Making the world a better place

Esri’s founder Jack Dangermond discusses how the company’s 45-year-old mission is having an impact on the public sector today

Amber Stokes
Amber Stokes
By Amber Stokes on 16 April 2014
Making the world a better place

This article was first published in the Spring 2014 issue of Touch

When I entered the Harvard Graduate School of Design in the late 1960s, it was a time of great social and environmental change. It was also a time of growing awareness of how our planet worked, and of the impact we were having on it. At Harvard, I was quickly exposed to the pioneering work they were doing in the Laboratory for Computer Graphics and Spatial Analysis. Up until that time, I was doing geographic analysis manually, but learned in that lab that with the assistance of computers, you could do this analysis much more quickly and accurately. It really opened up the world for me. 

Out of those experiences I realised there was a huge opportunity to use new technology to change the way landscape architecture and environmental planning was done– and through this to hopefully have an impact on the world. So in 1969 we created Environmental Systems Research Institute, an organisation with the goal of taking these ideas out of academia and applying them to ‘real-world’ projects.

Our mission has always been to leverage the latest and greatest computing technologies to gain a deeper understanding of the world, and to make it a better place. As Environmental Systems Research Institute has transformed into Esri, it has evolved from a company doing projects for customers, to a company providing the tools to let our customers do the project work themselves, and beyond. But, even though our business is constantly changing, that original mission has not wavered.

From the very beginning we had partners outside of the US that were involved in our projects. This small group of partners grew over the years into what is now our strong network of distributors in more than 85 countries worldwide. They have been at the core of our global expansion and together with them we currently employ over 10,000 people. Another reason for our expansion is the result of cooperation with technology partners like Microsoft and many others.

Through 2014 and beyond, we will continue to use an approach with our public sector customers that has been central to Esri’s success for more than 40 years. We focus on listening to our government customers and taking what we learn to provide real solutions. Recently we have made tremendous strides in not only defining how geographic information systems (GIS) support the key operations of governments but also providing solutions in the form of templates that support common workflows.

There are many stories large and small that illustrate the power and effectiveness of GIS in the public sector. We have customers who have done amazing things with small but very dedicated staff. We have customers that leverage GIS to support large government enterprises like the City of Boston in the US. Boston has wonderful leadership who embrace GIS as a critical information technology for their organisation. They have GIS wired to most of their key business systems and most recently have deployed our ArcGIS Online platform to more than 7,000 government workers. This gives the power of maps to everyone in the enterprise – similar to what e-mail has done for communication. This is exciting to me because it illustrates that maps are a favoured platform for collaboration to make data come alive.

GIS is becoming more prolific in public sector as government officials worldwide have begun using the technology to share important information with their constituents. Another important advancement with the ArcGIS platform is the ability for governments to openly share data with the public. We are continually working to make our technology more accessible to more people every day. Our hope is that maps will make data more understandable and ultimately that understanding will lead to better actions by everyone in the public and private sectors.

Microsoft technology is a key element of our WebGIS platform. We leverage the strengths of Microsoft databases and operating systems on behalf of our customers. By working closely with Microsoft product teams, we are able to integrate quickly with products like SQL Server, Windows Server, Microsoft Azure, Windows 8 and Windows Mobile. In taking GIS to a broader audience, we’ve invested in hooking up Esri ArcGIS to Microsoft Office, SharePoint and Microsoft Dynamics CRM. This allows customers to experience the benefits of GIS throughout their everyday business intelligence, customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning workflows. We will continue to coordinate closely with Microsoft on all fronts to best serve our customers’ needs – those of today and those we anticipate on their behalf.

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