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Latitude’s Take on Esri’s Web GIS… and Named Users

When presenting to user groups or talking with folks this autumn, I’d say the number one question I get asked is some variation on “what’s Latitude’s take on Esri’s push to named users?”

I usually give a quick answer and then refer them to the part the 2016 Geocortex User Conference plenary presentation last May when I addressed this topic in detail. However, given conference recordings are only available to people with Geocortex Support Center access, we figured we’d just post the entire transcript (see below) and accompanying slides here on the Geocortex Blog for people to refer to.

That said, given the hassle of matching the transcript with slide transitions, we figured it makes sense to also post an actual video recording of the sections covered by the following transcript and slides.

Why read when you can watch? (16 min video)

TL; DR… I think it’s not about named users. Esri is transitioning their approach to a superior way of delivering geographic insight to people. Web GIS is fundamentally about modern computing patterns. The concept of identity (i.e. the named user) is important within modern computing patterns because knowing who a given user isenables high-value capabilities that would be impossible without this information.

Anyway, it’s a fairly long read, but might be of interest to some:


Presentation: 2016 Geocortex User Conference Plenary session

Sections: The World Around Us; Esri’s Web GIS  (Download supporting slides)

Presenter: Steven Myhill-Jones

(Section II: The World Around Us)

I want to talk about progress.

I wish you were all here with me today. Because I want to see a show of hands. I want to know how many people use Google Drive, or OneDrive, or iCloud or Box or Dropbox to store most or all of your personal stuff. And I don’t mean like a memory stick for just a few things! I mean you use it as your main storage for documents, photos and other stuff. Either way, it’s fine… I’m just curious where everyone is at.

I have more calibration questions. Are your browser bookmarks spread across different machines or are they all unified across your devices? Do you use a password manager like 1Pass or Dashlane? Do you own your music collection, or are you subscribed to a service that gives you everything? When collaborating with others, do you email Word docs and spreadsheets or prefer to collaborate directly in Google Docs or Office365?

I’ve always figured I’m reasonably progressive. For example, I’ve used Dropbox and a cloud-based back-up service for a long time now. So I tick off a few boxes, for sure. But while I’ve heard about popular new services like Trello and Asana, the truth is I feel like there are so many of them and I’m a busy guy.

I tend to gravitate to what I know, and patterns of computing I’ve established in my life.

Honestly, I haven’t been a big experimenter with new services.

I had an epiphany not long ago when I was in the process of planning out computers and networking for the house my wife and I have been renovating.

Now this kind of stuff is bit outside my wheelhouse, to be sure. But as I was chatting about my thinking over lunch with Alex McKeachie, who is our Information Systems manager, I noticed he at first developed a slightly panicked, and then despondent, look in his eyes.

It was as if he was staring at a dinosaur or something. And I suppose he was. By the way, this is the dinosaur image that we thought best captured my nose.

Anyway, over a few weeks, Alex took me through all a bunch of modern technologies and approaches that are vastly superior to approaches that I’ve been taking for many years. It finally soaked in that I was creating hours and hours of work for myself instead of paying a few bucks a month. So I made changes in a number of areas.

For example, I transitioned to Google Photos, which saves me from spending a few hours swearing at my home PC as I try to wrestle recent photos off my go-to camera–my iPhone–and shuffle them into the old directory structure I developed years ago to organize and find stuff later and back up to my external hard drive system.

Many of these new offerings are cloud-based, and they cost about the same. Sometimes less, sometimes a bit more. Yes I pay $100/year for a couple things now, but I don’t have to buy hardware anymore or worry about set-up or maintenance or physical security of it all.

But I’m not here to evangelize the cloud. All this goes way beyond offloading storage and computing resources via the cloud… or maybe some on-premises version of it.

You see, a big benefit has come through connecting my computing resources. Rather than my previous approach on each device… connected together but not unified… I’ve moved to a model where it doesn’t matter what device I’m on, my work is just there.

I used to kind of roll my eyes at this, and think: Well, I don’t really need that. I don’t need to edit PPTs on my iPhone. And I don’t. But I move between a few different computers, and a couple mobile devices. And I need to do different things in different places. I’ll take a photo on my phone, which I later need to access or make use of on some other device. That’s now solved properly.

Ubiquitous access is possible via these modern technologies knowing who you are—based your identity. With Dashlane, a cloud-based password management utility, my identity gives me secure access to my passwords and information across all my devices, updated and ready to go. I only have to remember one password, and I can easily share a subset of my passwords with my wife, and even a few with my kids.

Taking a step back, it’s clear there are recurring themes in common with almost all these modern offerings like Salesforce:

  1. Identity – What you’re using is predicated on who you are
  2. Ubiquitous access – Consistent access on any device, anywhere, anytime
  3. Sharing and collaboration – Identities allow you to do things in conjunction with others
  4. Common currencies –the file formats, standards, et cetera that are the basis from which all this can happen. Often this enables third-party ties ins and supporting solutions.
  5. Services based – They default to web based services and computation wherever possible

These themes aren’t afterthoughts. They’re baked into every aspect of most of these platforms. These factors on their own provide high value, but put together, the outcome can be far greater than the sum of their parts.

And it’s why they’re shifting the landscape of computing and how people get things done, and will even more as things mature and users that aren’t actively searching for these offerings discover the leap-forward productivity benefits they deliver.

The world is changing, not for the sake of change or grabbing what’s shiny and new, but because there are new approaches that can deliver profound new benefits. We owe it to ourselves– and especially our organizations and those we serve to expand our thinking if we’re not already or if we’ve fallen a bit behind what’s afoot.
We need to be realistic and pragmatic, but also keep our predilections and biases in check.

Within Latitude, I soon noticed that Alex and his information systems team had rolled out many of these types of modern offerings at our office, but in many cases I wasn’t using them properly.

In many cases, I was trying to make these new offerings conform to my old workflows and habits.

A key insight I want to share is this: I thought I got the power of identity and modern approaches—indeed I think about it all the time for GIS–until I was confronted by the reality of many of my personal workflows outside my professional sphere. I realized I was missing out on all kinds of far superior ways of doing things, even when I was signed up for some of these services, because aspects of my thinking was out of date.

Now many of you are not like I was, and you totally get modern patterns and always have. But I’ll bet a few of you have something in common with me.

Here’s the thing:

 There are some things in life most of us can’t truly get, until we experience the benefits for ourselves. And to be open to receiving the full experience, we sometimes have to deliberately put aside our existing assumptions and habits. We have to open our minds.

In life, you stay relevant by being open to new things. You were relevant because you stopped. (John Maeda)

If we’re evaluating something new and disruptive from the perspective of our old mental framework, there’s probably a good chance we don’t give it a fair evaluation in the first pass or two.

So instead of assessing something and concluding “I don’t like it” or “I don’t want it”, I’m trying to always add the word “yet” in the back of my mind. And I encourage you to do the same.

For a few years now, I’ve been very much on board with Esri’s vision… I get the value of making geographic information products more available across organizations and in the hands of more people.

But for a while, I’ll admit I didn’t truly and deeply get the power of identity and what it enables. I mean, it’s not like anyone typically leaves their work PC and then continues doing some dynamic segmentation in the grocery store lineup on their smartphone, right? But beyond connecting devicesunifying them through identity can open up all kinds of doors in terms of possibilities.

You have your information and your workflows at your fingertips, and not a bunch of other stuff. This is really important for non-GIS type users. It stops being about the technology, and instead shifts to being about the things they’re trying to do. And with that, friction and inefficiencies get reduced. Collaboration is streamlined.

"Efficiency and usefulness are magnetic."

At first, it’s often hard to put your finger on the coming benefits of a major technology change in the world, and hard to describe specific examples ahead of time, but over time, you realize you wouldn’t ever want to go back.

Look… who needs internet on their mobile phone? Hey, people seriously said that less than ten years ago! If you find yourself saying “Things are fine the way they are”, you might be right. You might also be a future punchline.

And this, friends, is why getting into Esri’s new web-GIS pattern matters. Until we do things differently, and discover things we couldn’t do before, it’s hard to really ‘get it’. When our reference point is the past, we don’t need these new approaches, but when we have them, we start to leverage the meaningful ones powerfully and they become indispensable.

I’ve shared my own story; maybe you have your own version of it. But whatever the case, I ask you to go with me into this next section with your mind wide open.

(Section III: Esri’s Web GIS Pattern)

I now want to talk about Esri’s modern web-GIS pattern, because this topic is really important, it’s really timely, and lots of folks don’t fully understand what’s unfolding right now. I’ve been at this for 17 years, and this is a watershed moment. It’s bigger than the shift from ArcIMS to ArcGIS Server. It’s at least on par with the significance of introducing web-based mapping to a desktop only world back in 2000.

I’m a real believer in Esri’s vision for a modern web GIS pattern. Let’s talk about what “modern web GIS pattern” means. It means that the system knows who you are, so it can deliver the data and capabilities that are important to the work you do. It can deliver the things you’re doing or need to do when you need them, instead of inundating you with a bunch of irrelevant stuff. Beyond the user, Portal or ArcGIS Online are the unifying organizational structure… the entry point to information and tools so you can discover, access, and work with the stuff you need.

Tasks that used to require ten steps and focus, become three steps and easy. Things become so much easier and more accessible, a bunch more people—people who don’t get excited in the least about maps—are able to start leveraging geographic information in their work because it provides value and it’s no big deal.

That is web GIS. Beyond just an organizational system of record, it all becomes a system of engagement.

Let’s zoom out for a moment, and relate the noteworthy themes of Web GIS to what I described earlier… the key themes or elements of these modern platforms and offerings. Let’s take a look.

  1. Identity – Users sign in so the system knows who they are and what they have access to.
  2. Ubiquitous access– Readily accessible, usable apps available across all major platforms… that offer a consistent, familiar experience.
  3. Sharing and collaboration – Portal or ArcGIS Online enable sharing and collaboration that’s unified, and is managed centrally.
  4. Common currencies – the ArcGIS Information model… Web Layers, Web Maps, Web Scenes, Feature layers… these embody the underlying connective tissue that enables all this.
  5. Services based – Notwithstanding offline use cases, Web Services are the go-to approach for processing and computation.

Where possible, ArcGIS Server and related servers like GeoEvent deliver the capabilities that apps and the software we deliver access.

Web GIS is not named users. It’s not moving everything to ArcGIS Online, or buying more. It’s about getting more done, more easily, more efficiently. It’s about your investment in GIS delivering more value to your organization.

Here’s the thing: Web GIS isn’t about technology. It’s about how people access and use maps and GIS.

Look, I might be able to quibble with an aspect or two of what Esri’s done so far on the execution side of things, but its complex and Esri is working hard to figure all this out.

Right now, most objections and concerns we hear about Esri’s new pattern boil down to two areas.

Maturity and cost. And I think these objections are going to fade in a big way over the next twelve months.

As far as maturity goes, at Latitude, we’re conservative about recommending things prematurely because moving too early can be expensive and challenging. However, I think we have reached or are about to reach a tipping point. Now, I think we’re in an era where not moving—deliberately or not, investing in the past—will ultimately prove more costly than any wrinkles left to iron out. Remember, for many newer Esri customers, the Web GIS pattern is the only pattern they know! I think Portal, for example, will evolve rapidly in the next twelve months.

In terms of cost, I have yet to see a situation in 2016 where we’ve not been able to work with Esri to ensure an acceptable pricing model if someone doesn’t quite fit the current structure. Especially with ELAs, Esri is working with folks to figure out a path that delivers comparable deployment magnitude for similar cost; a challenge is a new licensing model that can sometimes be too big or too small depending on patterns of use. I’m really happy with how key Esri folks have been willing to work with us to figure out a way to move forward and make things happen.

So I actually think this is a phenomenally good time to have that conversation with Esri, strategically speaking… and we’re happy to help facilitate, working on your behalf. I’ll say this: we might be an Esri Platinum Partner, but we–and our resellers–work for you.

I’m not telling you to throw out the past, or introduce radical change overnight. Many of you have large, complex implementations. What I am recommending is, especially if rolling out change takes time at your organization, that you start working on the assumption that Web GIS is coming and that embracing it is vital. I’m suggesting you roll out web GIS not because some vendor might be telling you to, but because doing so entirely aligned with the mandate that we all have to maximize the potential value of geographic information at our organizations.

I am convinced Web GIS is not a flash in the pan or some approach that’ll get dropped or morph in a year or two. In our assessment, Web GIS reflects authentic cross-industry information technology change.

"Web GIS reflects authentic cross-industry information technology change."

It’s the real thing, and we believe it’s very close to setting off on the path of ubiquity, like what we’re seeing in other industries. My hunch is we’re going to hear some big announcements from Esri before long that’ll provide compelling reasons to leave past patterns behind.

So… we recommend active, front-burner initiatives… if you’re not already doing so, to start deploying new offerings under the Web GIS model in earnest. Beyond dabbling in what’s next to satisfy those asking, look for opportunities to roll it out sufficiently to explore and discover the benefits it can enable.

If you don’t, I think the reality is you’ll increasingly miss out on capabilities that are only available under the new model because they’re only possible to deliver using the new model. You’ll fall behind.

A great example with our technology is offline search and other great new capabilities in Geocortex Mobile App Framework 2.0. Only Esri’s Web GIS offerings could enable these capabilities, and so version 2.0 is based on an ArcGIS identity and requires it.

In fact, this is a great segue to our next topic.

(Section IV: Where does Geocortex fit into all this?)

Well, it’s very much a corresponding and connected vision, so let’s explore…

—- End of transcript—-

From there, my presentation continues to discuss and demonstrate all the work my colleagues at Latitude are doing to help clients maximize the possibilities of their Esri Web GIS technology, especially through our complementary and ever-evolving supporting technologies like Geocortex Essentials and Geocortex Analytics.


The 2008 ESRI Southwest Users Group Conference

Laramie, WY October 22-24, 2008

For the last six years, Latitude Geographics has attended every Southwest Users Group (SWUG) conference. From Jackson Hole in 2003 through to Laramie in 2008, the SWUG conference brings together GIS users from Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. This year’s high plains geospatial roundup offered up blowing snow and chilly temperatures – a big departure for a guy like me accustomed to Victoria’s moderate climate. But the warmth of the SWUG organizers (kudos to the entire organizing committee for an awesome job!) allowed the attendees to quickly forget about the cold temperatures, and settle into a dose (actually, many, many doses) of Wyoming hospitality!

geo_cortex_Rodeo_v1The SWUG event is not your regular, regional GIS conference. John Calkins, ESRI’s “Corporate Technical Evangelist” kicked things off with an interactive keynote session that engaged the group in a geographic approach to problem solving. Plenty of great user and vendor presentations followed, topped off with an evening keynote by Wyoming historian Bruce Blevins. Aside from all the interesting work-related stuff, I’d have to say that the highlight of the conference was the BBQ, Bluegrass, and Broncs event (disclosure: we were also a sponsor). This was not my first rodeo - but it was undoubtedly one of the most unique I’ve seen. The University of Wyoming Rodeo Team put on a presentation just for us, and we got to enjoy steer wrestling, calf roping, barrel racing and bull-riding. Yee-Haw! Later in the evening, we two-stepped to music served up by the Zarks, a local country-western band. I reckon the user sessions were a little subdued the next morning, but attendees (AKA SWUG-uhs) seemed to be wearing a collective grin.

It’s events like these that make me appreciate the industry we work in, given its great mix of knowledge sharing, professionalism, and appreciation for local cultural activities!

The first Geocortex user group

Our customers and partners have long asked us to kickstart Geocortex user groups where there were a concentration of users around them. A combination of busyness (building the technology) and platform penetration have hindered this before, but no longer...

We (and more importantly, our users) are pleased to announce the first Geocortex user group - California. The Golden State is home to the largest pool of Geocortex users anywhere, and based on ongoing interest, its time to bring them together.

Our first meeting is scheduled for Thursday October 16, 2008 in Los Angeles, and Los Angeles County has generously offered to host this event. So far, our draft agenda includes introductions, a "Geocortex Technology Update" section (courtesy of me!), user presentations, Q&A and more.

If you're a customer or partner and think you should be home to user group #2, contact your account manager!

For more information about the California User Group, please contact me. Hope to see you there.

The Monk and the Riddle

Speaking of the "Latitude Library", I just finished reading an interesting book recently added to our inventory, "The Monk and the Riddle". Written by Randy Komisar, self-described virtual-CEO and technology entrepeneur, the book is quick to reveal the roots of its unusual title (no clues here though!), but slow to reach its point: its the journey that matters, not the destination. Set within the context of new technology ventures, Randy presents the central premise of his book (and the driving force behind new arrivals to Silicon Valley and the so called SPDs at Bear Stearns) as the "Deferred Life Plan"; dedicate every waking hour to work today in order to enjoy life later with all the commensurate toys. Having lived the Silicon Valley lifestyle for several years, I could immediately relate.

Overall, I found the book largely readable due to its intriguing anecdotes about Randy's numerous technolgy ventures - I'm a sucker for business non-fiction. Dissecting the successes and failures for technology ventures is infinitely more interesting than anything fiction writers could come up with! Conversely, I felt the premise of the book missed its mark - the "Deferred Life Plan" is a well worn cliche. Or is it? For those reading the book, perhaps it will beg the question: "Am I doing what I'm truly passionate about?" Regardless, I recommend checking it out.

Books: A Top Performing Investment

I just read Peopleware for the first time last night. It's a classic I should've read years ago.

People are generally pleased with a 15% return on an investment. For me, business and technology books provide a return on investment that is often orders of magnitude greater. In fact, at Latitude, we have a bottomless book budget because we’ve learned the insight gained from a single chapter can provide a massive ongoing ROI. Indeed, the books we’ve read have profoundly influenced how we function as a company, our business strategy, and how we relate to the world.

I sometimes go online and order a dozen books at a time. The only cost I consider with a book is my time to read it; I can get through an average book in an evening or two. While it can be hit and miss, the Internet makes it fairly straightforward to distinguish the wheat from the chaff (similarly, I won’t even consider watching a movie now without first reviewing the ratings on Rotten Tomatoes).

Regional Training

Our training team has become overtaxed of late given the significant amount of things our clients want to learn! This is great from the perspective that our clients are looking to become self-enabled (we do every thing we can to make our users self-sufficient); bad when you consider the amount of travel and overhead this involves as we try to manage our growth.

Solution: bring workshop oriented Geocortex Essentials and IMF training to locations close to our users, using ready-made training facilities provided by ESRI.

We're announcing three dates and locations to start; a pair of workshops in the United States and one in Europe. Our goal is to see what kind of response we get and go from there. Things are looking positive so far; early feedback seems to suggest we need to add some more rooms and dates!

To learn more and to register, visit our new training page.

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon

I've always been fascinated by the Hollywood game "the six degrees of Kevin Bacon". Its a pop-culture version of the well known "six degrees of separation" idea - we're all seperated from anyone on the planet by, at most, six people. Except, in the "Kevin Bacon" version, you interconnect Hollywood stars via Kevin Bacon.

I'm in Corpus Christi, TX right now at the ESRI SCAUG conference, and was thinking of this concept as it relates to my predicament: I flew here on American Airlines and narrowly averted getting stuck in Seattle as their MD-80 fleet was grounded for FAA inspection earlier this week. With the cancelling of so many flights, surely everyone would know someone this has affected? Well now you know one more (or the first) - me.

I just checked the American Airlines website for information related to my flight home tomorrow and it won't load - presumably becuase the other 100,000 or so displaced passengers are looking for the same information I am! Anyways, I hope I make it home tomorrow - but I can think of worse places to spend a weekend.

Back from the ESRI Business Partner Conference

Most of us have trickled back after spending a several days at the ESRI Business Partner Conference/Developer Summit in Palm Springs. We had six people down there for the Business Partner Conference portion, and it was a great, productive trip with some exciting developments and decisions that we’ll be sharing in the weeks and months to come. With ArcGIS Server 9.3 right around the corner, it feels like our work with ArcGIS Server is nearing a tipping point--and I think our overarching strategy over the last 24 months is really going to be validated.

Unadvised: Software Releases on Valentine’s Day

I sighed a few weeks back when I was informed that the Essentials team had selected Feb 14 as the release date for Geocortex Essentials 1.2.1. Why? Their commitment is incredible (they’ve been working long hours to hit this target), so I didn’t doubt they’ll get it out the door given the tight timeline. The problem is that they selected Valentine’s Day as the release day, and release days often turn into release evenings.

Though I had nothing to do with setting today as the deadline, you can probably guess at whom their significant others’ will direct their chagrin for being abandoned on Valentine’s Day (evening)… the archetypal whip-cracking CEO. I’m going to have to make up for this somehow, but I don’t think even a complimentary spousal-use Geocortex Essentials 1.2.1 license would help (as outrageous as that sounds).

Job opportunities at Latitude

Once again, we're facing a situation where finding the right people is the biggest obstacle to our growth. While the frequency with which we receive high-calibre applications has dramatically increased over the last couple years, we still encounter bottlenecks from time to time (that said, we've been able to hire several great people in the last six weeks and have had to get more office space).

We're especially interested in (and consistently challenged by) hiring junior account managers (a.k.a salespeople). It is unfortunate that so many new graduates have such negative associations with a career in sales. I suppose we've all had unpleasant encounters with salespeople as consumers. I can only speak for Latitude when I state my belief that it is a valuable and honorable profession when approached with a core focus on the best interests of the customer and you needn't ever sacrifice your integrity. At Latitude, our account reps don't just "sell" either... they really do act as technology advisors and our customers seem to like and respect them. I wish I knew how to translate this message into a program that would get new grads to give sales a try that might not otherwise. Anyway... if you're a new grad, there are lots of possibilities in sales out there at good companies--especially if you're a smart, friendly person who likes and understands technology.

Incidentally, if you know of anyone looking for a GIS/cartography job in the Victoria area, we posted a new position earlier today.