As director of solutions at Esri, Damian Spangrud focuses on making the science of location intelligence understandable and actionable. We asked him to share his insights on geospatial infrastructure, artificial intelligence, COVID-19, and real-time data.

Q. What role has ArcGIS and spatial awareness played during the COVID-19 pandemic?

A. As the COVID-19 pandemic rattles our lives in ways that we would never have imagined even a few short months ago, it is interesting to see the role that GIS and spatial thinking is playing in the response. From the early stages of the pandemic in Asia to now, ArcGIS has been key in modeling, visualizing, and responding to this crisis.

Much of these efforts are being led by the GIS professionals working far outside of their normal day-to-day project work, but they know that their skills can help. As the global impact grows, we are seeing networks of these communities sharing information with each other and connecting the nodes in the network to ensure a better response. GIS and geospatial thinking is being used in every briefing and model globally. Our futures are all being impacted by this crisis, but your skills and communities are what is helping day to day.

Q. What is geospatial infrastructure, and why is it important for communities moving into the future?

A. Geospatial infrastructure is the collection of web service-enabled systems, providing applications and services for a wide variety of purposes. Communities can use geospatial infrastructure to share content, services, and applications beyond just the individual user or organization level. Geospatial infrastructure is important for communities because it allows cities, utilities, and other organizations to support practical integration of all departments while maintaining their silos of excellence. It also enables communities to connect with other public and private organizations, taking advantage of each other’s data, services, and even apps. Since the infrastructure supports connected desktops, web apps, open data, and offline field data collection, it brings together all workflows across organizations.

Q. How is ArcGIS technology taking geospatial infrastructure to the next level?

A. The big change is in the interconnectedness and scale of GIS. Organizations can now dynamically bring together information from different departments into organization-wide applications such as dashboards. And the benefits are not just for large organizations. Individuals and teams use this infrastructure for personal productivity and offloading work to remote systems while at the same time leveraging standard data and services from the cloud to enrich their local work.

Q. How might an organization benefit from a system of engagement?

A. Organizations using GIS have always benefited from the system of engagement by using printed maps and dynamic digital maps to communicate policy and plans and make operational decisions. These days, the engagement is much broader and includes dynamic 3D scenes, executive dashboards, and infographics—all leveraging the same infrastructure and content seamlessly across workflows and devices.

Q. Why is real-time data so important?

A. Real-time data has always been important to make better operational decisions. But, historically, getting that data has been difficult and was, at best, loosely connected (e.g., someone reports something over the radio). With increased connectivity and low-priced devices, organizations can now put all this data on their operational dashboards to make better decisions. But they don’t need to sit and watch “the board.” With intelligent alerting, defined actions can automatically trigger based on a set of rules. It may be something as simple as sending an email or text or something as complex as triggering a model for real-time analysis.

Q. How can organizations incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning into their operations?

A. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) provide a new set of ever-expanding tools to help find patterns and predict results. While traditional analysis continues to help find defined patterns and predict results, AI and ML have been shown to help infer some results with more flexibility and dynamism than many logical models. It’s also fairly easy to see the benefits in machine vision. Machine vision allows the computer to “look at” an image and identify things and aspects of things. For instance, it could successfully follow commands such as “find all swimming pools at abandoned houses” or “while driving on the road, highlight any road signs that appear damaged.” These AI and ML techniques reduce the need for a person to do all the work in looking at these images and in making assumptions and identifications.

Q. Talk to us about ArcGIS Indoors and ArcGIS Urban. How can these solutions help local government and utility organizations?

A. ArcGIS Indoors and ArcGIS Urban represent newly envisioned geo-enabled systems. They tackle specific workflows and take a non-GIS specific approach. Arc- GIS Indoors focuses on providing specific tools, data models, and apps to help organizations better map their indoor spaces, efficiently route staff, and provide a system of record of the equipment in a building. Most organizations are not actively managing these assets and end up with poor understanding of their space utilization and inefficiencies.

ArcGIS Urban represents a new tool for urban planners, developers, and engaged community organizations to model the current urban landscape or proposed changes and see the impacts of these changes on indicators such as traffic, population density, and viewsheds. With traditional systems, the data is rarely integrated to make holistic decisions. ArcGIS Urban allows all the information to be brought together.

In both of these, GIS professionals are critical to providing the content and context for this work—enabling a whole new community of professionals to leverage the geospatial infrastructure to build better understanding and take more decisive action.

Watch the video below to hear more of Damian’s thoughts on how GIS-centric smart technology is transforming our world. (Closed captioning available.)


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