In the future, GISes will help the world catch up with geography, ESRI chief says

In the future, GISes will help the world catch up with geography, ESRI chief says

Geodata will be a key to economic decisions, ESRI's Jack Dangermond says.

By Susan M. Menke

GCN Staff

The future favors geodata as the next big thing, Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. president Jack Dangermond says.

Society increasingly wants real-time geographic information system data because of rapid population growth, economic development and resource consumption, combined with the fast evolution of computing technology, Dangermond said at last month's opening of a Vienna, Va., office of ESRI, which is headquartered in Redlands, Calif.

He foresees the rise of 'geography channel' Web sites that will be as popular as the Weather Channel and which will help drive economic decisions and environmental ac-countability.

Crossover hit

Borrowing from users' experiences with database management systems, which are closely related, he predicted GIS will grow into a cross-cutting, heavily transactional discipline.

'It will become like an enterprise resource planning system,' he said, 'a framework for monitoring and measuring all change, and everyone will be able to watch it.'

When ESRI funneled 11 of its own departmental systems into a $5 million enterprise resource planning system from SAP America Inc. of Wayne, Pa., the change took several years and 'was like a disaster waiting to happen,' Dangermond said. But ultimately it saved ESRI about $12 million and wound up altering the structure of the organization because all employees could see and react to events as they occur.

In the same way, he said, GISes 'can account for all the costs of creating the future. Comparative visual communications will affect everyone's behavior.'

Getting to that point, however, will require standardizing spatial data. 'The federal government's spatial data standards haven't been realized,' he said.

What's missing, Dangermond said, are standardized data sets, a collaboration network, a policy framework, multiuser technology, multipurpose database management systems, and standards for data collection, interoperability, metadata, cartography and modeling.

The Geological Survey and the Housing and Urban Development Department are recognizing the need for geodata leadership by establishing geographic information officer positions, he said. USGS' Web site, at www.usgs.gov, said its GIO will have senior executive service status.

As new kinds of societal GISes emerge, Dangermond said, 'computation will be on a continuous scale, from servers to palmtop computers.' He said the Forest Service Proj-ect 615 contract for ESRI's ArcInfo software revealed that field workers had to spend too much time traveling to office computers to analyze findings. ESRI is developing a Microsoft Windows CE version of GIS software called ArcPad to run on handheld computers with Global Positioning System receivers. A field worker, he said, 'could digitize polygons by walking around.'

The company's flagship GIS offering, ArcInfo 8, will come out this month with a completely rewritten architecture, 4,000 functions and about 2,000 component objects, which can be licensed and embedded separately. It automatically creates metadata with Extensible Markup Language tags, Dangermond said, and supports all Federal Geographic Data Committee and military standard formats. He said it remains compatible with earlier versions.

Next spring, Dangermond said, ESRI will set up a clearinghouse server for data sharing, 'like the card catalog in the library.'

But to ride the tide of geodata, he said, 'GIS users will have to learn about data modeling. Objects no longer have just attributes, they have behaviors.'

Contact ESRI at 703-506-9515.

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