Category Archives: Technology

Big Data: Keep it Simple, Keep it Small

Turning big data into knowledge is all about relevance and context

Big data may be all the rage these days, but it isn’t exactly new. In fact, Esri has been dealing with big data since the inception of digital mapping more than three decades ago.  When every contour, stream, street, rail line, park, building, or shoreline for the entire world is stored in an intelligent database, data doesn’t get much bigger than that.


Data as Big, Beautiful, and Living as the Earth

Back in 1992, Esri embarked on an ambitious campaign to create the very first seamless digital map and database of the whole world. This project—aptly named the Digital Chart of the World—converted paper maps of political boundaries, transportation lines, utilities, cultural landmarks, and more into a digital map product that could be viewed for the first time as something other than a pretty picture. In a world where CDs were still considered new and expensive storage media, and hard drives came in hundreds of megabytes, the 1.7 gigabyte database was not only huge, but it also challenged many computer specification and storage architectures. Continue reading

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Today’s GIS Forecast: Partly Cloudy

Firewalls protect web-based GIS from the dangers of the cloud

When I was interning at a power company, the utility industry had just adopted a revolutionary technology: SCADA. Today, SCADA is so common most people don’t even bother to spell out the acronym (supervisory control and data acquisition system). But back then, SCADA was controversial. It eliminated the need for substation operators.

Utilities staffed operators who could act immediately in an emergency. They closed breakers, put out fires, and called for help. They checked fluid levels and did maintenance, cleaning, and inspections. They made the rounds, took the readings, spoke to the dispatchers, and made sure everything ran smoothly. Continue reading

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Speaking the Language of Spatial Analysis

Asking questions and developing answers using a common vocabulary leads to better decision making.

As discussed in a previous post, spatial analysis can be viewed as a kind of common language used across an organization. It starts with a set of questions, such as Where are things located in the world?, What is nearby?, and How are things connected?, and then sets about answering those questions by leveraging the power of GIS.

Imagine a bank with a number of different branch locations, along with locations of all the customers they service in a specific geographic region. The bank can use spatial analysis to better balance its service to these customers based on drive time analysis and delineate geographic areas with similar capacity. Continue reading

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Making GIS a Part of the Open Web

GeoServices provide a common API across all of GIS for users and developers to easily access information.

Today is GIS Day, an annual celebration and sharing to our communities about the use of geospatial technology to understand, affect, and engage with our physical world. You can join any of hundreds of local events around the globe to meet local experts, developers, analysts, government staff, and engaged citizens to learn about how to access open data and spatial analysis tools that help you make sense of complex relationships.

Common Services

At the interface of GIS is a commonly overlooked, but incredibly powerful mechanism that makes it possible to uniformly access data regardless of the underlying technology or source of the data. It is this interface which allows for a smartphone application to work with web sites and desktop analysis tools—meaning that people can use the user experience that most fits their needs but they are working from the same common information system.

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Strengthening the Link between GIS and Science

An interview with Kevin Butler about the integration of ArcGIS and SciPy

Geography is the science of our world, and GIS is a foundational technology for helping us to better understand that science.  To further strengthen the link between GIS and science, today at the Esri Ocean GIS Forum we’re pleased to announce the integration of ArcGIS with SciPy, a Python-based ecosystem of open-source software for mathematics, science, and engineering.

I recently caught up with Kevin Butler, a Product Engineer with the Geoprocessing and Analysis Team, to ask him a few questions about the integration between ArcGIS and SciPy. Continue reading

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What are Platform Configurations?

New tools help fast-track implementation of your GIS platform

In my last post I mentioned “platform configurations” as something that Esri provides as part of our industry-specific ArcGIS Solutions. A few folks asked me to clarify what I meant by this.

As the ArcGIS platform continues to evolve, you increasingly do not always need to build your own tools and apps—rather, you can use tools that we provide and just configure them for your own use.  These configurations of the core platform are available as templates to help you to quickly be more successful. Continue reading

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Catching Up with Time

Mapping time has perhaps never been as well supported

There’s a perception that GIS and cartography have always struggled to adequately deal with and represent time. The notion that a phenomena that varies temporally is difficult to model perhaps gives rise to the idea that static layers are unable to capture such variability. If this ever were the case, it’s not so any more. Our ability to handle large temporal datasets in GIS is now well supported. Adding time and date fields to data in ArcGIS allows you to configure and work with the temporal dimension including animating the map and controlling playback. Many online map services have a temporal aspect and it’s important to be able to reveal and make sense of this. Functionality is available across the ArcGIS platform to support temporal analysis and visualization. Continue reading

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When Open Data Isn’t Useful Data

Four Common Problems with Open Data, and How to Fix them with ArcGIS Online

Organizations create and manage a vast amount of data. Many of these organizations, such as government agencies, desire or are required to share certain data with the public. This data, when freely available for people to obtain, use, and redistribute, is called open data.

Open data is important for transparency and fostering innovation. Open data is also important for ensuring data integrity.

But just being “open” often isn’t enough–your open data also needs to be useful data. Continue reading

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Building the Most Detailed Population Map in the World

Esri is compiling a human geography database of demographics and statistics about all countries in the world and mapping this data using an innovative methodology.

Sociodemographic data is a valuable asset for businesses, governments, and society. Describing and understanding the human geography of the world requires tools to assimilate data in a statistically valid way that will allow for meaningful decision making.

Traditionally, people are counted in a census. But a census is time-consuming, costly, and does not collect the types of statistics at the level required to address today’s complex societal issues. Continue reading

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Looking for Park Space: Spatial Analysis with ArcGIS Online

ArcGIS Online is remaking GIS. We already take for granted how easy it is to make maps about anything and share them with anyone. And it’s not just maps. Data is becoming a social product, too. Partly through crowdsourcing (as Joseph Kerski recently wrote about here), and partly through projects like ArcGIS Open Data that help organizations offer their data like ice cream from a truck on a hot day.

But if GIS were a polygon, it would be a triangle: its vertices are maps, data, and analysis. Many people assume all analysis still has to be done in ArcGIS for Desktop. And it’s true that when it comes to geoprocessing tools, ArcGIS for Desktop is like Home Depot—it has everything you could possibly need (although you don’t always find it right away). By comparison, ArcGIS Online is like a good neighborhood hardware store. The inventory is smaller but it’s carefully chosen and more than meets your everyday needs. Continue reading

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