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ESRI UK User Conference 2012

The ESRI UK User Conference is an annual event hosted by ESRI UK, and this year was held at Wembley Stadium in London on the 15th May.

Key elements of the conference focussed on making GIS and geography ‘more accessible’, with a shift away from GIS being ‘special’ and only for access by GIS specialists, to a vision where by all can access the power of GIS and geography.

One of the changes in the way that ESRI is marketing ArcGIS is that all products have been rebranded to show that they are all part of the same system, no matter what platform being used. So products are now called ArcGIS for Desktop, ArcGIS for Server, ArcGIS for Mobile, etc.

The vast majority of presentations from ESRI staff focused around the new capabilities of ArcGIS 10.1 which is to be released imminently, as well as a big focus on use of the Cloud, and specifically ESRI’s ArcGIS Online – a hosted platform for sharing maps and data. Other areas demonstrated included the increasing use of 3D data, e.g. LiDAR data, and visualisation for architecture and town planning.

ESRI have invested a lot of effort in making the publishing of data to the Cloud a simpler and faster process. This was demonstrated by publishing maps from the desktop to ArcGIS Online in a couple of clicks of the mouse – enabling a smoother and timelier data dissemination process.

Building in the power of ArcGIS Online, there were a number of case studies, including ESRI Ireland showcasing some work it has undertaken for Derry City Council, and implementing a portal to allow dissemination of the Council’s data and services. One of the key messages here was the speed in which a portal can be up and running, in a matter of weeks.

LocalView Fusion was demonstrated to show how quick implementations, using pre-built templates, to share data with citizens, and to capture data in a ready and easy way, e.g. via smart phones and displayed live online. One example was the notification of e.g. fly tipping to the council, where the citizen user can download a free app for their phone, and this can be used to capture a few attributes and a photo and instantly uploaded to the council website where it is displayed in real time. This enabled citizens to see the data on line in real time, as well as capturing and interrogating this for the council to action. This was one example, but the uses are endless, e.g. in a range of survey types that could capture data in real time using bespoke survey forms and citizen entered data. This allows a more timely service to be delivered, whilst saving data capture costs, and allows a real engagement with and response to citizens.

There were some further case studies from the likes of Boots (who showcased how they use GIS for planning and for interrogation of customer metrics, e.g. linked to the Advantage Card). Other examples showed the use of GIS in Architecture, and from the Energy Savings Trust, where GIS is used to assess energy saving potential in housing stock . This is enabled through assessing the size of the house vs. size of garden (e.g. ground heat source potential), roof angles and orientation (e.g. for solar panels), as well as a wide range of housing stock related data (such as what house types there are, who has wall insulation, etc) to enable analysis by the Trust and for commercial use in implementing energy saving initiatives.

The afternoon consisted of three parallel streams (great fun for running between presentations!) looking at ‘improving productivity with the ArcGIS System’ (hints and tips, geoprocessing and ArcGIS Online), ‘ArcGIS 10.1 for Developers’, and ‘Geographic Business Intelligence’ where the power of GIS is coupled with business information to provide analysts and decision makers with timely data to allow informed decisions, e.g. allowing call centre staff to have to hand the appropriate data and visual representations to respond to emergency calls quickly, accurately and efficiently.

In the closing session, ESRI showcased some new features that are being developed and ‘will be available soon’. This included the ability for non-GIS users to use the power of GIS in Microsoft Excel, via an ESRI plug-in. This demo included an Excel spreadsheet with two columns (e.g. countries and some values, e.g. population) and the user can select this data, click a couple of buttons in the plug-in, and the system interacts with ArcGIS Online to retrieve country boundaries based on the column values (intelligent matching) and embedded a map in the spreadsheet. The user could then create simple thematic maps based on the values in the second column (e.g. population). This was an excellent demonstration of putting the power of GIS in the hands of a non-GIS user. This is great, but does open up the debate as to whether any user is capable of creating a meaning full ‘map’ representation of data – taking into account cartographic intricacies that GIS users are well versed in. The risk of data miss-visualisation is a real possibility.

There was also a supplier exhibition area during the day which allowed attendees to chat with suppliers about potential solutions and services, upcoming technology, etc, as well as networking with other geo-professionals.