International Finance
July - August 2018MagazineTechnology

Mapping the success of geographic information systems

The director of solutions at Esri, Damian Spangrud on the company’s revolutionary advanced mapping methods, and the future of AI and AR in this field

Tell us about the inception of Esri. How did it all begin?

Esri was founded in 1969 as Environmental Systems Research Institute, and began as a land-use consulting firm. The firm applied the then fledgling science of computer mapping and spatial analysis to help land use planners and land resource managers make evidence-based decisions. The company’s early work demonstrated the value of geographic information systems (GIS) for problem solving and developed its own tools that it would provide alongside its analysis. The toolset gained a following, and soon clients and a broader community clamored for commercialization, prompting the shift that made Esri a software company. Esri went on to tailor the tools to a broad range of industry and land management requirements, developing many of the GIS mapping and spatial analysis methods commonly in use today.

What is ArcGIS?

ArcGIS is Esri’s software platform for creating maps, collecting location data, analyzing information through the lens of geography, and sharing improved understanding. Managing geographic information as part of a comprehensive system gives a wide range of organizations a unifying view of their operations, because everything happens somewhere. ArcGIS provides an infrastructure to make the most of the power of geographic information by offering a scalable platform across desktop computers, servers, and mobile devices. This infrastructure tailors the tools around the identity and use cases of individuals while also weaving together data and actions for a greater understanding of the whole. Increasingly, the ecosystem is accessed via configurable apps that let anyone, anywhere access the same data while connecting those in the field with those in the office. This next wave of GIS, constantly updates maps with information from individuals and sensors for real-time situational awareness and expands into other markets who need a robust location intelligence platform. The platform approach, and nearly 50 years of tailoring and improving the GIS experience for a wide range of domains and operational challenges, separates ArcGIS from its competitors.

Give a detailed outlook on how ArcGIS is implemented across multiple industries such as real estate, banking, insurance, retail, government and manufacturing among others

One of the reasons ArcGIS is the market leader in GIS software is its versatility and ability to scale to any size organization. Organizations gain an immediate advantage with map-based awareness and increasing value the deeper they integrate this capability across their organization to reveal patterns that only location intelligence and mapping can convey. A wide swath of industries use and implement the technology, and many consider the intelligence systems that they’ve created to be their edge against their competitors. While all of the industries use the same underlaying technology, each industry configures the tools and models for their specific use, whether to analyze insurance risk, optimize supply chains, or profile potential customers.

Mention some of the advanced mapping technologies that Esri employs. Explain the implementation of these advanced technologies in advancing the mapping techniques. Which are the technologies significance of utmost importance for Esri and why?

Damian Spangrud, Director of solutions, Esri
Damian Spangrud,
Director of solutions, Esri

The art and science of mapping continues to advance quickly as new data feeds become available, from Drone information, to persistence sensing, and IoT integration, each advancement pushes how maps are used for analysis and communication. One area of advanced mapping that Esri leads the way on is artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. A lot of people only think of autonomous robots when they imagine AI, but in reality, the technology is far more wide-reaching and revolutionary. And at its core, this revolution will hinge on data analytics. Truly transformative and useful AI provides smart analysis of data for informed decisions based on algorithms that have an element of location. Esri uses AI to help our users do things like predict travel times and anticipate consumer demand at different business locations. Another significant innovation in the field of mapping is augmented reality (AR), which gives users the ability to see important, yet hidden assets through real-time maps of their environments. For instance, utility companies are using this technology to see the location of pipelines and other equipment hidden underground. We also continue to push beyond 2D maps, adding the vertical dimension for 3D and the time dimension for 4D and beyond.

Tell us about the Esri app. How does it help the users?

Esri has a number of apps, focused on empowering the field and office workforces with data entry, data exploration, and situational awareness. For instance, Survey123 is a field data collection app that allows data to be collected, analyzed, and uploaded anytime, anywhere. The app relieves fieldworkers of the burden of carrying paper maps. Fieldworkers use this app to find the object of interest, record measurement data, and report accurate data directly back to the office. Another relatively new development is the Ecological Marine Units (EMU) mobile app. The app provides a valuable resource for scientists, educators, governments, and industries seeking easily accessible information and imagery about the ocean’s long-term physical and nutrient properties. The EMU app puts data such as temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen from 52 million locations throughout the world’s oceans at any user’s fingertips. Many users leverage our complete field data collection workflow, which integrates apps for data collection, workforce management, and situational awareness. This complete workflow allows organizations to have real-time awareness for their field crews and reduces work and improves efficiency.

Esri is present all across the globe. How does the company successfully manage to collect such huge amounts of data for its mapping?

Esri invests and collects data from many sources to provide ready-to-use content for our users in our ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World—one of the largest compilations of local, regional, and global geographic information in the world. We source much of this data from publicly available sources, such as the demographics revealed in census data and the imagery that the Landsat earth observation satellites collect. We also have partnerships with many data providers where we’ve worked out agreements that allow our users to consume the data at no additional cost as well as to connect to premium data sources that have an added cost. The Living Atlas of the World contains maps, apps, and data layers, many of which our users created with our software and chose to share with their peers.

While we have a large data collection, our users build and manage the core data and maps that are used to run organizations across the globe. Our living atlas data helps provide them a base context from which they can do their own work.

How does the company manage cyber secure its expansive amounts of data? Has the company adopted some technology to secure all its data?

Esri leverages a robust and effective security framework for our content as well as our cloud, server, desktop and mobile software. To that end, Esri has achieved Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) compliance to offer a cloud environment that satisfies the stringent security requirements of federal agencies. We also have authorization and accreditation for our adherence to the requirements of the Federal Information Security Management Act. In addition, we have numerous safeguards and processes to secure personal data, enabling us to have TRUSTe and Privacy Shield certification, employing frameworks to adhere to EU, US, and Swiss data protection requirements regarding personal data.

Is Esri investing in any technology for self-driving cars?

Not directly, however many companies are employing Esri technology as they research and develop automated and connected cars and the associated systems. Organizations are using Esri’s technologies to model the impact of self-driving cars, planning walk-friendly and autonomous vehicle-friendly cities, and integrating our geospatial processing with telematics to perform. Esri also works with Mobileye, an Intel Company and leading provider of advanced driver-assistance systems software, to integrate Esri mapping, analysis, and visualization with Mobileye’s Shield+ ™ product. This provides cities with the ability to visualize and analyze real-time location data from Shield+, improving safety for all road users in urban environments. Esri is also part of the Automated Vehicle Coalition (AVC) that is focused on the common good of the public and the transportation industry to ensure that the safety of travelers is a primary driver of technological innovation. Esri joins the coalition with other organizations including Cisco, Gannett Fleming, and Royal Truck and Equipment.

Can you map the geographical and technological expansions of Esri since its inception to date?

Esri’s early work demonstrated the value of GIS for problem solving, and gained recognition from the academic community as a new way of analyzing information in the context of geography. As computing started becoming more powerful, the company started developing products that could be more widely used for solving real-world problems. Esri developed ARC/INFO, the first commercial GIS product, which was released in 1981.

In the 1990s, faster and cheaper computers, the growth of the Internet, and new data capture techniques such as GPS, spurred the further growth of GIS technology. Esri’s first desktop solution, ArcView GIS, opened the possibilities of GIS to a new class of users. In the late 1990s, Esri reengineered ARC/INFO and began creating a scalable GIS platform that would work not only on the desktop but also across an organization’s enterprise. The result was ArcGIS.

ArcGIS has since evolved into a complete platform that spans desktop, server, and mobile devices and, with the launch of ArcGIS Online, the cloud. ArcGIS Online, with its vast collection of basemaps and shared layers, made Esri Story Maps possible. A collection of templates, Esri Story Maps have let thousands of non-GIS specialists, like educators, students, lawmakers, and journalists use maps to tell their stories and share them. In addition, a suite of software developer tools was created to enable developers to incorporate geospatial capabilities into all kinds of products and processes.

Geographically, Esri was founded and remains headquartered in Redlands, California. Over the years we have added a number of regional offices across the US, and from the beginning we also focused on international markets, with over 80 distributors and numerous research and development offices around the world.

What are Esri’s plans for the future in terms of geographical and technological expansion?

We will continue to serve our users around the globe through our network of regional offices, partners, and distributors. We are committed to helping our customers advance their understanding to advance along the information value chain from reactive to proactive decision making. We expect growth in every domain of use around the globe. The question about advanced technologies hints at some areas that we are pursuing. Artificial intelligence and augmented reality are two of the newer technologies that we see GIS becoming a bigger and more integral part of as they gain wider adoption. In addition, we continue to advance location intelligence through powerful but easy mapping, and the use of scientific analytical tools to identify patterns, make predictions, and answer questions. Esri is also committed to helping countries with limited resources leverage GIS to improve their land management. Esri’s Land Administration and Statistics Modernization Programs donate software to countries and island nations in need of technology that allows them to make policy decisions based on census data and land value. By understanding population and geography better, communities are better-equipped to self-govern more efficiently, and Esri is committed to a future where so-called developing nations have sustainable growth and prosperity.

Quick Facts (in a box)

Established in: 1969

Headquarters: Redlands, California

Founder(s): Jack and Laura Dangermond

CEO: Jack Dangermond (President)

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