There’s only one team in London

I’ve just spent the best part of 2 days at the ESRI UK User Conference. I was wondering how they would sustain their annual conference, which has a high proportion of public sector users, in these troubled times (most event organisers in the public geo space are reporting lower attendances). While the plenary was not packed to the gunnels ESRI people said numbers were slightly up on last year, which is pretty good and reflects the level of commitment that ESRI seems to gain from it’s users.

ESRI UK still don’t seem to have fully embraced the back channel and at the beginning we were asked to “tweet nicely” which of course I did! I am not sure why several ESRI staff commented to me about how positive my tweets were, what did they expect (or fear)? I think they made an unfortunate choice of hashtag with #eukac2011, why would you want people talking about your conference as “You Cack”?

Contentwise the conference opened with 3 good presentations on geo making a difference to the Animal Health Service, Willlis Re and the Royal Engineers based in Afghanistan. No rocket science but solid examples of the benefits of geo and the importance of data quality. Then the obligatory tech showcase, ESRI do these very well because the technology is pretty good (and it evolves at a faster pace than most of their competitors, but more of that later) and their staff are just bubbling with enthusiasm for their products which comes over in the demos.

I am not going to go through all the stuff they showcased (if you are interested talk to your friendly ESRI rep) but there was one big announcement that slipped out namely that ArcGIS 10.1 will not need SDE to connect to Oracle, SQL Server or PostGIS for read and write. If I have got that right it is a big shift and will please a lot of people who have complained for ages about locking their data up in ESRI’s proprietary and costly SDE Binary format (you will still need SDE for versioning and some of the fancy stuff).

One of the bits that did impress was the use of geoprocessing workflows to build models of solar energy potential on a building by building basis in Nottingham, solar capture, viewsheds, roof angles and areas and loads of DTM’s and LIDAR. This was an example of the “heavy lifting” that we often forget about in our rush to hail the new era of web 2.0 style maps, I am not sure who other than ESRI offers the modelling, processing workflows and the capability set to do this kind of stuff.

Thanks to Walking with the Wounded

The day wound up with a heart rending presentation from Walking with the Wounded who had been partly sponsored by ESRI UK. To be honest not a great deal of geo in this but the guys were inspirational and ESRI did a nice job of mapping the walk and overlaying some historic arctic maps and exploration info from the RGS. There was barely a dry eye in the hall by the end of this presentation and now they are planning an expedition to take a group of wounded servicemen up Everest! Go on give them a donation, you will feel good if you do. I had to chuckle when one the ESRI guys was telling me that you couldn’t have tracked the walk without using ESRI tech because Google et al don’t support a Polar Spherical projection (or something like that) – errr like you are drawing a track on a massive white frozen landscape with absolutely no features to register against, would it matter if there was a bit of misalignment? But paleos do like their projections.

The day finished with a little fireside chat between Richard Waite, the ESRI UK MD and Michael Palin, President of the Royal Geographic Society. Palin is smooth, charming and really a great spokesperson for Geography. ESRI have sponsored the RGS Geography Ambassadors programme, which got a good plug at the end of their chat. Then it was the bit I enjoy most geobeers and geochat with old and new acquaintances.

Day two was much more nuts and bolts with tech tracks, tracks for public sector and industry and a track entitled GeoFutures where I was talking. Lots of interesting content if you are into that kind of stuff (hard core GI, API’s, case studies). My presentation on “Open Data – what could possibly go wrong?” got quite a good reception although I think some were a bit baffled by the slide and presentational style which friends describe as “Steven going off on one”. I appreciated this quote (of me) tweeted by Ed Boiling “Data is fuel for making decisions. It is not fact or evidence. It will be interpreted in different ways” Slides are here and because Slideshare constantly seems to mangle speaker notes and my slides don’t make sense without notes, the notes can be found by entering the address of the slides into this

So why the football title? Somewhere in the course of the first day I tweeted words to the effect that I thought most of the big GI software vendors were toast, they are between a rock and a hard place. Google are doing the web stuff and visualisation better and better and are moving up the value chain and ESRI just seem to own the heavy lifting, I don’t see much space in between these giants for the other guys. Now as an Arsenal fan I love to sing along with the crowd “There’s only one team in London” of course you will point out that that is far from true and even in a bragging rights sense if there was only one team it wouldn’t be Arsenal at the moment. But to be honest if there was only one team in London (or even two) it wouldn’t make for an interesting competition. Similarly if there is only one (or even two) major businesses in geo that might not be the healthiest of situations. I wonder if anyone is going to step up to the challenge and make this a three or four horse race or are all the rest destined for the Championship?

No doubt these last thoughts will prompt a few scathing comments, bring it on.

Two days of geobabble, enthusiasm, which at times can get to being near religious, and a lot of interest. Thanks ESRI UK, I enjoyed myself.

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