The Elephant in the conference room


Last week ESRI held its annual European User group meeting in London, which as usual was a masterpiece in professional conference production. Jack gave an inspirational conference keynote on the first day followed by some great product demos by the team from ESRI UK who were the hosts of the conference this year. This was followed by team from Redlands with some pointers as to future features to be expected in the next major release of ArcGIS 9.4 towards the end of next year.

It’s often refreshing to see how much a privately held company like ESRI can talk about future products  compared to publicly listed companies who need to be more careful, I was very much taken, for example, by the new Microsoft style ribbon interface in the upcoming revision of ArcGIS Explorer.

Despite all the great technology demonstrations and great examples of the use of GIS in Schools and for humanitarian relief, I could not help feeling that a key aspect of GIS usage in Europe was missing : Data Policy and the difficulties in sharing geospatial data produced by European public sector agencies.

Until INSPIRE really begins to have a impact early in the next decade, many of the demonstrations presented here and at similar conference will remain only demonstrations…

One scenario presented by the team from ESRI UK showed various UK agencies sharing information to manage a flood event, and communicating up to date and relevant information to the population potentially impacted via a website. Those with even a little knowledge of the GI industry in the UK know of course that the various licensing regimes adopted by different Government agencies in the UK would make such a scenario impossible.

We are at a stage now in the development of the GIS industry that key vendors such as ESRI are now concentrating on improving the quality and robustness of the software rather than adding even more specialised functionality, a key sign of maturity and something that both Microsoft and Apple are now focusing on for their next releases of their operating systems, at the same time how information is discovered and shared to ultimately power these GIS tools is still caught up with the IP and publishing models of the 19th century.

Written and submitted from home, using my home 802.11 network.

4 comments

  1. The Spatializer

    For the first time in many many years, I could not bring myself to attend this ESRI event. I am sure it looked slick and professional, but I cannot stomach any more of the same old same old.
    ESRI are boring, and make Geography boring. Old school.

  2. James Rutter

    As a local government user, yes I agree about the licensing regime, having only today written back to the Ordnance Survey replying to their recent letter to me about displaying Ordnance Survey data on Google map backgrounds!

    On a note about ESRI, they’re loosing the desktop GIS war (as are MapInfo) and so seem to be turning their attention to their server products. Why spend tens of thousands on ESRI products when you can have state of the art, 64bit GIS systems like Manifold for a few hundred quid?

  3. The Spatializer

    The tide has turned. Faster than any of us would have expected. Some of the old vendors can’t swim fast enough anymore. Open source! Swim for your lives!

  4. Stuart Mitchell

    Interesting point about cross border geography issues. GIS has always been dominated by US companies, where cross state issues are fewer, possibly because of a common language and a common administrative hierarchy.

    As standards become more open, perhaps software will evolve into something that is ready to embrace vastly different geographic systems of data capture, storage, and meaning. Until INSPIRE is embedded, it may be a problem for some time to come.

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