I thought there were some unusually interesting themes in this year’s plenary. Underneath the obligatory demonstrations of new technology (which were impressive in themselves) were insights into the current and future state of GIS as a whole.
The focus of the conference is on “new horizons” in GIS. During the plenary, GIS professionals were challenged to broaden the use of GIS in their organisations. This call to action has been a long time coming. Not many GIS professionals need convincing that there is more to their technology than has been recognised, and most have been wanting to do so for a while. Only now is the technology mature enough to really allow this to happen.
I was happy with the focus on imagery in 10.1. It’s nice to finally see imagery being treated as useful data rather than just a pretty backdrop. There is so much imagery out there and it’s only becoming more accessible; the plenary presentation was a good demonstration of the capabilities, but more to the point, it gave some examples to the “vector people” that rasters are a valuable datasource in their own right. And in case you were wondering – I can confirm that there were no smoke and mirrors in that presentation – that processing really was happening on the fly in the cloud in near real time. No liquid-cooled supertowers under the bench!
Eric Wittner‘s presentation on transit-focused planning using ArcGIS & CityEngine was really impressive. As a self-confessed visualisation snob, I’ve always been a bit sceptical of 3D – I’ve always thought of it as having lots of bells & whistles, but not bringing much value. Eric’s demo really brought the value of 3D visualisation home for me. Particularly in the realm of citizen engagement, it has the potential to be a very powerful tool. The CityEngine scene-in-a-browser using WebGL is very cool, but I’m waiting until we get the option to export to Google Glass for augmented reality overlays of CityEngine scenes… A geogeek can dream.
The final presentations brought a sobering but encouraging use of GIS in “non-traditional” industries. Too often we GIS people forget that GIS can do more than visualisation and asset management. Mike King presented some confronting material, making for a gripping – and ultimately inspiring – presentation. That theme continued with the discussion of geomedicine and the discussion of using GIS to bring together existing information which ends up being more than the sum of its parts, further enhancing everyone’s understanding of and ability to plan for some of the most significant issues in society.
Overall, this morning was a reminder to GIS professionals of our real potential. GIS is the only technology with the ability to fuse and exploit such disparate datasets as medical and government records, crime reports from different jurisdictions, and even serial killer truck driver’s trucking logs. We have access to highly advanced and well-researched analytic tools which we can apply to powerful datasets such as imagery and remote sensing information. We also have rapidly improving technology to visualise and experience the results of our analysis in compelling ways. The capstone to all of this is the leap forward in the ability to share and collaborate on this analysis brought by ArcGIS Online. Brett’s idea of a GIS revolution coming is an interesting one. I actually think GIS is finishing its metamorphosis. Our science and technology moved out of the caterpillar phase some years ago, and have been developing in the cocoon of the cloud era. Now, the technology is finally caught up with our potential, and we are ready to emerge in our full capability.