This ESRI Conference was just amazing, it was very difficult to slow down and look at the vendors closely, so many of them were so interesting, but for you dear reader, no effort is too great, so I took the time to smell the roses and see what the scope of this conference was. I thought since it was a GIS conference, I would clock how much I walked the vendor show in a day. 3.1 miles!
If ESRI could make them cheaply enough, a pedometer would be a cool item to add to the conference bag, but I digress.
There’s an unbelievable amount of things you can do with this GIS data. The thing to keep in mind going in, is that this isn’t like a static Google Map (although a lot of companies will overlay data on to Google Earth). This is GPS location coordinate data that you can then use to render a map. The military applications were the most fun to check out, although they probably have the least amount of generic use.
One example I saw was from TouchShare, a leader in geospatial collaborative solutions. Their are multiple layers to their software stack.
The first thing you notice is that you can share a screen, so you have these giant touch tables that you can easily navigate and apply lenses to, or draw on, that will remind you of a show like 24. You could, in real time, have a command center going and people out in the field, on a map, where you are feeding data to it, like enemy deployments, and redraw the soldiers incursion map.
The “lenses” allow you to have a layer view that you can drag over an area, say for example a map of IED explosions, if you don’t care about the whole map, but a particular area, the lens will just show those IED marks in the area it is active. You can overlay different lenses to intersect datasets in a geographic region, so in the IED example, you could have a Poppy Field lens overlay it (or even just activate both for the entire map), and then look for a high frequency of IED attacks that is geographically close to a Poppy Field under the assumption that terrorists are protecting an income source. It can then pull up biographic data of known terrorists that are known to be in that area.
In a similar vein was in the law enforcement community. I saw an example from Snaptrends that was almost scary. They provide real-time, location-based social intelligence.
Their SaaS software identifies relevant, open/public social media content within a specific geography to enable organizations to more effectively: Prevent, Identify, Respond to and Investigate crimes, threats and emergencies. you can see icons popping up on the map of people sending a Tweet or posting on Facebook (assuming geotagging is enabled), as well as cross reference in the police report data. So for example, suddenly you see a bunch of tweets popping up on a corner, you can click on them and see what they are, could be a bunch of people taking pictures of a fight or something.
That can tie in to the police report data to see what kind of incident is getting reported. You can start to know about events before they get reported, verging on Minority Report style crime divisions. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that.
What I found most useful however, was the application within government infrastructure, especially in smaller to medium size cities that typically have smaller budgets and are more cost conscious (the larger ones should be, but don’t seem to be). The ability to track and monitor assets and predict maintenance schedules was sweet. You can also interface with your citizenry to report information back to you. For example, if there’s a dead animal in the road that needs to be picked up, or you are walking at night and see massive overwatering or a broken sprinkler.
Speaking of watering, with all the various water shortages, especially here in California, we are constantly talking about conservation, but if you look at the waste in landscape watering, you can see huge potential for savings, but no one bothers to do it. The three main players I saw in this space were Trimble, Cityworks and Cartegraph, the latter seeming to be the most recent entry in this market and the former two have a co-opertition relationship.
There is a lot going on in this space and it all starts with getting an inventory of your city’s assets. This is streets, lights, sprinklers, parks, sidewalks, fire hydrants; what you have and where it is located. You need to inspect the condition of your assets, set their value, assess their performance, at what point do they fail, and at what point it makes more sense to repair or to replace the asset. Once you have everything in place, then you are able to really manage your work and do predictive analysis. If you’ve got an item that is failing now and it turns out the same item, like a fire hydrant, is due to be replaced around the corner in a month, you might as well consolidate the work and have it done at the same time. It is less expensive to make a single trip than multiple trips, so you start to reduce costs.
What I really like is tying this in with a service like SeeClickFix that allows citizens to report non-emergency items in a city, like broken sprinklers, a street light that is out, dangerous sidewalk cracks,dead animal in the street, that kind of thing. These should go in to the cities intake system where you could let some items get automatically routed to service tickets or maybe they are reviewed before they are routed.
It is a great way for a city to make things easier for their citizens, they don’t need to know which entity manages which asset. Maybe there is an HOA for the landscape watering, or the county manages the traffic signals and the city does the street sweeping. If the city took it on themselves to do the routing, then the citizens can just make the reports.
The possibilities for automation, improving responsiveness and cutting costs are really very exciting, at least to me. ESRI has a huge array of developer options as well, pretty much any modern language and platform you care to name, even scripting languages like Python. The array of options is just massive. One thing that struck me is the responsiveness of all these vendors parsing through what has to be massive amounts of data.
I ran across one of the old product reviews I’d written about 25 years ago, and I was gushing at the amazing performance of *only* taking 15 minutes to churn through 20,000 lines of source code, just crazy. The “at a glance’ guide for the conference was over 80 pages. There were so many breakout sessions and tutorials that I had to just focus on the vendor floor. ESRI even went so far as to make the tables in some of the areas whiteboards, so you could brainstorm while you were sitting and chatting, I saw a good number of tables with ideas on them, I just had no idea what they were talking about.
To wrap up all too soon, you gotta check out this Twitter page:
I was ready to grab 20 pictures off of it for this story, but then I thought about it and the important take away is that just about all data that occurs is being stored, the challenge for these vendors is primarily finding interesting, useful and innovative ways to provide it to you. A little out of the box thinking and you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.