Q&A: Esri's Jack Dangermond on cloud, big data and Apple-vs-Google map wars

The company today unveiled ArcGIS Online organizational subscriptions

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GIS pioneer Jack Dangermond founded Esri in 1969 and has steered the company since the mainframe era. Today's announcement of ArcGIS Online organizational subscriptions marks what he calls Esri's evolution into the era of cloud and mobile computing. He talked about the importance of mobile and cloud, the role of GIS in organizations, big data and consumer vs. enterprise mapping.

Tell me a little about today's announcement. This is rather transforming. When we started the company, we were on mainframes, we had a few dozen customers. When we went to minis, we went to a few thousand customers. When we went to Unix workstations, it went up an order of magnitude in use. When we went to PCs, we achieved a million-user community. With each of those steps, it was usability, it was a new architecture, it was cheaper. In our view this is another evolutionary step.

But, frankly, this new platform we see as not just one order of magnitude but multiple orders of magnitude of growth for our technology. We've had this technology in beta for about six months and we're getting very, very, very positive feedback on it.

In the open cloud version of it, we call that ArcGIS Online. It is a complete SaaS implementation and it is being offered with a new business model. Esri, like Microsoft and Oracle, has traditionally been a software company. This new platform introduces a subscription model for the use of our SaaS offering, ArcGIS online. So it's a shift for us, both in the technology pattern but also in the business pattern.

We don't see ArcGIS Online as affecting our traditional enterprise business software. We see it actually as very synergistic. It's similar in concept to what Microsoft is trying to do with their Windows 8 and Azure environment, software and services. But it jumps much more dramatically into this platform for core services environment.

Who do you think will be using this? Is it going to be mostly GIS professionals or other technology-savvy people who are not GIS professionals? It's definitely changing. First, it will be heavily used by GIS professionals, and we're seeing that already in organizations. There are large oil companies that are using it, there are also multiple federal agencies. There's the traditional customer profile. The Department of Interior is deploying it both in the various bureaus, but also as a new generation of an enterprise system which ties together all of their bureaus: USGS, Park Service, BoM and so on. They see this as a way to do a cloud-first initiative for all their geospatial data for sharing of geographic information between and among their traditional GIS users.

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