The 2023 Esri User Conference (UC) gets underway on July 10th and, as is traditional, Esri has now published its Q&A ahead of the conference.
Here are some highlights that I think might be of interest for folk working in the Energy and Natural Resources sectors.
Creating the World You Want to See
The theme of this year’s UC is GIS – Creating the World You Want to See. This, says Esri, reflects the vision that GIS “can create a more sustainable, equitable, and prosperous world.” The Q&A notes that “of all the environmental challenges facing our world, climate change is perhaps the biggest” and I’m sure this resonates with many of us working in the energy sector.
Esri says GIS work is “driving collaboration and impact at every scale, from macro ecosystems to hyperlocal issues around planning, building, and managing our world.” Striking a note of hope, Esri states that “creating the world you want to see is not just possible – it’s already happening” but then counters with “it’s clear we need to scale it up – massively.”
This year’s plenary will feature Jack Dangermond’s usual update on Esri’s recent work as well as the work of the Esri user community. Look out for examples of Exprodat’s work in Jack’s sections on Energy and Decarbonisation.
The Plenary will also feature two keynote presenters who will “will explore visionary ways of using GIS” – Richard Spinrad from NOOA and Steve Boyes from National Geographic.
How is Esri doing?
Esri remains strong and stable. Its solid financial foundation has allowed it to “weather external circumstances” and continue support its users while advancing its technology.
Its vision on the possibilities of GIS remains unchanged, with GIS technology uniquely allowing people to make connections related to the physical world that might not otherwise be apparent.
To help these efforts, Esri continues to focus on applied science, but it says it does also value advancing “basic science” as well, seeking to “perform good science ourselves – particularly in hydrology, forestry, ecology, conservation biology, ocean science, agricultural science, health and human science, spatial data science, and the social sciences.”
As stated in previous Q&A updates, Esri sees many organizations developing strategic plans for geospatial infrastructure, placing the world “in the midst of a data explosion”. The challenge now is how to harness and manage this data. Of course, with most data having a location component, GIS provides a means to organize, analyse and collaborate.
A subject that has had a lot of media coverage this year is AI. Like many organisations – including here at Exprodat and our parent company Getech – Esri is investing in AI. This is an “active and ongoing R&D effort” that is being deployed across Esri product R&D, customer support, its websites and even in internal Esri systems.
Esri says its work in AI can be considered to fall in two main categories:
- GeoAI – focuses on the extraction of information from sensor data, doing analysis and solving spatial problems using the latest machine learning and deep learning algorithms and methods. This includes Esri making pre-trained AI Models available via the Living Atlas, for example. We’ve used these ourselves, and I strongly recommend giving them a look.
- R&D – the integration of AI into Esri products to make them more intelligent and easier to work with, for example by leveraging Generative AI and Large Language Models. Applications include helping users easily create maps, dashboards and surveys; improved search and discovery of information; guided workflows for common GIS tasks; and code generation assistants to help users in common scripting workflows.
Esri says it is committed to advancing trustworthy AI within its organization and products, striving to develop and deploy AI technologies in a manner that aligns with ethical standards and best practices. Esri expects to show more about its Trustworthy AI initiative within the ArcGIS Trust Center “later this year”.
Global Climate Geodesign Challenge
One initiative that caught my eye in the Q&A is the Global Climate Geodesign Challenge project, a “multi-year, science-based project… …to explore the collective potential of local teams across the world creating carbon negative plans for their regions”.
The challenge is a collaboration with IGC – a global group of academic and design professionals who apply geodesign to solve global challenges, and who recognises that it will take a diverse and multi-national effort to reverse global climate change. IGC is actively recruiting “teams to participate in studies for regions around the world starting in Fall 2023”.
ArcGIS Pro is now well beyond the spatial analysis capabilities of ArcMap, with hundreds of new vector and imagery analysis tools, including tools that leverage machine learning and deep learning to perform clustering, regression, classification, and prediction.
ArcGIS Pro 3.1 (release in February 2023) added some neat new features, including:
- Catalog datasets – created using new geoprocessing tools and visualized through catalog layers in maps and scenes.
- Automatically resize and reposition layout elements when you change the page size or orientation of a layout.
- Time-enable point, 3D object or building scene layers to visualize 3D content temporally.
- Scale-based label sizing allows you to smoothly change the text size of labels as you move across the scales of your map.
- Control the drawing order of features in any feature layer on your map or scene.
- Open a magnifier window in 2D maps to better see what content is visible at a larger scale and using precise snapping when digitizing new features.
- ArcGIS Reality for ArcGIS Pro is a new extension allowing you to photogrammetrically correct and process drone and digital aerial imagery to produce high-fidelity 3D and 2D products.
- Many Spatial Analyst tools that perform local raster operations now support multidimensional data as an input and can also create multidimensional output.
A quick reminder from Esri on the Trace Network. This was introduced in ArcGIS Pro 2.6 and is designed for non-Utility sector customers needing a simple network – e.g. wetlands, streams and railways. It uses a simple approach to network modelling with the benefits of ArcGIS Pro environment.
As many organisations start to migrate completely from ArcMap before it is retired (see section below), a reminder that Esri has made available tools to test a computer’s ability to run key ArcGIS Pro workflows, called the ArcGIS Pro Performance Assessment Tool (PAT). Well worth checking out.
Esri confirms that ArcGIS Pro does not currently support storing projects and/or data in Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive, although notes that providing support for these “is on our roadmap”. There’s a handy knowledge base article for more information on this topic.
ArcMap enters Mature Support in less than a year in March 2024, which means no more software updates, patches or hotfixes. Its time to migrate to ArcGIS Pro, people!
ArcGIS Online has had a number of releases in the last year, including the following feature highlights:
- Spatial analysis tools were added to Map Viewer, allowing you to quantify patterns and understand relationships in your data – this also includes preserving tool history. Quite handy.
- When styling a feature layer by type using unique symbols, you can create legend groups to add detail and organize the map legend.
- An enhanced ArcGIS Arcade expression editor features a dynamic expression writing experience with code completion suggestions based on your data.
- Map Viewer includes new options for summarizing point feature data, such as aggregation and clustering.
- Symbol styler updates include the addition of adjustable hatch patterns and animated symbols.
- Related records can be shown in pop-ups. Yay!
- Administrators can create item view count reports to help them see trends in traffic to specific items in the organization over time.
- ArcGIS Online organizations can set up hierarchical categories for organizing members according to characteristics – such as department, location, and expertise.
- Administrators can easily identify and remove deprecated basemaps and check for new Esri default basemaps to add to the gallery.
- Item reports now include information about when an item was last viewed. Useful to help identify old or unused items that should be considered for deletion or deprecation.
Elsewhere in Instant Apps, Esri has provided a capability matrix table to help compare the configurable tools and capabilities across the various templates.
Meanwhile, at the June 2023 release, users will be able to configure a dashboard optimized for both desktop and mobile devices.
There is an update on the retirement of Map Viewer Classic which Esri says will no longer be available after December 2025. In case you missed it, a few years back Esri released a new Map Viewer application that is “more performant, intuitive and capability-rich”. As such, it is recommended for all mapping workflows in ArcGIS Online to use Map Viewer – not Map Viewer Classic.
Note that ArcGIS Online organisations can now be hosted in the United States, Europe and Asia-Pacific.
Moving on to ArcGIS Enterprise, version 11.0 was a major version change from ArcGIS 10.x due to significant under-the-hood changes for Windows and Linux deployments. It also introduced enhancements to many product areas including applications, data management and administration. Key highlights included:
- Updates to Map Viewer including new layer effects, imagery pop-ups and chart support.
- Member categories to group organization members based on a role, department or team.
- The ability to share ArcGIS StoryMaps through distributed collaboration.
- A new Suggestions feature for ArcGIS Instant apps that helps to filter templates based on user criteria.
- A new experience for creating hosted feature layer views, allowing users to define the view definition and properties during the creation process.
- Response caching support for hosted feature layers to boost performance.
- The ability to schedule administration reports to run automatically.
- A new python script to scan the Enterprise portal for common health issues.
ArcGIS Enterprise 11.1, a long-term support release built on 11.0, was released in April 2023 and introduced key features such as service webhooks, custom data feeds, an enhanced Arcade expression editor, weather effects in Scene Viewer, data download support for ArcGIS Dashboard elements, the ability to swap a hosted feature layer view’s source layer without disrupting use of the view and a new tool to aid in migrating from the ArcMap runtime to the ArcGIS Pro runtime.
If you’re lagging a bit behind on Enterprise versions and thinking of moving to v11.x, Esri strongly encourages you to first upgrade to ArcGIS Enterprise 10.9.1 and then plan any necessary migration work before upgrading to the 11.x releases. Note that you don’t need to upgrade to Enterprise 11.0 before upgrading to Enterprise 11.1, as “direct upgrades” to 11.1 are supported from version 10.7 and above.
In the June 2023 release, Experience Builder will support accessibility and add the widgets for Near Me (beta), Swipe and Basemap Gallery. The Near Me widget will apparently bring together “most capabilities” from ArcGIS Web AppBuilder’s Situation Awareness, Near Me, Screening, Incident Analysis and Info Summary widgets.
Earlier this year, Esri announced it would be retiring the ArcGIS Web AppBuilder. The Q&A details the retirement plans as follows:
- The final release of Web AppBuilder in ArcGIS Enterprise is planned for the first half of 2025.
- Web AppBuilder in ArcGIS Online will be retired in Q4 2025.
A final product update that caught my eye is that the ability to analyse video in ArcGIS Excalibur is expected by the end of 2023. This is when Esri will release the ArcGIS Video Server for ArcGIS Enterprise product – more news can be found on the ArcGIS Video Server web page.
That’s the end of the product updates – I found the Q&A this year a bit lighter on new product announcements than usual, but perhaps Esri are focussing for now on further evolving the many new products that have been brought to market in recent years.
See you there!
If you’re coming to the User Conference, drop by the Esri Energy Social on Tuesday 11th July (6 pm – 8 pm) on the Marriot Hotel ‘Marina Terrace’ (note the new location!) and say “hi”.
Please also come along to the Renewables track on Thu 13th after lunch where I’ll be presenting a talk on our use of GIS in various energy related projects, including geothermal, critical minerals for electrification, green hydrogen and industrial decarbonisation.
If you can’t attend the UC in person, don’t worry! There is a digital access option that provides livestreams of the plenary session and over 65 technical workshops. Visit the Digital Attendance page to find out more details.
Posted by Chris Jepps, COO, Exprodat.