ESRI Ireland – Many Thanks

On Tuesday this week (August 1st) I found myself in a meeting room with ESRI Ireland staff in Dublin.

I was there acting in a quality assurance role for the principal contractor (who has little ESRI technology knowledge) in a joint solution being architected between the principal and ESRI Ireland for a specific customer of theirs.

I was rather nervous before attending because the views I have articulated (in public articles for Directions Magazine and other letters, soapboxes, comments posted on the Internet) have been interpreted as being “anti-ESRI” (see footnote on this).

This nervousness was hightened through being asked to keep my attendence quiet (even though Marco Giana, one of my staff at my last employers, now works for ESRI Ireland in Dublin and I wanted to catch up with him). Added to this was the fact that, when working for my previous employer, my manager and CEO were contacted by people connected with ESRI in official or other capacities, in an attempt to silence my writing (see the Directions Magazine letter exchange with Scott Morehouse in 2005). When at a conference last year, ESRI AU staff I knew deliberately “snubbed” me (though their CEO did not). Even someone I know in Hobart seems to think that he must defend ESRI everytime I write something critical of their approach to IT integration!

All very sad, but true.

The meeting, actually, went very well. I provided the QA service for the principal and their customer through bringing to the discussions the experience of someone who has 20 years of experience with ESRI technology and IT as both a consumer and producer of technology.

An additional perspective I brought to the meeting was that I could put myself in the position of a GIS Manager in one of the customer sites for which this technology is being designed charged with trying to design systems that would use the services on offer to “reduce cost and maximse profitability”. This is because I have been a GIS Manager (ie I have been on both sides of the technology fence).

I always doubted that the ESRI Ireland staff would be worried that my “reputation” would mean that I was there to sink their bid! And I was right: because I think I acted as an effective conduit between the two partners, enabling the issues to be exposed and debated, and to give ESRI Ireland the best chance to get their solution right (though it is up to them to get a design together that minimises risk, makes them a profit and delivers what the customer intends).

At the end of the meeting ESRI Ireland staff were open and complementary. And I think it was genuine because they are pretty genuine people.

In summary, I have to say that I found the ESRI Ireland staff good examples of that generocity of spirit for which the Irish are known all around the world.

So, to people like Ronan Gray, Rob Morrisson and John Hewitt: thanks for being generous, professional and welcoming.

I left Ireland with a sense of satisfaction for a job well done.
(Though, I wouldn’t want to be in Ronan’s shoes as he has to architect a solution that delivers a win-win all round!)

Thanks ESRI Ireland staff for a very enjoyable and professionally rewarding day.


Footnote: I have said many times that I respect ESRI software having used it for over 20 years; I have even recommended its continued use at my previous employers although certain aspects of that technological use was attenuated due to specific reasons that no one has a right to know about. That I recognise that I put my views in the Directions Magazine exchange with Scott (in the first letter) with a little too much passion, but when you are working 11 hours a day (under resourced by my employer to do the job they asked me to do) struggling with technology that ESRI could have fixed many times over the years – but didn’t – one might be cut a little slack. But none of you knew about that.

Yes, I remain a critic of ESRI Inc’s approach to building spatially-enabled systems for enterprise computing within business.

I reject the “spatial is special” mantra that sees ESRI Inc try to control everything from the back office to the front office and every tier in between (their release of their own spatial type within Oracle when a perfectly serviceable one exists and is used by pretty well 100% of the GIS industry can only be seen as being an example of a lack of perspective about their true position within this very small vertical industry).

Their technology, while great in some areas, has serious architectural problems in others. (ArcObjects is the biggest COM application still in the world but, as Microsoft have said at Tech Dev days: “We got it wrong: COM is dead. Long live .NET”. Yet, in my view, ESRI doesn’t have the market share or financial structure to effectively port this legacy code to modern managed code. JIntegra bridges and numerous “connectors” are only papering over the problem (ask anyone who has tried to deploy ArcGIS Engine on Linux or UNIX).

Within the ESRI stack there is no, single, consistent API for accessing their myriad proprietary formats. But instead of fixing this they release a file-based geodatabase format at 9.2 which just adds coals to the fire. (Thanks AutoDesk for showing them how to do this in FDO.)

Google, Oracle, Microsoft etc are all extending the market and bringing serious competitive forces to bear on the ESRI business model. Smart, technology savvy companies like Manifold Inc are showing that companies can build functionally rich GIS that use modern component technologies more completely and natively because they don’t have technological or other forms of baggage.

The proliferation of Google Maps “mashups” shows that the basic science behind “geospatial data and processing” is not esoteric. It is not some black art that requires “domain knowledge” that can only be practiced by “qualified” geospatial “professionals” after years of university education.

The “Emperor has no clothes” is my personal take on the dominant player in the industry. This does not mean all its techology is bad and of no worth. To hold that opinion would be foolish – and lead to penury for consultants like myself.