The world's oceans are being destroyed by humanity in a repeat of the destruction of the buffalo by American settlers - because the impacts of man's actions are not understood.
Using a statement that is gaining credence in international circles, Rich Turner, Director Desktop Products at ESRI, told the GIMS conference in a keynote address that, access to information through the use of GIS will help the world to better manage the impacts of change in the 21st century.
"As a global community, we need to make an investment in multipurpose databases. It is crucial for all levels - local, regional and global. We need to manipulate and capture data at all levels. Cost is the biggest obstacle to capturing data and here the Internet is enlarging access to data, given limitations such as bandwidth that can restrict access to intensive data.
"Database resources will provide the information to allow us to work with change. They will set up the framework for geographic accounting, so that we can understand the dynamics of change and make wise decisions about the impacts of change in communities, education, health, culture, the environment and many more areas of our existence."
Turner said advances in GIS technology were benefiting developing countries and more advanced nations by helping them manage change, thus fulfilling ESRI's vision of GIS. "The global challenges that we are facing are bringing us into a common community and therefore we need to share data to help us manage various impacts. The recent economic upheaval in Asia affected us all.
"Even as the 48th largest software developer in the world, ESRI is struggling to keep up with new technology. The opportunity with the technological advances we are facing is to move data to provide broader access. Data flows into networks that is enabling us all to begin participating in the global society. Our challenge now is to integrate these data reservoirs. They tend not to have a good integration infrastructure. An infrastructural framework is needed."
He said a spatial database infrastructure could be a tremendous resource for a country for planning and for managing infrastructure - especially in a country like South Africa where change is so endemic.
"Our vision is that GIS will be used as a tool to help us successfully manage change, while working with the different factors that are affecting us lives every day. This vision is practical. In fact, the future will favour it and successful organisations will embrace it. People who are more aware of the spatial relationships will have a critical advantage. They will lay the foundation of the spatial data infrastructure. Technology will make it happen, including GIS technology, which is a fundamental key to success," professed Turner.
Turner said ESRI would provide the technology to help create geographic software and applications, driven by the changing needs of the market. Referring to the factors that influenced the development of GIS technology, he said GIS had evolved from specific task orientated to multi-enterprise systems that had a broader audience.
"The Internet has set expectations that the information age delivers on its promises. In addition, hardware innovations have impacted on ESRI developments. Software innovations are driving our product developments – software technology is changing globally and we have to make progress to remain state of the art. This gives you more stable products.
"Distributed computing is an area driving our technology advances, especially movements from a base application to client server applications. The Internet changes everything - it is the next major platform to deliver GIS. By leveraging the Net we can drive significant levels of development. The Net reduces the cost of deployment dramatically, although there are challenges and drawbacks.
"We have been re-engineering our product line to address the market needs. We are building a single unified product strategy. We will be launching an entire series of new tools to enhance the user friendliness of our products and make functionality more accessible. At present, less than 10% of our product functionality is used by most users. We are developing new tools: a richer data model to make geographic knowledge more accessible, with strong data management capabilities in a single, scaleable, unified architecture. We have to make the data model smarter so that users can make easier use of the content and not spend time on modelling the data. The notion is to build a more user-orientated model line.
"We have three initiatives: usability, distributed network GIS, and GIS data management, to support these initiatives."
Turner said that historically, ESRI had a product line that addressed all the market requirements, although often the products did not communicate very well with each other. "Now we are imploding our products into a single scaleable unified architecture to fit all the requirements. All these things will make it easier and more effective for users to get value from their geographic data.
Our objective is to demystify GIS and make it easier to work with data. We will be adding Geodatabase to Arcview with versioning to enable multiple edit sessions and long transactions - all going back to a single database. This will help manage change within a database environment," he said.
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