The Esri UC is over. It is an amazing week full of smart, energetic and passionate geogeeks and geoleaders. Attendees’ focus varies. They come from practically every industry and corner of the world. Some are newly graduated while other have managed GIS projects since the workstation days. They all have geography in common; using geography to integrate information to make better decisions.

Esri hosts this event as part of the attendee’s maintenance fees. One thread through the conference is Esri’s messages; what they want users to do and buy. There are articles and blogs about the content of Esri’s message. Esri even posts the big messages they want you to know ahead of time in the Q&A’s. This year’s overarching message was about moving to ArcGIS Pro and buying into the platform and Web GIS.

Jack Dangermond, CEO of Esri, gives a plenary address every year and this year is no different. The conference theme changes, this year is the Science of Where, but the message is consistent. GIS can save the world from destruction. We have new tools to help you do it. And see what our users are doing. These are all great messages, and as a geographer, I truly believe using spatial thinking is a game changer for many organizations.

Jack is inarguably the new Grandfather of GIS. He led the industry in messaging as well as selling GIS. The bigger question asked outside the plenary hall, however, is “What is next?” Jack is the face of back office, traditional GIS. But in the world of technology, Esri is not an innovator. While Esri talks about IoT, Big Data, and science, technologists outside GIS are already working on integrating spatial thinking into these developments.

GIS 2.0 is already emerging.

While many will mourn the end of traditional back office systems, for geographers and geogeeks, GIS 2.0 is amazing! Today, data scientists are building predictive analytic solutions that include spatial reasoning, IoT devices are embedded with spatial thinking in the firmware, and systems use spatial analysis to define scores such a drivability, health, risk and buying potential! Traditional GIS systems like ArcGIS will be used for many years in big government agencies that collect, manage and analyze big geographic data sets (think NGA.) Whereas, nimble and forward-thinking companies are quickly adjusting to the needs of organizations globally that are leading the thinking of a truly connected world.

A GIS Professional checklist.

There are the usual takeaways from this years Esri UC. As I talked to users and partners, however, I noticed a new trend. GIS professionals are now looking at alternative solutions and activities. This validates the growing and vibrant thinking of the GIS community. We all benefit from a diverse and robust GIS market. By including some of these activities into your plan, you can help you be part of it. What can you do?

  1. Form an internal GIS working group to understand and document risks associated with dependence on Esri as sole GIS vendor. Understand key critical functions and build short, medium and long-term plan to reduce risks.
  2. Communicate spatial needs to your enterprise technology vendors. Understand their spatial plans, communicate your needs and share roadmaps. Examples are Big Data, IoT, IT, sensor and supply chain organizations.
  3. Form cross-organizational groups. Organize GIS working groups in trade organizations to understand risks, look at alternatives and communicate joint needs.
  4. Attend geo meetups, conferences such as FOSS4G and related events as applicable.
  5. Read article, blogs and thought leadership pieces on GIS, Location Intelligence, geospatial, spatial and anything “geo.”
  6. Invite alternative vendors to present offerings and migration strategies.
  7. Partners should investigate other vendors’ partner programs, incentives, and migration options.

Where there are lots of options.

Another observation from this years Esri UC is the evolution of the Tuesday night “underground” parties. In the past they were small, unorganized events, meant to be stealthy. However, I have noticed that in the last few years, they have become an event within an event! This year three vendors had parties on the same street, allowing for users to explore and discover alternative solutions to the Esri platform.

  • The Pitney Bowes, makers of MapInfo and Spectrum, event was at the Rustic Root with more than 500 attendees! They did a great job mixing a fun event with an opportunity to hear about their full range of GIS capabilities and data. One major takeaway is that they were very focused on developing solutions for users that would drive down costs and make end user very happy!
  • MapBox and Boundless teamed up to put on a cool “Prohibition” themed event. Showing the power of open source that brings support and add-ons to the open source GIS offerings as well as a developer platforms that brings beautiful and highly functional maps to any app.

Lead instead of following.

As a community, GIS professionals are the engine that drives this market. What will it look like in five years? That will depend on all of us contributing, pushing and thinking outside the box. Esri helped create and grow this market. It is now our turn to transition it for the future. Where will you be looking?