Geography: A Platform for Understanding

By Jack Dangermond

Cloud GIS enables pervasive access, integrating traditional GIS with a whole new world of applications.

Cloud GIS enables pervasive access, integrating traditional GIS with a whole new world of applications.

At the Esri International User Conference this summer, I shared the context that GIS professionals are working in today: living on a small planet; breathing the same air and becoming increasingly concerned about our future—our personal future, the future of our families and communities, even the future of life on the planet. The evidence suggests that our world is changing rapidly, with many trends that will be challenging for us personally and our organizations for the rest of our lives.

At the same time, we are living in an amazing time when scientific discovery and technological advancement are accelerating dramatically. We are making huge scientific discoveries and creating unfathomable volumes of data in the process. But these advances and the simple volume of data aren't enough. Clearly we need more integrated knowledge and ways to be able to make better decisions and create better outcomes. We need to harness our technology and our brain power to create a more sustainable future.


The role of geography is a platform for understanding the world. GIS is making geography come alive. It condenses our data, information, and science into a language that we can easily understand: maps.

These maps help us integrate and apply our knowledge. The same maps tell stories—stories about almost everything in our world. We need to better harness the power of GIS maps to engage everyone, telling the stories of what's happening to the world and creating maps that create a better future, a future with better outcomes.

I'm increasingly confident that our GIS community will do this. One reason is that GIS itself is advancing; it's getting more powerful and easier to use. It's evolving with lots of new capabilities. It's also moving to a new web/cloud based platform; one that will make GIS pervasive. GIS will evolve to a new level, creating "geography as a platform."

Jack Dangermond speaking at the 2012 Esri International User Conference.

Jack Dangermond speak-ing at the 2012 Esri International User Conference. Watch his opening talk.

Reimagining Our World

This new platform allows geographic knowledge to be widely shared, enabling widespread access and use of GIS.

At the same time, other trends, such as widespread measurement, big data, and ubiquitous computing, are advancing rapidly, including Software as a Service computing, device computing with lightweight and locationally aware applications, as well as supporting scientific exploration and innovation.

The convergence of GIS with these trends will enable us to integrate geographic knowledge into everything we do.

This new pattern integrates all types of geographic information—maps, data, imagery, social media, crowdsourced information, sensor networks, and much more.

Cloud GIS enables ubiquitous access and integrates the traditional work of geospatial professionals with a whole new world of GIS applications. It takes what have been relatively scarce commodities—stories and actionable geoinformation—and makes them abundant. Web maps provide the medium for integration and understanding and make this information widely accessible in simple forms. This widespread, easy access to geographic knowledge is what we mean by providing geography as a platform for understanding.

Cloud GIS changes the discussion, breaking down barriers between workflows, disciplines, and cultures.

Cloud GIS changes the discussion, breaking down barriers between workflows, disciplines, and cultures.

A New Pattern

This new pattern breaks down the barriers between different workflows and disciplines and brings them together. This will enable us to better collaborate and share, as well as approach problem solving and decision making more holistically.

We are already starting to see organizations rapidly adopt this new pattern. The European Environment Agency, the United Nations Environment Programme, the World Bank, and many United States government agencies are adopting it. They are using cloud computing to support their own mission and, at the same time, sharing their knowledge with others. By sharing their geospatial knowledge in common cloud environments, they are creating a new kind of spatial data infrastructure.

Enabling the Platform

The sharing of geospatial knowledge will open our world and create a new level of understanding. As more organizations embrace this idea and adopt a culture of collaboration and sharing, the GIS community will benefit greatly. GIS practitioners will be able to do their work better and elevate the role of GIS in our organizations.

Our work at Esri is about enabling our users to do their important work. We take that responsibility very seriously. I thank you for entrusting us to do that.

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