Jack Dangermond is the co-founder and president of Esri. A geographer with deep roots in landscape architecture, Jack productized GIS after a decade of research and development as a regional planning consultant in his hometown of Redlands, California. Today, Esri dominates the geospatial technology industry and is the 4th largest privately held software company in the world.
How did you get into the industry?
My wife, Laura, and I founded Esri in 1969 to conduct land-use analysis. We called the company Environmental Systems Research Institute back then; the name has since evolved to just Esri. I studied landscape architecture, environmental science, and urban planning in college, but it was the work I did as a graduate student in the computer graphics and spatial analysis lab at Harvard that inspired the GIS (geographic information system) software we create at Esri—ArcGIS. We released our first software, called ARC/INFO, in the early '80s.
Any emerging industry trends?
The amount of data available now is truly amazing. The challenge is making sense of it, whether you're a large retailer trying to understand a market or a government organization working to improve emergency response times. Using maps and spatial analysis to understand big data is a huge trend we see across industries. Taking big data from sensors and other data sources and then giving it geographic and temporal context support key initiatives like smart community development. Weeding out the noise empowers people to focus on what is important. This trend is powerful when it comes to creating a more sustainable world and improving response to unpredictable events.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
Organizations must balance internal needs for productivity and achieving goals with the interests of customers and community stakeholders. Making better decisions often requires using data that resides in different systems, different departments, different organizations, and, often, in different formats. The opportunity we have is to support them with a platform that allows them to integrate disparate data, analyze it quickly, and provide insight on decision alternatives and the broad impacts of each. When impacts are visualized in a geographic context, they are easy to understand and communicate. The unique ability of the ArcGIS platform to consume information from disparate systems of record and assess and analyze the data to provide powerful insight into issues and engage stakeholders is powerful. Government and organizations face very tough challenges, and the increasing need to make smart decisions that consider all of the variables and impacts will continue to drive the demand for GIS technology.
Inspiration for Esri and your vision for it?
The ArcGIS platform has always been about understanding and better decision-making. The ability to analyze data and convert it into actionable information that can be visualized and rapidly understood is and has always been the vision for GIS. As GIS has evolved into a platform that integrates all types of data including real-time data feeds (sensors, cameras, GPS tracking), it now provides the capability to support decision-making in near real time, based on existing conditions, and modeling to anticipate potential events that can, for example, notify people moments before an earthquake and speed up emergency response.
What's next for Esri?
There are many new capabilities being introduced that will support the complex challenges government and business leaders face today. The ArcGIS platform will soon provide the capability to interrogate very large and disparate data to retrieve the relevant data for any given requirement. Finding these needles in the haystack used to take days and weeks, but the ArcGIS platform will soon be able to provide these capabilities in hours. In addition, new user-friendly analytic tools will enable personnel—with very little training—to perform analysis and gain insight about this data to make better-informed decisions. As world populations increase, as climate change impacts the world, and as resources become scarce, the GIS becomes more important in supporting critical decision-making.
Your key initiatives for the success of Esri?
Strong partnerships are a big part of our success. It's rewarding to work with organizations that are making positive contributions such as the Jane Goodall Institute's conservation work and the White House Data-Driven Justice and Global Climate Change Initiatives. In all of the industries we serve, partnerships with users and other businesses drive our work. Lately, we have focused on working more closely with startup agencies too.
Your most difficult moment at Esri and what did you learn?
Helping organizations understand how governance and standard operating procedures can be modified to accommodate the capabilities for interagency and external collaboration is one of the challenges we face today. As GIS technology has become smarter, easier to use, and available to all personnel within organizations, it has changed the way organizations do business. In many ways, the technology is challenging traditional organizational cultures and policies.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
It's when someone sees massive amounts of data represented on a map, and, suddenly, he begins to notice patterns and trends he was missing. Perhaps it's someone who is looking for places where fraudulent financial activity is concentrated, and the insight gleaned from spatial analysis leads to reducing fraud. It's also when someone in the field can abandon stacks of paperwork she historically had to bring with her. Now, she opens an app in her smartphone to see real-time organizational data and can send updates in real time back to the office. It's when departments throughout organizations begin sharing maps and data and see significant improvements in communications with one another and find they can provide faster, better service to customers and decision-makers.
How do you motivate others?
I want people inside and outside Esri to remember that they play an important role in creating a smarter, more sustainable world. The work of GIS professionals is central to making data-driven decisions that lead to solving the world's most pressing problems. That's inspiring—that the work we do every day can make a difference. As Margaret Mead famously said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
Career advice to those in your industry?
Work harder than everyone else. Show up early and dedicate yourself to fully engaging in your work. And also, be interested instead of interesting. When you are interested, you open yourself up to people and conversations that can lead to unexpected opportunities. And the knowledge that you gain from asking questions and truly listening will serve your work in unforeseen ways.