Esri Partner Conference: GIS is at an Inflection Point

Author: Matt Sheehan, Geospatial Innovations Director, Locana
I spent last week in Palm Springs with Esri.
How nice it was to be in the company of others, not virtually over Zoom, but face-to-face. I’ve been to many Esri conferences, but this one stood out. It was a week filled with great conversations, presentations, learning, and laughter.
As the Geospatial Innovations Director at Locana, I have a lens squarely focused on the path ahead. That means taking note of business and technology innovation, as well as helping to drive both. Locana has a tight relationship with Esri; ArcGIS plays a central role in much of our work. Inside Locana, many believe that GIS is at an inflection point. That was confirmed in Palm Springs. I came away with four resonating themes:

  • Embedded
  • Enterprise
  • Integrated
  • Realtime

Let me expand on each of these areas in this blog post.
Integrated GIS Image

Embedding GIS into workflows

On its own, GIS can be a tough sell to senior leaders and executives. Embedding GIS in the workflows of other business systems is potentially a game-changer. This was one key area of discussion in Palm Springs. Business systems such as SAP and Salesforce are essential to the operations of many organizations. They are systems used by a multitude of different departmental users, providing information about ‘the what.’ In the world of assets, which includes material, cost, and much more, GIS complements and extends business systems by providing ‘the where.’

In combination, business systems and GIS provide organizations a holistic view. As an example, consider Enterprise Asset Management (EAM). The software focuses on managing the maintenance of physical assets throughout their lifecycle. People use EAM to plan, optimize, execute, and track activities associated with an asset, which are often geographically widely distributed. Many business systems provide EAM functionality. Work orders are at the heart of these solutions. Field staff manage work orders daily. These provide ‘the what’ of the asset and highlight problems needing attention. Too often, an asset’s location, its spatial relationship to other assets, and connections to these assets are missing from these systems. Asset management can be far more powerful and cost-effective when it integrates in-house EAM and GIS systems.

Lemur Screen Capture

Locana is a leader in embedding GIS in business systems. Our Lemur Pro solution is an example of a new breed of light, mobile spatial integrations, supplying a single window for field staff to view and interact with both SAP EAM and ArcGIS. Lemur combines an interactive ArcGIS map with SAP EAM work orders. Data is both pushed and pulled respectively from each system. Lemur is a frictionless mobile EAM app; easy to use for both experts and novices alike.

Empty Boardroom

Breaking out of departments

GIS has for much of its history been a departmentally focused technology. It is often associated with: “Those mapping guys in the corner.” But GIS can solve problems across organizations. It is truly an enterprise platform that can help empower non-GIS professionals. But breaking out of departments has long been a challenge. There was renewed vigor and focus in Palm Springs on widening the reach of GIS and bringing geographic thinking to the enterprise. That means innovative approaches to help drive new business-centric conversations.

We often begin our journey with customers by telling an enterprise rather than departmental GIS solution story. That means engaging with business leaders and helping them understand the business value of GIS. Esri’s drive toward enterprise adoption of GIS is central to our work at Locana.

Paradigm Shift Image

The multidimensional data paradigm shift

In the last few years there, we have seen massive technology advances around sensors. Thanks to miniaturization, sensors have become ubiquitous. A new era of automated data collection is upon us. The Internet of Things (IoT) is one expression of these advances. Smart is an ever more commonly used term: smart assets, smart cities, smart transportation. Micro-satellites are another important area. These power an expanding space economy that supplies hugely important earth observation data. This new phase of multidimensional data collection is notable not only for the quantity of data being collected but the variety: imagery, synthetic-aperture radar (SAR), multi-spectral, 3D, and much more.

Esri has been busy extending the capabilities of ArcGIS to take advantage of this tsunami of new data. The Plenary, and many of the individual sessions I attended, included mention of IoT, point clouds, texture meshes, reality capture, the convergence of imagery, remote sensing, and GIS. Multidimensional data integration is now core to ArcGIS. Sure, for ArcGIS, this is one example. This is a new reality capture tool.

We have an incredible breadth and depth of data expertise within Locana. That extends to multidimensional geospatial data. As an example, we are working with utility customers collecting, processing, and publishing 3D utility asset data to the Utility Network. That has enabled us to help customers visualize and analyze complex gas and electric facilities in 2D and 3D.

Digital Reality Image

The emergence of digital reality

I’ll admit, what interested me the most in Palm Springs were the conversations around digital reality. Thanks to new automated data collection, we are digitizing our world. This is a huge part of the future of GIS. At the conference, we heard and saw much on 3D Systems of Record, visualization and analytics, real-time data feeds, augmented reality, game engine integration, and much more. All very exciting and invigorating.

ArcGIS Velocity is a huge advance. Now part of the ArcGIS Online SaaS offering, Velocity will help drive real-time data enterprise access. Supporting the gRPC real-time open data standard, Velocity is simple to administer and configure, supports large data throughputs, and, since it is a SaaS offering, greatly simplifies management.

Augmented reality offers many fascinating possibilities. A new enhanced perspective of our real world is becoming possible. As an example, we have begun to map underground assets using radar-based sensors. This is multidimensional data that is being stored in geodatabases. Soon it will be possible to wear glasses and visualize this data while in the field; to see pipes invisible to the naked eye. Another example is GeoBIM or structures which have been planned but not built. Soon we will be able to go on-site, don our augmented reality glasses, and see planned buildings before construction begins.

Indoor GIS is another advancing area. 3D indoor data collection is becoming considerably easier. Consumer products like the iPhone now have built-in Lidar sensors. That means we can capture and create 3D indoor spaces. Tools like ArcGIS Indoor provide the ability to visualize and analyze indoor data.

At Locana, we are exploring this new world of possibilities with our customers. Technology advances point the way to the future. But business use cases are key to overcoming inertia and resistance to change. Locana sees innovation through two lenses: the technical and business. We know our customers want to better understand what is now possible. And are working hard to demonstrate the business value of these incredible advances in GIS data and technology.

Exciting times ahead

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Palm Springs with Esri. It was a week filled with impressive technology innovation and underlined the ambition of the world’s leading GIS provider. We are in the midst of dramatic technological changes, far bigger than the Internet and mobile revolutions. Our world is being digitized, and GIS is increasingly the glue that brings once disparate systems together. Our job, as GIS experts, is to help our clients understand how best to take advantage of this incredible surge of innovation. And that is at the heart of our mission at Locana.

Matt Sheehan
Geospatial Innovations Director, Locana

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