A conversation between Jack Dangermond, president and co-founder of Esri, and Brian Haslam, president of Cityworks. This excerpt, pulled from a longer discussion, covers topics such as the future of GIS, software development, digital twins, and much more.
Brian: Jack, thank you so much for taking time to share your insights with the Cityworks user community.
Jack: It’s my great pleasure, Brian. Thank you.
Brian: Esri has been a great supporter of Cityworks for many years. Much of what we’ve achieved has been because of your support.
Brian: Twenty-five years ago, I was involved in designing and building interfaces from computerized maintenance management systems, or CMMS, to Esri GIS. I was reviewing the release notes for ArcView 3.1 and became excited as I saw that it was extensible. I realized that instead of building interfaces between CMMS and ArcInfo, the ArcGIS of the day, I could build a work management application directly on ArcView. This became the foundation for fully leveraging the GIS for work management, and it became what we call GIS-centric. The GIS was the best and most up-to-date inventory of critical assets. For its day, we could say it was the best digital twin we could create.
Jack: I love geography. And the whole concept of GIS was to essentially abstract and construct a “digital twin” with geographic information of cities, landscapes, and environmental situations. All of this really grabbed my attention when I was younger. It started with ArcInfo originally, and then ArcGIS and all of its manifestations and was really the reflection of striving to build a replication of a city and everything that’s happening within it. Today we can do that by using layers and 3D models and we do a pretty good job visualizing a city. We can look into the city and see things that you normally wouldn’t be able to see. A lot of that philosophy was about modeling, analytics, and visualization of this core digital model or digital twin.
Jack: At some point in my career, I learned about database theory, which is where you build a data model of an organization—such as a city—and then you link it to function in a way that as you do work—whether it’s field work, construction work, collecting bills, or doing assessments, etc.—it updates the data model. When I met you, I thought, “Wow, this guy, he’s interested in automating and streamlining work and permitting.” I liked you right away. But the main thing I really liked was this idea that we could connect work management to this data model—the digital twin of a city—so that as people did their work, they could use the digital model of a city, and could also do transactions on the digital model of the city.
Brian: I liked you right away as well, Jack. I’ve always admired that Esri has had a long-standing tradition of being open and available for third-party developers to build applications. In January, you announced ArcGIS Platform, the new platform-as-a-service that gives developers access to Esri’s industry-leading location services, data, and mapping tools. Can you tell us more about the ArcGIS Platform?
Jack: Yes. We decided to literally open up the hood to a layer of our technology. It means that people can easily drag and drop maps into their apps and they can use our base maps, in addition to the analytics inside of ArcGIS. Our vision is that it will be just like you pioneered, it will empower so many additional apps that can be built-in—apps about everything. Your integration of Cityworks with Trimble really excites me because it means that we can continue to expand all sorts of workflows and other kinds of technologies around this idea of a digital twin for Esri users.
Brian: And it’s so much more than a static model. The GIS-centric data model can be constantly updated from the human work activities and the data coming in from IoT devices. This creates a living, breathing, evolving system of work that empowers our joint customers to take a holistic view of their organization and their infrastructure. It becomes a system of action.
Jack: You’re right, there’s a system of action and a system of work, but the fact that you built that system on top of GIS means that organizations can take advantage of the analytics power with Operational Insights and other tools. Because of this, a whole treasure trove of other applications can be leveraged off of the main core of managing work and managing action.
Brian: How do you see digital twins being adopted among municipalities and utilities now and in the future?
Jack: We’re moving to a digital world. The next few decades are going to bring a lot of change. It’s going to be driven in part by technology and digital technology. We’re going to see a lot of shift in the way people think about cities and the way they manage their assets. There’s a new kind of infrastructure emerging. It’s not the water infrastructure of cities or the transportation infrastructure of cities. Rather, it’s the digital infrastructure. We should be focused on geospatial infrastructure as a foundation for cities and understand how it’s going to change the way cities operate. This can help people do their work better and see this big goal.
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Brian: Exactly. One of the things you often speak about—which I’ve written about—is the amazing capacity within our professional community to enact positive change. GIS intelligence empowers Cityworks and Esri users to do good locally and also to overcome serious problems.
Jack: Considering that we are over-shooting our capacity and that we are in crisis—not just with things like COVID-19 but also with climate change—we have some serious problems to work on correcting. GIS allows us to bring information together. It allows us to analyze it. It allows us to participate and use that information to make infrastructure more sustainable and to create sustainable organizations. Ultimately it enables us to look at solving problems like decarbonizing our whole society. It’s a geographic thing.
Brian: It is geographic! Cityworks and ArcGIS users, our common clients, are solving problems and overcoming challenges every day. Whether it’s repairing infrastructure or something that’s become really important during the pandemic—investing in our parks and open spaces. And other small changes to improve the quality of life for residents, making our communities more resilient and sustainable. This is critical work that impacts all of us. Thank you, Jack, for your time.
Jack: Brian, thank you. I really appreciate this conversation.
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