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Winter 2009/2010

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How to Prepare for and What to Expect at the Esri International User Conference

Hear What a New Attendee and a GIS Journalist Have to Say About the Esri UC

Esri president Jack Dangermond presenting at Esri UC.

While Esri begins planning for the 2010 Esri International User Conference (Esri UC)—being held in San Diego, California—GIS users worldwide are also beginning to make their own plans for justifying the trip, scheduling their time at the conference, and arranging travel to and from the venue. To help users in this process, Esri has asked a user and a GIS journalist to author a few words about what it's like to attend the conference, from valuable benefits and personal favorites to tips and tricks when creating a customized agenda. Contributor Nancy Johnson Sanquist is an International Facility Management Association (IFMA) fellow and vice president of Manhattan Software in Milford, Massachusetts. She attended the Esri UC for the first time in 2009. Contributor Glenn Letham is a cofounder and managing editor of He's a 10-year conference veteran.

Nancy Johnson Sanquist, Vice President of Manhattan Software, International Facility Management Association Fellow

I've been in the field of facility management and corporate real estate technology for the past 25 years and have attended hundreds of professional conferences for my industry all over the world. None of this prepared me for anything like the Esri UC.

Most conferences have one keynote speaker who is usually a motivational celebrity or the latest business writer/guru/futurist not necessarily related to the work of the attendees. The Esri UC Plenary Session offered a virtual parade of well-known people explaining how GIS helped them do important work in the world.

I can't recall attending another conference where I've seen awards presented, not just to a "super user" of a product, but also to users who happen to be the governor of Maryland (whose GIS implementation is being copied by other states) and a world-leading economist designing new property rights systems for the world's urban poor, using GIS to unlock a trillion dollars of dead capital in untitled assets.

Hearing Maryland governor Martin O'Malley's story of applying GIS for crime prevention in Baltimore and then for the entire system of state government and Hernando de Soto's description of a pilot project in Ghana using geospatial technologies to create a land titling process and land records system were truly inspirational to me and, I suspect, to most of the thousands of people in the plenary.

And this was only the tip of the iceberg. The Special Displays area and Map Gallery, Exhibit Hall, and informative industry sessions all help a first-time attendee like me really want to be part of the Esri community.

While the implementation that my company, Manhattan Software, has designed to integrate our real estate asset management system with the Esri Business Analyst application may not be as showstopping as what these keynote speakers are doing, we do believe we're going to change the way many corporations all over the world visualize, collaborate, and make financial decisions on their real estate portfolios.

We've just begun to explore and consider all the possibilities this solution offers; I suspect we can't even imagine where these integration initiatives will take us. Attending the User Conference exposed us to literally hundreds of ideas we hadn't thought about before. It was a very energizing and useful experience.

More Information

For more information, contact Nancy Johnson Sanquist, Manhattan Software (e-mail:, tel.: 858-699-0827).

Glenn Letham, Cofounder and Managing Editor of

The Esri UC means many different things, depending on who you talk to. To some, it's an educational event; to others, a business retreat. Some are there with family members for a week in sunny San Diego (with a little geobusiness thrown in), many are attracted to the conference for the social activities, and others just want a chance to hear directly from Esri president and founder Jack Dangermond about the direction of the company and new GIS solutions. There's no question, though, that the Esri UC is the geotechnology event of the year, and to have a successful conference, I'm a firm believer that preconference planning and calendar preparation are crucial to get maximum return on investment from the event. There are also a few things during the conference that I feel an attendee must do.

For me, preconference planning involves the filling in of a calendar and a detailed once- or twice-over of the conference agenda, mainly to ensure that I get to all the sessions that are important to me. I also typically write one or two pre-event articles using a "What's Coming" or "What's Hot" theme—this really helps me prepare. You might wish to do so as well and share with your coworkers for feedback or trip justification.

Finally, in typical top 10 fashion, I'll share with you 10 other important things I try to do each year to ensure that I have a productive and enjoyable user conference experience:

  1. I plan on arriving the Sunday of conference week to ensure that I'm rested and ready for business on Monday morning when the event kicks off. Sunday is a great day to meet up with old friends and find new ones. Last year, I attended a preconference seminar this day too.
  2. For any first-time attendees, I definitely suggest trying to spend some time at the convention center on Sunday so you can get a lay of the land and prepare yourself for the week. Esri offers a new attendee orientation, which is also highly suggested.
  3. I "tweet it up" in the Gaslamp Quarter, the swank entertainment- and eatery-filled area surrounding the convention center.
  4. I always plan to spend the entire first day (Monday) in the Plenary Session, where Jack has the stage for most of the day (all morning, at least), and when it's not Jack, it's a high-level product or industry manager, key business partner, or customer sharing interesting success story details. Stay in the main hall all day!
  5. My favorite place to see and hear directly from users is the Map Gallery, where hundreds of maps are displayed and many of the authors are on hand to answer questions or just chat. Application developers are also provided with a forum to show off in the User Software Applications Fair—another great place to meet and mingle.
  6. For me, connecting with Esri product managers is invaluable. Any presentation that has the phrase "What's new" in it is a target for me, as this is typically where you get a chance to hear straight from the Esri managers charged with the product's direction.
  7. Times are tough, and you may need a little help. To minimize costs associated with a week in San Diego, early planning is a must and will save loads of money. Book everything early and take advantage of the participating conference hotels for great deals, but act fast! Community resources like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn groups are also great resources where you can connect with other attendees and even locate someone willing to share accommodations with you to defer some costs.
  8. For anyone whose boss may be on the fence about sending employees, consider creating a justification letter explaining why you should be considered to go. I always go through some form of cost/benefit discussion prior to committing, and I've been 10 years in a row.
  9. If you can pull it off, consider bringing the family along. There are a number of family-friendly events planned throughout the week. Last year was my son's first conference, and he's already bugging me about next year. His highlights were the Exhibit Hall Family Night—seeing all the cool technology—and naturally, the fabulous Thursday Night Party.
  10. Socialize. There are plenty of educational opportunities and chances to get your hands dirty with new technology; however, there are also an amazing number of social events and opportunities to hang out and talk shop if you like. When official Esri social events aren't taking place, you'll find me at a Special Interest Group (SIG) meet-up (like Canada Night) or a vendor/business partner-hosted social. Most partners will have details of their planned parties at their booths on the exhibition hall floor.

The Esri UC conference week is long, but it will go fast. Plan ahead accordingly and make the most of every hour while you're there. It may sound corny and a little daunting, but if you get a chance to take part in an Esri UC, try to do it all. You'll be glad you did. You can always rest on the flight home.

More Information

For more information, contact Glenn Letham (e-mail:, Twitter: @gletham).

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