Impressive first impressions

Let me start this off with saying that I am not a geographer and until I started working with the KCGIS Center team, my idea of GIS was just “maps and stuff.” When it comes to mapping, I was more of a Google Maps guy to get me from point A to point B…that’s it!

Working with KCGIS has shown me that GIS is so much more than just maps and stuff, and this July I was also lucky enough to attend the Esri User Conference (Esri UC) which expanded my GIS horizons even more. This post is an attempt at giving an outsider’s perspective on the event. Maybe more appropriately, I would like to give you a non-GIS business-focused individual’s perspective.

I currently manage Business Development for a group called Regional Services at King County. Regional Services has a specific focus on providing services to both internal and external agencies. These services include GIS, “I-Net” (a dedicated fiber-optic data and services network), E-911, Emergency Radio, and Cable Franchise. I wanted to get a better understanding of exactly what GIS/Esri is and how King County can best leverage the platform to deliver value internally as well as to our constituents.

If you have a geography background and you’re an avid Esri user, this post probably won’t enlighten you—you already get it. But if you are trying to understand and appreciate the overall value of GIS and Esri, then I hope this will illuminate.

I want to highlight three takeaways.

  1. Esri is HUGE
  2. GIS is beyond maps
  3. Business value is key

Esri is HUGE

Walking up to the San Diego Convention Center, I was instantly in awe at the magnitude of Esri UC. Not only was the Esri marketing machine in full effect, the sheer number of attendees was impressive. I’ve probably under-appreciated the hard work that goes into designing and maintaining all of the applications that the KCGIS team is in charge of, but this conference really put everything into perspective. Esri is a powerhouse in the GIS world and now I wanted to learn everything I could. My business brain was going crazy at the potential. I mean, if a company can pull off an event this enormous, they must be doing something right and we need to harness as much of that as we can moving forward!

GIS is beyond maps

To say that Esri UC is overwhelming would be an understatement. Luckily my colleague and I reviewed the schedule and strategically attended different topics ranging from public safety to 3D mapping to Smart Cities. There are literally dozens of talks all running in parallel, so if you ever attend…plan accordingly. Like I mentioned earlier, I am on the business side and all I thought GIS did was “make maps.” Sitting through one of the first sessions I went to I quickly realized that is not the case. I was now seeing how GIS can be applied to increase accuracy in asset management, produce efficiencies with public utilities, and create portals for constituents on critical data points of interest. Yes, maps are still core to the delivery of this information, but now with products like ArcGIS Hub I can see a two-way communication bridge that we can take advantage of at King County to better inform and interact with the public. This is a game changer to me and it’s all enabled by a platform that we’re already invested in.

Business value is key

One recurring theme I noticed at the conference was Esri’s emphasis on business value in all of the products they create. This resounded to me, and it’s a key takeaway that needs to be applied in all of our efforts at the County. This is not a new concept from a business perspective, but I think it is when applied to GIS and outbound efforts. An example of business value within an Esri product is ArcGIS Hub. This product makes it easy to create a two-way engagement platform to connect government and citizens. The platform creates a way to surface initiatives that the public is most interested in and allows the government to prioritize based on the public’s needs.

There are several competitors moving into GIS and focusing on either being the low-cost solution or the new flashy solution. The KCGIS Center is in the unique position of being part of a large county government whose agencies can really take advantage of everything that was showcased at Esri UC. A lot of the issues our agencies are currently facing likely have a GIS solution, and coming off my trip to San Diego I am excited to start working on launching new initiatives to really show off the power and value of GIS.

In closing, I can’t wait to attend Esri UC next year, and with the moves that I envision KCGIS doing this year, I just know that we’ll be one of the many presenters showing off what we’ve accomplished by delivering business value via GIS-powered applications!

Tommy Lee is a business development manager for the King County Department of Information Technology.

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