Technology from 2010 and What’s Next

2010… where did that go?  The year has seen the release of a major version of ArcGIS, and some technology trends maturing to a point that makes them key to an organisation’s strategy in 2011 and beyond.  But first, let’s discuss ArcGIS 10.

Are you using it yet (or have a planned date for migration)?  If you are using it, have you realised the productivity gains?  If you are answering ‘no’ to either of these then we need to have a chat 🙂  ArcGIS 10 introduced many user interface enhancements to streamline user workflows.  One of the best, I think, is editing.  The template based approach to editing does make the process faster.  It also, if used correctly, reduces the errors you might make when performing editing functions.

Imagery also received an overhaul.  The fact that some Spatial Analyst functions are up to ten times faster really makes you more productive when performing advanced analysis and planning activities.  The new mosaic dataset that allows you to bring together imagery in varying formats, resolutions, and locations (think folders on disks), makes it faster to deliver imagery to my end users.  When I get a new tile delivered, I can add it to the mosaic without massive processing overheads.  In terms of multi spectral imagery this also allows me to deliver multiple products through the one source.  Users can choose the bands, and processing options (such as NDVI) on the fly, without sacrificing performance.

Another big trend as been about serving the greater community through online mapping and processing.  At 10, the task of getting my knowledge out to the wider GIS community in my organisation, my colleagues in other organisations, or even the world, is simpler, faster, and delivered through user interfaces that are easy, intuitive, even fun to use.  The ArcGIS Simple Flex Viewer is easy to use, configure and deploy.  We can now deliver apps we always dreamed of doing… to iPhones, Windows Phones, Androids, iPads.  What’s most impressive is the ease at which these applications can be created, and the incredible power that can be delivered.  These mobile apps can use the complete array of services exposed by ArcGIS Server.  So it’s not just a map, with me in it.  It’s more: me, the map and everything I’m interested in.  The things I’m interested in can be dynamically determined based on my circumstances.

I mentioned earlier technologies that are maturing to the point that we need to consider them in our strategies.  Mobile is one such technology.  I call these new devices ‘life assistants’, the term PDA (personal data assistant) no longer represents what these devices do.  I’m speaking about iPhones, Windows Phones, Android Phones, and tablets.  These devices are integrating our online lives with our daily lives.  I can be on the internet almost anywhere.  I can tweet, facebook, message, live chat, myspace, and the list goes on.  My location is starting to be integrated into these applications (somewhat scary if you don’t make your profile private). 

What’s interesting is the level of integration my location will have with my buying behaviour.  Let’s think for a second…a store that I may be interested in may be in the next street (I cannot see it so I don’t know it exists).  The store has a discount going that I am unaware of.  If I flip my device into ‘Let me know’ mode, then I start receiving offers from stores such as this when I’m within a suitable distance.  These may be subscription-based offers or random marketing that comes from my profile on facebook, yahoo, Live or similar.  Incredible, right? This reality is closer than you think.  Augmented reality will also play a part here where rather than just show a map with the store on it, I will hold up my phone in camera mode and the store will be highlighted on the display for me.  I start seeing the world like a robot (no not a real one, like the movies).  I guess holding up the phone will look a little better than walking around with cyborg like headgear.

And what about the cloud?  The cloud has been hyped up like any emerging technology trend, and it appears the only thing it won’t do is serve a nice warm cappacino.  However, if you get down to the core, the promise is exciting.  Some will find the technology unobtainable until suitably sized vendors appear in Australia.  Believe me, it will not be long. 

Personally, I think you will see some of our larger telcos moving in this direction in the very near future.  For me… I have been using the cloud (as infrastructure) to host many of the ArcGIS demos you see at Ozri and Tech Directions events.  It also serves as the hosting environment for the Surf to City (Goldcoast to Brisbane) and Brisbane to Gladstone Yacht Race tracking sites. 

Earlier this year the Brisbane to Gladstone broke it’s own record in term of maps delivered to the public by serving 14.5 million map requests in two and a half days.  A truly astonishing figure when you think just 3 years ago, it was struggling to serve 100 000.  The issue back then was the cost of infrastructure to support such a popular web site and the small time period over which it ran, didn’t lend itself well to buying expensive hardware.  Enter… the cloud… we realised we could use high performance hardware at a fraction of the cost of buying, in fact we spent only 1000USD hosting the race this year.

2011 will see the cloud and mobile platforms expand at rates that will be hard to keep up with.  These platforms will be linked in some regards, as companies move towards mobile apps and integrating them with your everyday lives, they will need hardware and software platforms that scale elastically to meet demand.  The cloud will be a logical choice for many to achieve this vision.  In 2011, we will be looking at the release of ArcGIS 10.1, the next iteration of the ArcGIS family, and it’s safe to assume the cloud will play a part.

Finally, I’d like to thank you all for another wonderful year.  It has been fun discussing challenges, meeting objectives and crystal ball gazing with you all.  I look forward to next year with enthusiasm as we reveal more opportunities around our organisations.  Have a safe and merry Christmas, laugh in the New Year and I will see you all on the other side!

– Ben S

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