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Roundup of the 2013 Esri Canada UC: GIS truly transforming our world (Part 1)

Esri Canada hosted 15 User Conferences across the country in 2013. The events provided an excellent opportunity to explore the latest developments in Esri technology, see the many innovative ways GIS is used by organizations and network with a growing community of GIS enthusiasts. Read the first part of this two-part series providing highlights from the UCs.

Last week’s User Conference in St. John’s, Newfoundland marked the 15th and last Esri Canada UC for 2013. What a successful conference series it’s been!

From our first stop in London, Ontario last April, we travelled to 14 other cities across Canada and hosted more than 3,200 GIS enthusiasts at what has emerged as the premier GIS event in the country.

Every year, we’ve seen the number of attendees increase: this year’s Toronto UC alone attracted more than 600 customers. As GIS has become more accessible, our user community has also become more diverse – with a growing number of developers, business users and students joining the crowd of GIS professionals.

When asked about what has contributed to this change, Adam Fox, Esri Canada’s regional director for Ontario, said: “The amount of content offered at the UCs has significantly expanded over the years. It’s also much more vertical specific, so attendees can choose their own track. The content is topical, timely and relevant.”

This year, a new track for GIS in Higher Education and Research was introduced. As well, the Business Summit was held in conjunction with the Toronto UC.

Figure 1: Esri Canada President Alex Miller explained why GIS is transformational and challenged attendees to scale up GIS and their work beyond single systems into entire organizations, making it pervasive.

In his keynote address, Esri Canada President Alex Miller emphasized how GIS is transforming our world – by physically changing it through all kinds of activities and by changing how we think and act. It organizes things systematically and integrates geographic science into everything we do, leading to a deeper understanding of our world. He also encouraged attendees to rise up to the challenge of using GIS to create a more sustainable future.

Users leading the transformation

More than 140 customers across Canada presented how they’re using GIS to transform their organizations. From improving disaster management, finding the best site for new stores, opening up data to the public and improving service delivery, the numerous user presentations provided attendees with a wealth of new ideas for GIS projects and best practices.

Managing flood emergency operations

The City of Calgary’s Geospatial Emergency Management project couldn’t have been timelier. Their new Common Operating Picture (COP) application provided critical situational awareness during the severe floods that hit Alberta in June, which threatened thousands of lives and caused billions of dollars in damage. The COP enabled faster decision-making and efficient multi-agency collaboration, significantly improving emergency response.

The COP provided emergency management staff with secure, rapid access to more than 200 datasets as well as real-time information from social media channels.  With downtown Calgary closed and City Hall and the Municipal Building wiped out, staff accessed the COP remotely. It served as a single authoritative environment for emergency response and recovery. Remarkably, within a little over a week of the floods, the city’s downtown reopened for business and the Calgary Stampede pushed through as scheduled.

Figure 2: Nancy Merritt, geospatial consultant for the City of Calgary, recounted how their COP supported 24/7 emergency response operations during the floods, from planning evacuations to generating reports for ministerial briefings and directing recovery activities.

Enabling data-driven journalism

The Gazette in Montréal shared how they use GIS technology to make important topics interesting through data visualization. With minimal GIS training, they used ArcGIS for Desktop to analyze and map Canadian national household survey data, revealing a wealth of information about  Montréalers’ origins and habits. They also used ArcGIS Online to map red-light cameras in the city and develop several stories about local traffic trends. For using GIS to produce outstanding journalism, they were presented with the Esri Canada Award of Excellence.

“ArcGIS has more features than other Web mapping systems we’ve used,” noted Roberto Rocha, interactive editor at The Gazette. “The platform offers a wider breadth of functionality and provides a smoother workflow to create maps and get them online. There are also many things you can do with the software just by point and click, without writing code. This allows us to quickly build maps that people enjoy, connect with, and want to share. This award tells us that we’re effectively using new tools and technologies to do our job, which is to inform.”

Figure 3: The Gazette’s census data app has become one of the most shared resources on their Web site, as well as on social media sites such as Reddit, Facebook and Twitter.

Mapping the future of our schools

In Regina, Saskatoon Public Schools (SPS) showed how they’re using GIS to improve school planning. To support unprecedented population growth in the province and plan for the corresponding student enrolment boom, they replaced their legacy system with the ArcGIS platform. This allows them to cost-effectively build useful Web mapping apps, including an internal planning app that allows superintendents and principals to view student distribution across the city at a glance.

Figure 4: Using their internal planning Web app, SPS administrators can quickly see where students reside across the city and determine whether they’re attending schools within or outside their designated boundary.

SPS also built an online school locator app that parents and prospective students can use to find information on the nearest school that meets their criteria by program and grade. Using the same platform for these apps has freed up SPS resources to spend time on training, boosting their in-house GIS capacity to develop other Web apps.

Improving First Nation environmental planning

In Thunder Bay, Matawa First Nations presented how they use GIS to safeguard traditional values and make informed land-use decisions. To cost-effectively equip their communities with ArcGIS technology, Matawa signed an Enterprise License Agreement (ELA) with Esri Canada.

They developed a centralized GIS data management system that allows community members to use mobile GIS to capture Traditional Ecological Knowledge in their region, including traditional hunting and berry-picking grounds, as well as archaeological sites that are synchronized back to a secure geodatabase. Using GIS has helped them move towards community-based, natural resource management.

Figure 5: Matawa First Nations creates maps for many purposes, including gathering land information for discussion with prospective developers, documenting traditional values data, monitoring forest disease and identifying species at risk.

Ensuring safe, reliable natural gas service

Heritage Gas is Nova Scotia’s natural gas provider. Since they were established 10 years ago, the utility has used GIS to support numerous aspects of its operations. They use ArcGIS for their customer information system (CIS), as well as network planning. Before they decide on where to build additional pipelines, GIS is used to conduct financial modelling and compare commercial and residential interest.

Craig Power, information systems specialist at Heritage Gas, noted: “GIS is critical to our operations. It allows us to have all our data in one place so that everyone in the company can access and use it to do their work. Being able to see the contents of our database visually as a map makes it easier to analyze data and make decisions. It also helps us to effectively plan where we’ll grow our network.”

Figure 6: Customers can look up service availability in their area through a self-service app on Heritage Gas’ Web site. The app shows the locations of existing and planned natural gas pipelines in Nova Scotia.

Making businesses more intelligent and profitable

At the Business Summit in Toronto, Starbucks, Wall Street Network, Ecolog ERIS and Patrick Engineering gave attendees a glimpse of how GIS is used in their organizations.

Wall Street Network uses GIS to develop risk management solutions for insurance, finance, retail and manufacturing industries. Ecolog ERIS implemented ArcGIS for Server to develop a new Web-based report generation app that significantly improves their environmental risk assessment services. Patrick Engineering shared how they improved the efficiency of determining telecom serviceability. Using GIS, they’ve eliminated unnecessary field surveys and increased their customer acquisition rates.

At Starbucks, location analytics is critical to market planning and site selection. Environics Analytics also presented on the role of geography in big data analytics. They noted that GIS makes unstructured data make sense and harnesses it to create useful business intelligence. 

Figure 78: Jan Kestle, president of Environics Analytics, explained that while knowing where your customers are matters, knowing other data about those customers or their “geodemographics” is more important.

To get ideas for your own projects, browse and download user presentations from the UCs. Stay tuned for part 2 of this UC roundup, where we’ll review some of the new solutions and apps featured at the UCs.

About the Author

Joy Chan is the Marketing Communications Manager for Esri Canada. She is passionate about sharing how GIS makes the world sustainable and how you don’t need to be a cartographer to make great maps. Joy has a Master of Science degree in Integrated Marketing Communications and has over 20 years’ international experience in the technology industry.

Profile Photo of Joy Chan