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Understanding Our World

We just finished up another amazing User Conference, and I want to thank the 14,000+ people who attended and made this our best conference ever. The theme of the conference this year was “GIS—Understanding Our World,” and I tried to describe what the theme meant during my Monday plenary [you can watch video of the plenary here]. While there may be some curiosity involved in our quest for understanding, what really drives this is the need for our actions to be intelligent and based on science.

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The availability of new technologies and the growing concern for our planet means that we are producing an ever-increasing store of data describing our earth.  We’re being bombarded with data from a combination of old and new sources—satellites, sensors, crowdsourcing (“human sensors”), models, digitization of historic records, and much more. Only when these billions of bits of information are combined and organized can we achieve a higher meaning—a true understanding of our world. This will require the right technology and culture for sharing our data and building a common geospatial infrastructure. My sense is that our new platform of ArcGIS Online provides such a framework and will enable our users, both in their organizations and beyond, to achieve the vision of SDI.
Understanding our world isn’t just an “environmental” issue. I remember a conversation with a business reporter from a large newspaper in the early 1990s. He wanted to know how businesses could use GIS. I explained that responsible stewardship of our planet went beyond traditional “environmentalism” and “conservation”, touching virtually every aspect of our daily lives—and nowhere was there a bigger opportunity for this than in business applications of GIS.  Today, the idea that “going green” can be a win-win—good for the environment while at the same time also being good business—is a much easier concept to grasp than it was twenty years ago. And GIS has emerged as an important technology for many “green” applications, supporting science-based decision making.
I meet with hundreds of GIS users over the course of the year. I am always amazed at the creativity they display in using GIS to solve complex problems and support critical decisions. The User Conference is like magnifying this 100 times and condensing it all in to one short week. The applications on display, the papers presented, and the maps shared exhibit an overwhelming case for the value of GIS. From sea-level rise to deforestation; from disaster recovery to disease monitoring; from vehicle routing to demographic analysis, GIS is being widely used as a tool to help us understand.
Esri remains firmly committed to building tools you can use to understand and solve geographic problems. Because acting responsibly requires understanding.
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