Esri: unlocking the power of spatial analysis
Arthur Haddad’s 25-year career at geographic information system (GIS) leader Esri has seen him rise to the position of Chief Technology Officer, Location Analytics. “I started off as a professional services consultant and I immediately started working with CEO Jack Dangermond himself on the front lines, out there writing code and solving our users’ problems. Soon that translated into working on the team that created the GIS Data Server, an internet-based server that evolved into today’s ArcGIS Enterprise and ArcGIS Online SaaS offering.” That project (among others) was one of the efforts that cemented Esri’s status as a GIS pioneer, with the company today offering on-premise GIS infrastructure as well as software-as-a-service (SaaS) implementations to cater to the differing demands of its various customers.
“We're the world leader in GIS software,” says Haddad. “We pioneered it and our innovations have led to advances within the geographical sciences towards solving problems around the world.” Haddad emphasises that Esri’s solutions unlock a whole new realm of data with potentially huge ramifications. “GIS software is really a superset of everything that everyone does today. People work with qualitative, quantitative and temporal aspects of information to make critical decisions around the world. What about that fourth spatial or location data type?”
It’s often only with that spatial dimension in mind that the true contextual value of data can be realised. “80% of the challenge is data wrangling - trying to find data that will augment analyses and provide more context towards information, whether that’s spatial data or any other type. ArcGIS provides the largest authoritative living atlas of the world, and a lot of it is publicly accessible, curated by the organisations that put it out. We augment their analysis and on top of that, we have a team of demographers, cartographers and data engineers dealing with information from over 120 countries around the world.” Having that context can lead to measurable real-world impact, as Haddad explains. “Informed stakeholders and executives make better decisions and save money. My Location Analytics group created a product called ArcGIS Insights. And one of the first customers that picked it up realised $30,000 in savings a month within the first few hours of implementing it.”
Haddad’s Location Analytics department is enabling everyone to leverage the power of ArcGIS, the most powerful GIS system, with capabilities included in over 100 products. “That’s anything from field collection to dashboarding, interactive reporting, mapping location intelligence and integrations as well.” On that last point, the company’s offering meshes with Microsoft 365, enabling users to make use of mapping capabilities in environments such as Excel, Powerpoint, Teams and Microsoft Power BI.
Another of the company’s endeavours is in making mapping accessible to more users within an organisation - enabling even GIS non-experts to make use of its tools. “Creating a map is a complex process,” says Haddad. “People earn PhDs in cartography for a reason, and it's a lifetime of creative inspiration to create maps that actually tell a story.” The answer, in part, is the company’s smart mapping solution as part of ArcGIS. “Smart mapping takes a statistical representation of your data, interrogates it, understands what the categories are and provides you with options. We then go a step further and provide intelligent defaults so that right off the bat you can automatically have a correct representation of your data. It means that you don’t have to know much about cartography to create the proper map.”
Along the same lines, the company is expanding access via its ArcGIS Online platform, which enables individuals to work with its GIS via a simple browser. “After signing up for an ArcGIS online subscription, you can get working immediately,” says Haddad. “At the same time, administrators can add additional capabilities as they need to, whether creating maps, organising teams and groups and enabling specific essential app bundles. Even the Microsoft bundles directly inside of ArcGIS online are simply a matter of configuration. Think of it as a no-coding approach to working with geographic information systems.” Naturally, the online experience has parity with other versions. “Everything that’s online is also available on premises - so you don't have to leave your company structure if you don’t want to. It’s about ease of use and making GIS tools accessible to many more people via SaaS or on-premises offerings.”
As with all companies around the globe, Esri has had to adapt to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “We've had to quickly shift from our traditional ways of working - from the hallway conversations, gathering in meeting rooms and going out to the pub afterwards to a virtual place. Of course, we already had people from around the world working with us, so in a lot of cases, we already dealt with time zones and communicated via Teams.” Vital to managing that transition successfully was the company’s culture. “It wasn't easy at first, but people started getting the hang of things. The culture here is such that we're a very passionate bunch, very smart - not just academically but in terms of common sense. Everyone managed to adjust because of the diverse and multinational types of people that Esri is made up of and the passion that they have.”
That culture has not only been crucial for getting through the pandemic, but for the company’s overall success since its foundation by CEO Jack Dangermond in 1969. “Jack's vision for Esri is tremendous: use the power of GIS to make the world a better place. Who wouldn't want to be a part of that culture?” Such ambition demands space to learn from mistakes, and Haddad is clear that is an approach he promotes. “Failure is not failure to me. Failure is: you tried your best, but for all kinds of reasons, it didn't work out. That's okay. You can learn from it and come back. Failure is experience. And we want to enable a place where failure isn't viewed as a negative but is viewed as an opportunity to grow.”
The future of Esri and GIS at large is bright, with new AI techniques only further improving its offering. “AI, machine learning and data science as a whole are coming into play. We have a whole initiative around spatial analysis and data science. ArcGIS Insights has a model where you can connect to your existing open data science world and start coding into an analytics workbench, for instance.” That’s very much in line with Esri’s broader mission to continue innovating and create solutions for all users and industries. “We want to give everybody the power to succeed through the use of the geographic sciences and GIS, even if they’re not experts. We want to advance the world of spatial analysis and data science and allow the creation of authoritative mapping products that the world needs.”
- Arthur Haddad