AppGeo’s staff participation in the Esri User Conference (Esri UC) dates back to 1991 when it was an intimate show in Palm Springs. This year, AppGeo again sent two staffers, Project Manager, Priya Sankalia, and GIS Analyst, Peter Lemack, to the 2017 Esri International User Conference in San Diego. Attending the Esri UC is a part of our commitment to our customers to stay up to date on all of the technologies that can help address their needs. We offer Peter’s insights and reflections in this post.

As I approach my first decade of GIS experience – which began with Esri online courses – I find it fitting that this milestone was marked by my first trip to the Esri UC. At the UC I sought to learn more about the tools that I use every day.  At work I manage data production using Enterprise Geodatabases and help facilitate Collector and Portal usage for our clients for field data collection.

General Observation – Making the Most of the UC

Peter Lemack standing by the AppGeo Agricultural Analytics Map at the Esri UC Map Gallery 2017

The Esri UC is a massive affair. It’s a conglomerate of colorful visualizations on display in the map gallery, a bombardment of new tools and technologies, an influx of tips, tricks and ESRI practitioner information, the pageantry of the plenary session, and the constant buzz from the sea of people.  The kicker is that this information and visual overload needs to be processed at a rapid rate so that the most important information can be gleaned for GIS growth and understanding.  

Plain and simple, there is a lot going on, and for first time attendees like me, the sight of 16,000 attendees racing to get the best seat at the day’s events was jaw dropping.

I needed a navigation plan. My approach to getting the most out of everything available while avoiding conference overload was to prioritize and plan around my work-related and personal interests.  

At AppGeo, I work primarily on Transportation (Right of Way data development, CADD to GIS interoperability and data management Strategies), and Agriculture (database development, property management, Collector and business analytics) projects.  In my personal time, bird watching is one of my most relaxing and favorite outdoor activities.  I organized my Esri UC schedule to emphasize these interests.

An Insight into Agriculture

My Esri UC started in the Map Gallery, where I was showcasing a poster about agricultural Web mapping applications that AppGeo built using ArcGIS Server for a commercial agricultural property and investment firm. With several billion dollars of land under management in several countries, and with properties coming into and out of the portfolio, it is appropriate to use geospatial tools. We helped them to create three key spatial views of their operations to support the analysis of potential properties as a portfolio, the acquisition of properties from a site analysis perspective, and the management of infrastructure and assets on active properties. Mapped data, delivered through customized, interactive Web applications, is helping them perform each of these tasks.

Not only are these spatial views allowing farm managers to see their assets spatially, but they allow them to analyze the data in order to answer key business questions such as what are the crop yields of the soybean farms in Iowa? And, what is the average efficiency of my pumps in California?  

Through a new application called Insights, ESRI is entering the Geo-Analytics space with tools and capabilities that reminded me of the tools of Tableau and Alteryx.  I could see how Insights would provide farm managers the ability to answer the business questions they are asking.  Insights allows users to first link and visualize their data in a map environment through joins and unions.  Once the data is prepped, Insights offers a suite of analytical functions to aggregate, intersect and summarize, to further process the data.  This followed by a set of Infographic options that allow users to create graphs and charts.  

Through Insights, ESRI has taken a big step to link cartography, geo-analytics and business infographics into a single package that make it a one place stop for all aspects of the analysis.  

Transporting you to an Open Data Portal

The goal of the Right of Way (ROW) data development and mapping projects that AppGeo works on for Colorado DOT and the Vermont Transportation agency was to develop geospatial ROW data for internal DOT use.  Both DOT’s wanted a way by which they could compile and share their ROW data out to all departments that use ROW data in their workflows or to answer questions from the public. To meet this need, we created online viewers using ArcGIS Server.

With this in mind, I attended a presentation by the Iowa Department of Transportation.  They showed how they were leveraging ESRI’s ArcGIS Online, to create an Open Data Portal, where not only could they share their geospatial transportation data internally, but could also provide the data, and the answers to many of the questions they were receiving, to the public.

Their Open Data portal helped the IA DOT to serve the public by allowing them to download and visualize data, understand how the DOT is managing their state’s transportation infrastructure, and answer road-related questions spatially without the need to call the DOTs main office.  

The takeaway for me was the usefulness of the range of outputs – maps, feature datasets and curated visualizations (web apps, story apps and interactive maps) – to the public. The presentation reinforced for me the importance of bridging the gap between the organization and the public, and how simple apps can pave the way for collaboration, understanding and transparency.  

Birds of a Feather

As the conference was winding down and I was filled to the brim with new technologies and ideas, I took in a leisurely presentation, entitled “Birds of a Feather,” on how ornithologists use GIS for their research.  The talk ranged in topics from understanding how land use impacts the habitats and populations of Oregon Sage Grouse, to socioeconomic analysis of the donors for Audubon Centers in Texas, and how ArcDesktop is used to create the species population maps in one of my favorite birding books.

The Birds of a Feather and other presentations made me realize that the power of GIS (at the UC and beyond) is not just in the tools and the new technologies that I learned about, but the breadth of topics and experiences of the 16,000 practitioners who attended the Esri UC, and all of us who use geospatial technologies at work every day.