When registration opened on December 13 for the 2012 Esri International User Conference (Esri UC), Tom Beckett of Kern County, California, was the first of more than 300 users to sign up that day.
Esri writer Robby Deming recently spoke to Beckett about his "wow" moment during the 2011 conference—his first—and how the power of where influences his work.
Deming: Can you tell us a little bit about your work and experience with GIS technology?
Beckett: I am a technology services supervisor at Kern County. I oversee a staff of 14 IT professionals who are responsible for supporting approximately 1,200 users throughout the county for their phone and computer needs. We support many county departments, ranging from engineering and permitting to environmental health, animal control, and emergency medical services. While the individual departments have embedded GIS specialists that manage their respective data, my team is responsible for managing the county's servers and overall IT infrastructure. I've played a more active role in managing our GIS over the past year and a half, but I still consider myself to be a GIS newbie.
Deming: Can you elaborate a little bit about how the county benefits from GIS technology?
Beckett: Every department at the county uses GIS technology in different ways. The planning department uses GIS to find out how close the nearest fire station is to a certain location or to measure the impact a new permit will have on the surrounding community. The sheriff's department uses GIS to track crime data. The technology has slowly worked its way into nearly every department in one form or another.
We also maintain an online mapping tool that's loaded with dozens of layers ranging from school locations and ZIP Codes to property information and sanitation services. Our citizens can access this data directly within the website, or they can pull it into their own applications.
The bottom line is that GIS has allowed us to better leverage the huge amounts of data we've gathered from many different sources and departments.
Deming: Given that you're relatively new to GIS, have you had the opportunity to attend the Esri UC before?
Beckett: Last year was actually the first time I attended the conference. As someone who only ever thought of GIS as a mapping tool, I was surprised to discover how vast and mature the field of GIS actually is. Before the conference, I had this notion that GIS was used in the same way people would use paper maps. As the week progressed, though, it became very apparent to me that GIS was about more than just maps. It's really a foundation for how business can be done.
Deming: What convinced you to attend last year?
Beckett: I mainly attended out of necessity. I had been involved with information technology for a long time at the county and had never really dealt much with our GIS. Then, as a result of the county restructuring, our GIS implementation became a larger part of my responsibilities. I really needed to jump-start my GIS education, so I decided to attend the conference.
Deming: Do you have a "wow" moment from last year?
Beckett: About an hour after my first session started, it dawned on me just how robust GIS was. I was amazed to learn how flexible and powerful it could be for both collecting and displaying data.
Deming: What did you like about being in San Diego for the conference?
Beckett: Location, location, location. The weather is beautiful; the Convention Center is very nice and accommodating; the surrounding hotels are close and comfortable; and after the conference ends each day, there are so many things to keep you occupied.
Deming: Did you find time to do everything you wanted to do last year?
Beckett: Not even close. This year, I think I'll be better prepared because I'll have a much better idea of what I want to learn about. Last year, I was on information overload for most of the week.
Deming: Now that you've been to the conference, why is it a priority to go back?
Beckett: I use the Esri UC to give myself a better grasp on the possibilities of GIS and to find better and more efficient ways to help my users perform their tasks.
Deming: Is there anything in particular you're looking forward to this year?
Beckett: I'm excited about the opportunity to meet with other users and share our experiences. Last year, I gleaned a lot of knowledge from discussions with others about their challenges and solutions. It's incredible how many of them have similar issues, even though they may not be in the same field as we are.
Deming: It sounds like networking is a big reason you attend the conference. If you were talking to someone who was interested in it but wasn't sure about attending, what would you say?
Beckett: I would tell them they should attend because it really is a great way to get exposed to information about GIS. Reading about ArcGIS and discussing it with others in your organization just doesn't do the technology justice. The outside perspective often casts a new light on old issues that you just can't get anywhere else.
Deming: Thanks again for sharing your story with us. When you attended last year, you were taking your first steps into the world of GIS technology. Now that you're an Esri UC veteran, what's the one piece of advice you have for other attendees?
Beckett: Get involved. If you just attend the sessions and listen to the speakers, you will learn a lot. But it's the discussions with vendors at the GIS Solutions EXPO and other GIS professionals with real-world experience that were most helpful for me.