To ESRI’s Thompson, GIS Mapping Innovations Are The ‘Canvas On Which We Draw the Story of Analysis’
I met Simon Thompson at the center of the GIS world, which was set at least for several days this week at 32.7090 degrees North, 117.1644 degrees West. Those are the coordinates for the main exhibit hall of the San Diego Convention Center, where more than 12,000 people interested in GIS, or Geographic Information Systems, gathered to attend the 2009 ESRI International User Conference. The annual convention organized by ESRI, the Redlands, CA-based leader in GIS systems is the largest of its kind.
As I reported a few weeks ago, GIS modeling and mapping software is becoming an increasingly hot segment of the IT industry—and Thompson is doing everything he can to push adoption as ESRI’s director of commercial marketing. Thompson tells me that he was living in Sydney, Australia, when ESRI president Jack Dangermond began recruiting him in 2006. “I actually used ESRI tools to evaluate the move,” he said.
Comparing ESRI’s GIS databases for Sydney with Redlands, CA, a city of more than 64,000 in San Bernardino County, Thompson says he could see that he would be trading Sydney’s cosmopolitan city life, theaters, and soccer, rugby, and cricket matches for easy access to Southern California’s mountains and U.S. National Parks. When I mentioned that San Bernardino also is the unhappy recepient of air pollution blown inland from Los Angeles, Thompson says, “That’s why I chose to live in Yucaipa, which is at an elevation of 3,000 feet above sea level. I get to look down on the bad air.”
Thompson says big corporate retailers such as Walgreens, Petco, Starbucks, and Target use GIS technology to make similar assessments every time they consider locating another store. “One of the reasons I came to ESRI was that I’d seen ESRI tools and technologies mature to the point of reaching the enterprise,” Thompson says. (He worked for an unnamed competitor in Europe and Australia before joining ESRI) What it comes down to, he adds, is taking “geographic thinking and applying it to the business needs that different people have.”
The ability to apply GIS technologies to business problems has improved steadily over the past decade, Thompson says. In early 2000, ESRI launched an online product intended to help business users do market analytics and customer profiling. “We’re now in our third major version of that software,” Thompson says. “We’ve been able to keep evolving the software in the cloud…It’s software you buy as a service and tailor to a problem, so customers can configure and customize it.”
Apart from this increasing capability to provide detailed market data and customer profiles for local regions, Thompson identifies a couple of other trends of increasing innovation.
One trend in GIS innovation stems from creating GIS mapping “masks,” or layers of mapped information, that can be easily substituted. As a result, Thompson said, “you can change the underlying data set on your iPhone application” from a map of gas stations in downtown San Diego to a map of restaurants, or a map of surfboard shops in the same area.
Another involves the convergence of GIS mapping technologies with software analytics. “There is a fundamental place for combining these highly accurate systems with enormous data mining capabilities,” Thompson said. “I consider that to be the canvas on which we draw the story of analysis.”
So, for example, a San Diego-based GIS company called The Omega Group has adapted ESRI mapping technology to allow police and fire agencies throughout San Diego County to combine their incident reports. “It allows all members of police and fire agencies to take advantage of visualization, reporting, and analysis,” says Milan Mueller, The Omega Group’s president. As a result, Mueller said police investigators can see crime patterns that might not be visible otherwise, such as clusters of burglaries that are occurring in different cities. Using more sophisticated software analytics, ESRI’s Thompson says it’s possible to answer more difficult questions, such as, “why is this Federal Express package delivery running late?”