ArcNews Online

Spring 2009

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Esri's Director of Imagery Shares His Vision for the Future

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  photo of Lawrie Jordan
Lawrie Jordan

Imagery is one of the fascinating fields that touches all industries and has the ability to change lives. It allows users to view the world in the context of what is important for them to make better decisions. Esri has provided imagery products since the 1980s with the goal of making it easier and faster for users to access imagery and share it with others. In this new era, imagery is being made available at much faster rates through the widespread use of digital sensors on satellites and aircraft.

"Imagery is central to GIS, and our solutions are making it easier for organizations to leverage their imagery for better decision making," says Esri president Jack Dangermond. "We have an experienced and talented imagery enterprise solutions team led by Lawrie Jordan that will more effectively connect the imagery needs of users to the creative work of our developers. He brings to Esri a wealth of knowledge in image processing, GIS, and the highly secure intelligence environment and about our international distributors."

This interview is part one of a four-part series on imagery. In this interview, ArcNews talks to Jordan, the director for Esri's imagery enterprise solutions. Jordan has more than three decades of experience working in imagery and has served on several Defense Science Board advisory panels to the U.S. Secretary of Defense, provided numerous testimonies to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and served as an adviser to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). He has extensive experience working in the intelligence industry and has worked with most of the Esri international distributors.

ArcNews: Let's start with a little information about you and your new position here at Esri. How do you envision your role within Esri, and what strengths do you bring to the imagery team?

Jordan: First of all, I bring a passion for imagery with me. I never met an image I didn't like, and I'll admit it—I'm just thrilled that I have the opportunity to be here at Esri. Jack has personally asked me to be an imagery evangelist in the company. I'll be working on a comprehensive strategic plan for Esri and imagery and the path going forward. I'll also be focusing on how imagery can help shape the future and, most importantly, create success stories for our customers. Some of the strengths I bring to the Esri imagery team are the knowledge and experience gained from more than 30 years working as a leader in the field of image processing and remote sensing, including a long-standing strategic partnership with Esri.

ArcNews: Esri is known worldwide as the leader in GIS. Is the focus on imagery taking the company in a new direction?

Jordan: I would not call it a new direction. Imagery has been an essential part of GIS for a long time. Basically, imagery is core to GIS. More recently, Esri customers have been telling us that they want more integration of their imagery with the GIS, and so we have initiated a series of engineering efforts that will make imagery a central component of what we do. We have many great imagery capabilities already in Esri products, which people have appreciated. Historically, it's been through partners, but now, it's moving to the core of what we do.

  click to enlarge
Imagery is integral to GIS. This shows imagery used for agricultural planning.

ArcNews: Why is Esri interested in investing in this technology?

Jordan: The thing to remember is that imagery is a core source of information to create a GIS. Many times, particularly in natural disasters and things of this nature, things happen suddenly. When this happens, traditional GIS databases can be instantly made out of date. The most appropriate, most accurate, and most timely information is near real time or live imagery, which we can now collect and serve in very real time. The exciting thing is commercial imagery providers; all of them are our strategic partners and are providing tremendously high-quality imagery now that we didn't have even a few years ago. So we're having much higher volumes of imagery, much higher quality of imagery, and much better tools now, so I think you'll see less of a separation between "imagery" customers and "GIS" customers. In fact, what we see is that a GIS is incomplete without the effective integration of imagery. It is core to what we do. It's no longer a separate industry; it's actually an integral part of a GIS. Imagery gains its full benefit by being in a GIS. Imagery and GIS inform each other, and having imagery integrated into the geodatabase and populated throughout the architecture of the enterprise is the direction that we're going.

Esri is positioned quite well in this regard. We provide a major part of the software solution and with our partners in data collection, extraction, and analysis, our technology provides a major platform for users' organizations.

ArcNews: It sounds like GIS and imagery are tightly intertwined with the entire solution. Building on that theme, what do you think the greatest benefits will be for organizations that choose an Esri solution for both their imagery and GIS needs?

Jordan: There are many, many benefits to them. First, they are able to use imagery throughout their entire enterprise. Secondly, we provide some really remarkable and powerful new tools that allow things to happen in near real time, things like delivering and displaying imagery, roaming around the imagery, zooming into the imagery, and doing on-the-fly mosaicking and on-the-fly orthorectification of the imagery. All of these things basically happen on demand, so it's essentially geography on demand. Customers like this because they can reduce or eliminate the intermediate steps and the intermediate files they had to create in image processing. It's the application of image process pipeline concepts to the Web. They are seeing immediate benefits in terms of performance and in terms of the quality of their results, and they are happy to see that we are supporting many different types of imagery that can be combined very easily.

ArcNews: With this economy, many companies are looking for solutions that provide real benefits. How can the combination of an imagery and GIS solution provide a greater return on investment to organizations during these tough times?

Jordan: There are always opportunities in every challenge, so even in this challenging economy, Esri's business is continuing to grow because we're helping organizations and users actually save money by using the enterprise aspect of the GIS to reduce their operational cost and assist them in locating ways of changing their business practices. By integrating imagery and GIS, we're actually helping them simplify their workflow and redefine who they are. The job definitions and barriers between image analyst versus geospatial analyst are disappearing, which allows GIS professionals to work smarter and faster. GIS is actually growing as a result, so it's a very interesting silver lining.

ArcNews: With the availability of base imagery services from Esri, Google, and Microsoft, how is this going to change that industry landscape going forward?

Jordan: I think this is the most exciting part of all. Web services are really providing the jet fuel that's going to cause many industries to take off in their deployment of geospatial information. It's an opportunity to empower users to deploy solutions immediately, without the related overhead. This allows people to get right to what they want to see, right to what they want to do, create mashups of the information, and get their answers with a very minimal level of effort and considerably improved quality and visual understanding.

ArcNews: The Internet certainly has had a tremendous impact on the way non-GIS users understand and work with imagery and maps. How do you foresee customers using Esri solutions with commercial tools during their daily work activities?

Jordan: I think imagery's role on the Internet, thanks to Google and Microsoft, has raised the level of awareness of hundreds of millions of people that, formerly, never would have looked at geospatial information and are now intensely curious about where they live. People that use Google Earth always want to know, "Where's my house? Show me where I live." I think the Internet's giving us a huge advantage in terms of reaching out. Capabilities like Microsoft Virtual Earth and Google Earth have been a gift to the geoprocessing community, and working with them as our partners, we're adding the GIS analytical component and up-to-date data and imagery, so people can actually get meaningful answers beyond just seeing the picture.

ArcNews: You mention working with Microsoft and Google as partners. Can you expand on that and talk about how Esri works with other imaging partners, such as ITT VIS? How do they fit into the Esri road map for imagery?

Jordan: Partnerships are an essential part of Esri's success story. We have wonderful relationships with many great partners like ITT VIS, and they really bring to the table technology facets that they are domain experts in, for example, hyperspectral processing. This is an area that is a true win-win for the customers and for us. We're bringing the best-of-breed technology together in both our architecture and our partners' solutions. We're integrating them and offering them to the customer as a single-point solution to sometimes very complicated problems. It helps us, and the customers and partners also benefit from the close relationship that we have together. We're very grateful for our partners, and we depend on them.

Over the years, Esri has invested heavily in being open and interoperable. We have done this both through direct interfaces as well as in development and support of standards (e.g., OGC, Web, and industry standards). This has enabled us and our users to integrate the technology from many vendors.

ArcNews: What I'm hearing is that with our partner relationships, we can offer a single solution to customers.

Jordan: Yes, and this is, again, exactly what the customers tell us they want. They want to have a single solution platform as well as an open working environment, which is interoperable, transparent, compatible, supportable, reliable, and maintained over time. So that is what we deliver and with our team and with our partners, we provide complete workflow solutions for nearly every situation.

ArcNews: As an executive, what would you recommend other executives focus on in their businesses with the growing use and prominence of imagery?

Jordan: I think my experience over the past 30 years as a software executive has been that there's one simple job that managers should focus on, and that is making your customers/users happy and your employees happy. When you do that, everything else falls into place and works out right, including the business health.

Customers have been telling us they need closer integration of their imagery and GIS. They have large volumes of imagery they need access to in a more timely and integrated manner. They are also looking for enterprise imagery solutions that work well with their existing systems and provide additional benefits to their GIS. In the last several years and in the next year, Esri has been and will be making imagery a central part of our GIS offering especially in the server tier. As a result, executives will increasingly be able to reap the benefits of the greatly expanding imagery world and easily embed imagery as part of their operations. I think our customers will be very happy with the direction we have taken and the image solutions that we are offering.

This summer at the Esri International User Conference, we are having a special set of workshops that will focus on our imagery strategy and how our users can take advantage of these engineering technologies.

ArcNews: Just one more question—how would you sum up Esri's involvement with imagery over the years, and how do you see that focus continuing in the future?

Jordan: Over the years, Esri has formed strong, strategic partnerships, and I was fortunate to be involved in one of those for more than 20 years. I believe the future for us, again, will even have more emphasis on those strategic partnerships. We want to bring the best technologies in the world together in our architecture to provide a one-stop, best-of-breed, comprehensive solution to our customers using our domain expertise. This is what the customers want; this is what we want, too. We have a broad spectrum of solution offerings for the enterprise that cover entire workflows. Some of these are very advanced and scientific, and some are very basic. All of it makes sense to the customers, who need a solution from one source, and so we're very pleased to be at the core of that.

GIS is not complete without imagery, and imagery is core to GIS. Imagery brings additional value to GIS by providing the basis for information extraction. Conversely, the value of imagery is also increased when included in a GIS, where it can be georeferenced with other information layers. Our solutions help organizations manage large catalogs of imagery, as well as integrate and exploit this data with other types of geospatial data.

Our customers are very excited about having us provide them with an entire enterprise information solution, which includes imagery, in a timely manner. We're working very hard right now on making sure that the solutions and tools we build help solve our customers' problems today and in the future.

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