Building Relationships Matters as Much as the Technology

Brian Haslam was accorded the honor of speaking at the annual Esri Business Partner Conference, in Palm Springs, California, on March 6, 2011. Below are his comments.

When I first met Josh Lewis, I was excited to hear about his ideas for improving communication between partners and Esri. My perspective goes back to when I began my GIS career. Twenty-four years ago, I was asked to select a GIS for the University of Utah. I chose ARC/INFO for many reasons, but I have always valued that Esri provides tools – such as AML (Arc Macro Language) – that empowered the end user to design and create solutions.

In 1995, I made the decision to design and create Cityworks. The pillars of the Cityworks business model have not changed.
• We are a GIS software company.
• We develop exclusively for Esri technology.
• We are customer and partner support focused.
• We operate financially within our means.

The Cityworks GIS-centric approach is to leverage as much as possible a local government’s investment in Esri technology. This approach resonates with many organizations. Every Cityworks users is an Esri GIS user. However, this makes us particularly sensitive to changes in Esri technology. It is critical that we stay in alignment. Prior to the new partner program, the only way to stay in alignment was to attend Esri conferences and maintain good relationships with Esri staff. Sometimes we received good information and sometimes not. Sometimes we made good decisions, sometimes not, and sometimes we just got lucky.

At first, Cityworks was designed as an ArcView extension using Avenue and Visual Basic. The design decisions were simple because the GIS platform and technology options available to us were limited.

Then along came ArcGIS 8 and the geodatabase—and support for SQL databases. We loved what we saw, but knew it would require a painful rewrite of Cityworks, and we had a lot of design decisions. We had to choose from different development environments, Esri GIS platforms, databases, and other related technology. Gratefully, we had several years to plan and design for these changes.

Fast forward to today: It seems we no longer have “a few years” to plan and design. There is always a new technology to consider. Add to this, our clients want us to release almost simultaneously with Esri new releases. This is a significant challenge for Cityworks.

Let me give you one example. When we first heard about ArcGIS Server (probably at this conference), we loved it and began as soon as possible to design and develop for it. Early on, we discovered a serious map redraw issue. We needed to talk to Esri core-level programmers, but that was nearly impossible. It took months, but eventually our Esri friends on the inside pried open that door, and we were able to resolve the problem quickly. However, it took a lot of time and delayed our release causing client dissatisfaction.

We can no longer rely on the old ways. Technology is changing too rapidly. We need a better way, and we have that way with the Partner Program Technology Review Workshop. Last fall we participated in our first. It was arranged and organized by our Esri partner representative who understands our plans and goals—and our questions and concerns. A workshop was organized with core-level developers and product release managers who listened to our plan design and answer our questions. It was well worth the effort and time.

I can honestly say that in the last 24 years the Technology Review Workshop is the single most important communication we have had with Esri regarding technology. It is critical for our success. More importantly, we know we can be a better GIS software company and provide better products and solutions to our common clients and partners with Esri.

By Brian Haslam, President & CEO, Cityworks

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