This morning my alarm went off at 3:10am, I was attending the Geocortex 2011 User Conference, this year held entirely online and given the time difference between Auckland and Victoria BC it meant an early start. I knew I wasn’t alone however with 150 delegates from around the world attending and at least two other poor souls from EGL up at this ungodly hour I felt part of a user community even if I couldn’t see them.
With the plenary presented by Steven Myhill-Jones, CEO of Geocortex about to start I settled down in front of my laptop with only a cup of tea (and a couple of Gingernuts ready for dunking) as company. I believe this is the only plenary session that I have attended whilst wearing pyjamas.
Steven is an engaging speaker and through bleary eyes and 10,000 kilometres I was hooked immediately. The messages Steven presented were wide ranging; he reiterated how Web-based maps are now mainstream and that consumers expect fast, simple and elegant applications, but also that the growth in Mobile technology now means that more and more users are expecting the same content on their phone as on their computer. Given the growth in mobile, Geocortex’s plans for mobile were also examined including a demonstration of an Essentials viewer running on an iPad.
Every conference can expect a few technical hiccups and unfortunately the video demonstration of the iPad turned out to be one for me with jumping playback and poor audio. Nevertheless I could see that the application included a workflow to enable users to record features on the map. Here the great strength of Essentials was highlighted, the disassembly of viewers and workflow from site configuration means that the same workflow and the same site configuration provided the same functionality and same look and feel in the standard Essentials Silverlight viewer as well as a mobile application with very little effort required to create both applications. This Steven confirmed was how Geocortex adds value to Esri ArcGIS Server customers by reducing development time.
More on Geocortex’s mobile strategy will be discussed tomorrow, however there are plans to develop native mobile apps for iOS, Android and Windows Mobile. Blackberry users have not been ignored and Steven announced that Geocortex have formed a partnership with TDC, makers of Freeance a mapping application for Blackberry.
Steven introduced the concept of a Spatial Application Infrastructure, something which will be explored over the next two days. It can be described as an application tier which contains the site.xml, workflow, and additional resources which is viewer and platform, and therefore technology agnostic. This is a revelation because it allows a site and therefore application to managed centrally and deployed across a number of appropriate platforms. Finally we will be able to deliver business applications on to consumer mobile devices with virtually no additional development – just by using an appropriate mobile viewer template some of which will become device specific to take advantage of form factor and device specific functionality.
Of further note is that a new Silverlight Viewer version 1.2 will be released later this week.
After the presentation there was a 30 minute break, I used this time to explore the Greenroom, a virtual room where you could get a tour of the Geocortex offices and view brief videos of key Geocortex staff. They really do have nice offices!
Sessions are split into two tracks, a General track and a Technical track. After the break I headed straight into a technical session “Deep Dive: Geocortex Viewer for Silverlight”. This session explored the Essentials Framework and why it is beneficial to developers.
With my head spinning a little bit from the technical track I headed off into the General track and the provocatively entitled How to Kill the Web-GIS Viewer. This session really questioned the traditional view of a corporate Web-GIS viewer and whether it was still appropriate in today’s market. The traditional Web-GIS viewer was a one site meets all needs approach because it was either too costly or too difficult to create multiple viewers. Consequently the corporate viewer tended to be overly complicated for some and not advanced enough for others. The session questioned the value of this approach, instead proposing a one site meets one need methodology. The Essentials architecture makes this concept a reality. A single site can have multiple viewers; on multiple platforms and when combined with Workflow can be tailored to the needs of the individual.
Lunch followed, or given the time difference, breakfast in my case and a chance to fill up on caffeine and toast. Without other delegates to talk to I attempted a conversation with my wife who had just woken up, however being non-technical she failed to grasp the importance of a Spatial Application Infrastructure!
For the next session I was torn between a technical session on Reporting and a general session on the challenges faced in Web Mapping projects. The advantage of a virtual conference is that you can attend both, however after 3 minutes of listening to both sessions concurrently, I plumed for the web mapping challenges. It was a great session, very thought provoking. I was struck by a simple quote “It’s not what the software does, it’s what the user does” (Hugh Mcleod). As a software vendor it is all too easy to list functionality as if simply doing so will explain to the user why it’s so good. Fortunately this isn’t something that EGL does but nevertheless it is worth considering with regard to Essentials. Essentials is a framework, it’s customisable, it attempts to use a language that is non threatening/frightening for a user - I want to.. for example. As such Essentials enables the user, rather than forces the user to use a specific viewer and set of tools. Coupled with Workflow Essentials can be what the user wants rather than what the software does.
The problem with a virtual conference is that I’m still in the office and as such I still get e-mails and phone calls. I had to attend a meeting and so missed some of the next session. This was unfortunate as it include a presentation that EGL prepared. Specifically it demonstrated how two of our customers had used Essentials. Aurecon is a large multi-disciplinary engineering company who have been using Essentials to support project work. The easy in which new sites can be created was what first attracted Aurecon to Essentials and within a few weeks of install had 5 sites and as many viewers running for different projects. The other customer was Hawkes Bay Regional Council who have integrated Essentials with Microsoft Dynamics to provide a one stop shop for customer relations management. Thankfully everything is being recorded so I can catch this session at the end of my day whilst the Latitude team are getting ready for day 2!
The next session I attended was entitled Commonly Asked Support Questions. I recognised a few of the questions that our clients have asked me in the last few months and happily I have been able to answer them. However there were some great demos of changing the UI.
The final session of the day for me was called Getting to What Your Users Really Need and it was an examination of business analysis techniques to help you identify user requirements. In many respects the session continued along the what appears to have been a common theme of other sessions namely that a one size fits all approach is unwarranted especially as Essentials lets you create and customise viewers to perform specific applications so easily. One of the comments made was that if you are replacing an old system, this is your chance to replace it with something totally new. Replacing an old system with a new system which still does the same thing misses the opportunity of really providing users with want they need.
So that was my first on-line conference and all in all it was pretty good. There were a couple of technical glitches but nothing that distracted from the day. The only thing I miss is mingling with other users, and the snacks you normally get a breaks.
I’m looking forward to tomorrow, although not the 3:30am start.