted that ESRI is now 36 years old. The company continues to grow between 10 and 15 percent per year, and has done so consistently for about 36 years. “GIS technology is not like fast technologies like the web; it represents steady incremental growth, financial stability,” said Dangermond. The company has no debt, and strong relationships with both partners and customers. One other ESRI mission is to embrace building a professional GIS workforce, those who know how to build applications to support users. “We call our organization a network – a network of teams that work on facets and bind it together with lots of communication.”

    In the demo, an ArcGIS Engine application was run on the TouchTable. It looked like ArcGlobe but had been extended because the TouchTable is manipulated by hand movements by touching the table. With the TouchTable menu, a user can take control of the Table and the menu wherever they are standing around it. Many could collaborate and move back and forth between images that were taken at different times. Another possibility is to connect two TouchTables and add some redlining that can be seen in another TouchTable.

    Using the ArcGIS SmartClient framework running on a ruggedized laptop, taken out in the field, the custom application has been designed to work with TouchTables. If this was not enough, another table was displayed – one with a rubberized cover on which you can look at markups, from Applied Minds and Northrup Grumman.


    In the afternoon session, Dr. David Cowen of the University of South Carolina was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award.

    Three students from the Waterville Elementary School in Waterville, Washington and their teacher, Diane Petersen, spoke about their analysis of the horny toad population in their community, and other GIS projects they had worked on. The audience gave them a standing ovation for their inspiring presentation.

    Keynote: Dr. Jane Goodall, Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and U.N. Messenger of Peace

    After this keynote, I heard people comment that this was the best keynote they’d ever heard at a conference. I would tend to agree with them, although ESRI has chosen extremely inspiring, dedicated people to give the address in past years.

    Jane Goodall is an exceptional woman by all counts. She is an icon of environmental protection, her work with the chimpanzees in the Gombe National Park in Tanzania has spanned 40 years and gained international attention.

    She began her talk by saying “hello” in chimpanzee. She noted that “the most important thing we’ve learned about chimpanzees is how like us they are. In biology chimps are more like us than any other living creature.” If you could match blood types, you could have a blood transfusion with a chimp. Their anatomy is the same. Their gestures are the same and they have similar emotions and strong bonds between mothers and offspring. They have the ability to make tools – they can make a tool out of a stripped twig to fish for termites.

    The chimps help us understand our place in nature, said Goodall. In 1960, when she first went to Africa to do the research on the chimpanzees, there were more than 1 million chimpanzees; now all that’s left in Africa are 150,000. Goodall cited logging and habitat dysfunction as the reasons why so many chimpanzees have vanished from Africa.

    Liliean Pintea was a graduate student when he came to Gombe to work on his Ph.D, and he has never left. He uses Tracking Analyst to track chimpanzees. He did a demonstration of how he could track the number of males in a group and how far they would wander. He said that satellite images are our eyes to track what will happen with deforestation next in the Gombe.

    Goodall’s work has extended beyond the chimpanzees to the people of the villages in Africa. She has formed TACARE, a group that helps villagers improve their lives. She also formed the Roots and Shoots program for young people worldwide.

    “Everyone makes a difference every day,” she concluded. “That’s what gives me energy to travel 300 days per year.”

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