Perspectives from This Point in the Journey
By John Steffenson
Charles “Hobie” Perry is a Research Soils Scientist for the US Forest Service, Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Program and based in St. Paul, Minnesota. Christopher Oswalt is a Research Forester located in Knoxville, Tennessee. Neither scientist imagined the journey that would lead to their presentation in the Esri User Conference plenary session or the incredible effort it would take to boil down a very rich presentation into a compact ten minute presentation.
Several years ago, Hobie was asked to lead an effort to deliver content from the Forest Service Forest Atlas to a digital environment. The idea was to build a compelling information product to engage a broader community of interest. The Forest Atlas was originally designed as a print document accompanied by associated data download capability but along this journey the FIA scientists realized that by building a platform consisting of web services, web maps and applications, they could build a dynamic portfolio that became the National Forest Atlas and an almost limitless array of compelling and accessible information products.
According to Hobie, “I finally shed my academic perspective and started thinking of an enterprise approach, the ability to share once became share everywhere, reaching the largest possible audience. I also started seeing that the Enterprise License Agreement was more, much more than just ArcMap and started asking, what is possible with these tools? Pressure from leadership started growing quickly once they saw examples being passed around and fueled a desire to make it easy for EVERYONE in the org to build apps…not just programmers.”
Hobie and Chris were first asked to present at the Esri Federal GIS Conference earlier this year. Their presentation was their first experience presenting in the plenary session of an Esri event. They did such an impressive job, we asked them to continue the journey and give an updated one. As much as you try, there’s really no way to prepare someone for how intense the experience of presenting in an Esri plenary can be. When I asked Chris about the experience of presenting, he said, “Preparing for an Esri event is unlike anything I have ever done. Preparations seemingly consume your life for months. The experience, however, leaves you with new friends (those who went through with the struggle with you), new opportunities, and lifelong memories. It is kind of like a punch to the gut… but, for some reason you end up enjoying the experience after it is all over. And somehow, it makes you better at what you do.”
Hobie was reflecting, “I was on the faculty at Humboldt State University for 6 years before joining the Forest Service, so I had a reasonable comfort level with public speaking. But the UC, it’s a whole different experience. The scripting, the pacing with other presentations, working with an acting coach, the pressure of such a large audience, the expectations of our peers at the Forest Service and Esri, and so on. It is the singularly most stressful thing I have ever done, and this includes defending my Ph.D. But I can honestly say I would do it all again. It is an amazing experience.”
Now that they have started creating some great web services, web maps and applications, they are starting to turn their attention to other aspects of modernizing their information architecture, building capacity and envisioning the next steps in this journey. FIA is working closely with the agency CIO and GIO to develop the next generation information architecture based on web services, cloud deployments, configurable apps and mobile enablement.