ESRI UK Conference – so what’s new?

The last two days I have been at the ESRI UK User Conference in London. I had been invited to talk to the GeoFutures track on the shape of UK GI in 2015 based on the AGI Foresight Study (more on that in a bit).

I attended my first ESRI conference 2 years ago at the QE Centre, a far from ideal venue near the Houses of Parliament and was massively impressed at the time, particularly with the gala performance from Jack Dangermond. So I turned up looking forward to meeting lots of old friends and seeing what is new in the world of ESRI. In some regards it felt as if nothing had changed and in others it was clear that the ESRI juggernaut is gradually gaining pace in its response to GYM and the cloud.

This conference, at the much nicer Hilton Metropole, started with a slightly sombre welcome from Richard Waite reflecting on the economic climate, its impact on many of ESRI’s clients and the need to assert the value of GI, he also talked about a vision for GI getting much wider penetration and being as common place as Excel which seemed to be pretty similar to what he said 2 years ago but at least their vision remains consistent which cannot be said for several of their competitors.

There was then a worthy but slightly dull presentation from Manchester Airports Group on how they are using ESRI technology. I must admit that when I was running a vendor business I would have drooled to get a customer gushing about their use of my technology like this. In hindsight I think what was important was how far in front of many users MAG are with their usage. The big opportunity for everyone in GI is to get the clients that we have to make full use of the technology that they have already purchased.

Then we were “treated” and I use the word advisedly to a mid morning after dinner speech from Lord Digby Jones (former CBI chief and short term minister in last government). Not my cup of tea but at least he did acknowledge that he was pompous and arrogant! It appeared that he was trotting out a standard speech and there was no reference to geography except a rather snide dig about an advert for a Street Naming Exec in a Local Authority which probably grated with about a third of the audience.

Carol Tullo of OPSI was up next. She offered an interesting stat – 80% of people cannot read and understand charts and tabular data! Shame that she then mentioned the ASBOrometer iPhone app as an example of how opening up data could provide a solution to the problem. On the positive side she talked about people being able to access “Government knowledge without knowledge of government”

Then we got the big demo piece – ESRI folk do this stuff really well, they ooze enthusiasm and show off the products suite in semi real scenarios. There is a new release of ArcGIS (10) which focusses on usability, performance, time saving and impressive integration with the web, mobile and options to run in the cloud.

The afternoon session showcased some very worthy stuff that will have appealed to anyone who enjoys GI saving Haiti/The Jurassic Coast/The Arctic. Great, enthusiastic and entertaining presentations but if I was there on my company’s time I might have found it difficult to explain to my boss why I “just had” to be at the event.

The second day was much more practical stuff with 7 streams – asset management, customer service, sustainability, GeoFutures, Desktop (yup there are still a heck of a lot of ESRI desktop users), developers & spatial thinking. Can’t say much about most of the streams because I spent the morning in the GeoFutures stream where I was second up (bumped by OS speaker) talking with Anthony Maugham-Brown of ESRI on the topic Navigating in Turbulent Waters. My bit was based on the soon to be published AGI Foresight Study and you can guess from the title that I was trying to highlight the challenges and opportunities facing the UK GI community over the next few years. You can view or download the presentation here or skim through it below but without the notes which are really essential as otherwise it is pretty much all pretty pics, so hop off to slideshare.

Seppe Cassettari was on after me talking about Geo Tornadoes aka UKMap. You cannot fail to be impressed by what a relatively small company has achieved from scratch in a couple of years, it really is an “intelligent map”

Finally before lunch Chris Parker presented an  update on what GeoVation had achieved in its first year and a peak at some of the plans for the coming year. Watch out for a slightly different approach.

From there on it was full on networking and hopefully some useful stuff will come from that particularly for my friends at who seem to be in just the right place at the right time given all the interest in the cloud, GYM etc.

An excellent conference that was pretty well attended (given the current economic climate) and once again you can see why ESRI clients are so devoted to the company, they do this stuff very well. Frustrating if you are a competitor and impressive if you are an observer.

In answer to my initial question “so what’s new?” the answer might be not a lot but to be fair when you are as big as ESRI are in the UK you would expect change to be gradual. I wonder how they will adapt to the challenges of free, open, cloud, etc that I was talking about this morning? My hunch is that lots of things will change over the next couple of years but ESRI UK will continue to flourish.

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