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 Priya’s reflections in this post.

Priya standing in front of a USGS Protected Areas Database map. AppGeo helped build the online PAD-US Viewer (as well as two other nationwide viewers for USGS) on ESRI technology awhile back, and it was fun to see this familiar map in large format.

Attending the ESRI UC had always felt like an unattainable dream for the 17 years that I have been in the field of GIS. This year, I was thrilled to represent AppGeo at the UC. I have been a user of ESRI technology my entire career. In my role at AppGeo, I regularly use ArcGIS Desktop applications and extensions including Spatial Analyst, Network Analyst, and ArcGIS Server for publishing map services. I also work with open source options like Carto, Mapbox and QGIS. My goal for the UC was to see what’s new, and hear first hand from Jack Dangermond and others the vision and direction of Esri technology.

The Plenary

This year’s attendance of 16,000 people was no small crowd and you could feel it especially at the plenary.  Everyone was packed into the exhibit hall, and with more than 10 huge screens screens, it was breathtaking. (Videos from the plenary can be accessed from here.) What struck me about the plenary was the expansiveness of the event, the many topics, and the wide representation of age, gender, race and nationality of the presenters.  Jack Dangermond spoke extensively about the role GIS is playing in a rapidly changing world and how we have to work collaboratively to face a future full of challenges.  This was also brought to light by the insightful talk by Dr. Geoffrey West on how we need a paradigm shift in looking at the future of our cities and the planet.

ArcGIS Pro and WebGIS

I tried to get a taste of as many technical workshops as I could. It seemed that they all featured ArcGIS Pro, which represents the future of Esri’s desktop GIS. Making geoprocessing easier and simultaneous 2D and 3D representations stood out among the many features. Spinning up apps using Web AppBuilder for ArcGIS and the ease of viewing/editing 3D content was another highlight. But the big takeaway for me was the focus on WebGIS; the use of ArcGIS Pro direct to ArcGIS Online or to Portal in an Enterprise GIS for internal sharing of data and maps.   

Vector Tiles
Along with ArcGIS Pro, ESRI unveiled its version of Vector tiles – a powerful option for base mapping that reduces cache size and increases performance. Vector Tiles capabilities and formats have been around for many years now, and ESRI has been able to read the format since 2015. Now you can create and serve Vector Tiles from ArcGIS Pro. This should be a step forward in performance.

Insights for GeoAnalytics

There was also plenty of emphasis on geoanalytics using ArcGIS GeoAnalytics Server and the ability to do analysis in ArcGIS Pro, but the big push was for Insights, which is ESRI’s impressive new data analytics workbench.  With the combination of Business Analyst and Insights for ArcGIS the expectation is that users will have all the geoanalytics tools at hand – including access to demographic data, visualization tools, maps, graphs and charts. It appeared that sharing those “insights” outside of the licensed users relies on StoryMaps, which is an initial limitation.

Concluding Thoughts

The ESRI UC is a unique moment where the big vision, new offerings, and the technical details come together. This year’s emphasis on new technologies – ArcGIS Pro, Vector Tiles, and Insights, among others – will challenge the user community to do more with their spatial data, especially making geospatial information available through the Web to non-technical users.  The conference showcases ESRI’s breadth and depth, from field data collection to high end analysis and everything in between. As a result, the pace of the UC can be intense. It was often challenging to make time for lunch because of the number of tempting technical workshops. But the line of food trucks parked at the Hilton offered a solution. I had the best fish taco I’ve ever had at a food truck at the UC. I also discovered that the UC is a lot of fun, with almost every user community having some social event every evening.  I caught up with fellow New Englanders at the NEARC meet up, networked at the Transportation Social, and stopped by the raucous MapBox GIS Prohibition Party held at a speakeasy.  The finale of course was the party at Balboa Park:  food, drink, music and access to museums capped off an exciting week.

Would I attend again? You bet!