Inbox: NZ hosts world leader in GIS

He may be listed as Forbes billionaire but Jack Dangermond remains man of the land, driven by an insatiable curiosity about all things geographical. Which explains why he is now the president of Esri, one of the world’s largest corporations selling geographic information systems (GIS) technology.
Dangermond was the keynote speaker at GIS conference in Auckland recently. Eagle Technology hosted the Esri Asia Pacific User Conference (APUC) for Esri in collaboration with the New Zealand Esri Users Group. Eagle Technology is the official New Zealand distributor for Esri, marketing, installing, managing and servicing Esri’s ArcGIS systems in this country.
Dangermond’s presence as pivotal figure in the worldwide application and growth of GIS technology gave the conference considerable heft.
Beyond all that, Dangermond is also respected as an inspirational leader in environmental concerns, and philanthropist of note.
He has steered Esri to become pre-eminent company engaged in the effective marriage of GIS technologies with business intelligence. Says Dangermond: “Spatial information and knowledge lie at the heart of knowing your market, or your community, for business people, and local and national governments.”
Born into family of nurserymen in the red dirt country of Redlands, California, Dangermond started out studying landscape architecture. It was only when he engaged in post graduate study at Harvard University, that, as far as “understanding spatial patterns, relationships, and processes”, he says, “the lights went on”. He recalls that, at that time, the integration of geographic knowledge with the workings of businesses and local governments worldwide was “still very crude”.
So his philosophy in establishing Esri was “to bring rational thinking to the environmental movement”, which in the 1960s he says was beset by an overly “political approach”. And he’s probably right: in advancing any environmental cause, there is nothing more valuable than good, hard, irrefutable data – something that GIS systems can provide, and in as many layers as you need to support your case.
Interestingly, as Dangermond points out, these layers are “becoming more and more real time”.
“GIS is moving to become much more dynamic,” he reiterates, pointing out that until very recently, geographical data was usually gained from observations made in the past. Geospatial information achieved in real time can provide advantages to marketers, retailers, police, emergency services, civil defence and local government alike.
Dangermond says, for him, GIS is fundamentally interesting in four ways:
As manifestation of powerful visual language. “Maps tell stories.”
GIS drives efficiency. His 10,000 cities as clients of Esri systems point to that.
“It helps people make better decisions, once they understand spatial patterns and relationships.” (He cited the example of shopping centre planners who discovered how railway line running through city created psychic barrier for older people, one they weren’t comfortable crossing, even in their cars.)
The way in which GIS knowledge provides “understanding which precedes effective action”.
The effectiveness of integrating GIS knowledge into city systems was vividly demonstrated after the Christchurch earthquake, when Eagle Technology helped enable the response teams with mapping technology just 24 hours after the event. This helped with the assembly of many layers of information – from directing emergency services along roads known to still be open, to monitoring exactly where the gas leaks and portaloos were.
A recovery team using GIS technology remains in operation and functioning to this day as part of the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team (SCIRT), team whose work Dangermond describes as “heroic”.
Auckland Council has just invested in an integrated Esri GIS system, which will be accessible by wide range of employees across all its departments as well as by members of the public. M

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