Esri 2020 UC Q&A Highlights

The 2020 Esri User Conference (UC) gets underway on July 13th and as you’ll all have seen by now, this year’s event is online-only due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

As usual, ahead of the conference, Esri has released its annual UC Q&A.  The Q&A sets the scene for the UC, gives an update on Esri and provides nuggets of information about its GIS products.

Once again, to save you a little time here are some highlights that I think might be relevant for folk in the Energy and Natural Resources communities that we work with here at Exprodat.


Interconnecting our world

The theme of this year’s UC, GIS – Interconnecting Our Word, brings together five inter-related trends that Esri sees:

  1. GIS applications becoming easier to use and more ubiquitous.
  2. Geospatial hubs organizing community engagement.
  3. GIS systems becoming more interconnected creating “geospatial infrastructure”.
  4. Real-time, sensors and IoT providing situational awareness.
  5. Use of geographic science for integrating knowledge and problem solving.

In these unusual times, Esri notes the heroic work of the GIS community and the explosion of geo-portals tracking the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic. Esri highlights the Coronavirus dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, which had been accessed over 1.7 trillion times worldwide by the end of May.

Esri says that “from the early days of the outbreak, the dashboard told the world that the virus was something new and deadly, and as we all watched it spread, the connectedness of humanity became even clearer… This one map has created unprecedented global understanding and demonstrated the power of geographic visualization and spatial analytics.”

As the crisis hit, Esri were indeed swift to offer templates to help organisations respond to the pandemic. In the past few months, Esri saw over 2,000 new ArcGIS Hub implementations in response and says its users have deployed these tools to understand Coronavirus trends, epicentres, spread, proximity and vulnerability.

In a fascinating insight to how ArcGIS technology is helping, Esri says it has seen users model infection rates and compare them against hospital capacity; visualize and address gaps in the supply chain of personal protective equipment; understand the locations of the most vulnerable populations; collect food resources and convey where those most vulnerable and disrupted can get a meal;  target new locations for testing and care facilities; and rally around essential workers and businesses.

This is inspiring stuff and I expect we will see the Coronavirus pandemic front-and-centre in the UC Plenary. On that subject, this year’s Plenary has been divided into three separate sessions on consecutive days through the conference so that it better translates to online delivery.

In the first session Jack Dangermond will update us on Esri’s work and the work of the Esri user community – look out for examples of Exprodat’s work in the Natural Resources section! In the second, Esri staff will present demonstrations of the latest Esri technology and applications. In the final session, Jack will host conversations with Dr Vicki Phillips (National Geographic Society) and Jeffrey Sachs (UN Sustainable Development Network) on how geographic knowledge can play a vital role in educating future generations and achieve the global Sustainable Development Goals.


How’s Esri doing?

Esri’s says its core business has remained strong and stable throughout the Coronavirus pandemic.  However, like many organizations, the crisis required Esri to change the way it was working, which it says led it to accelerate the digital transformation and streamlining of many of its business processes.

In another move reflecting these unique times, Esri has created a Racial Equity team to assist its users with solutions and resources focused on racial, social, economic, and health inequalities. Esri says this initiative will deliver technology configurations and technical assistance for these communities, and has already launched a new Racial Equity Microsite and Racial Equity GIS Hub.


Emerging technologies

Esri remains committed to innovation and advancing GIS technology, and Esri notes some of the key emerging technology trends influencing its software:

  • Virtual working – Esri is providing software free-of-charge to students and furloughed workers
  • Location tracking – notably new toolsets for Proximity Tracing for performing “contact tracing style analysis in ArcGIS Pro and ArcGIS Enterprise”
  • Containerization and microservices – “later this year” Esri will introduce a beta of ArcGIS Enterprise on Kubernetes as a new deployment option
  • Spatial analysis and Data Science – ArcGIS Notebooks bringing the popular data science workbench, Jupyter, directly to the ArcGIS platform, plus the ArcGIS API for Python making it easier to work with scikit-learn and TensorFlow
  • AI and Deep Learning for information extraction – Esri will be introducing a new deep learning installer to make it easier to configure your ArcGIS Python environment with the deep learning libraries you need without having to manually manage dependencies
  • IoT and real-time visualization & analytics – as demonstrated by the release earlier this year of Esri’s new software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering, ArcGIS Analytics for IoT, available in ArcGIS Online. An interesting-looking alternative to wrestling with a large on-premise ArcGIS GeoEvent Server deployment.
  • Use of web apps – Esri says last year its users built more than a half million custom apps using Web AppBuilder and AppStudio, which is impressive. Esri also appears to be tidying up its offering around public community engagement by replacing its Open Data product with a basic level ArcGIS Hub.
  • Automation – in the latest release of ArcGIS Notebooks, support has been added for built-in scheduling of Python notebooks with support of parameterized inputs.
  • Geo-Enabled Systems – standalone systems that “bring the power of geo and location to specific workflows”, namely ArcGIS Urban, ArcGIS Hub, ArcGIS Indoors, ArcGIS Business Analyst, ArcGIS Excalibur, and ArcGIS Mission.
  • Mobile-First computing – an intriguing one this: with “mobile devices driving an emergence of apps and access to distributed geographic information” Esri says its design approach “has shifted to mobile-first in virtually all” of its teams.




Following last year’s Q&A announcement that there will be no new functionality added to ArcMap, Esri have backed this up – ArcGIS 10.8.1 is being released “shortly after” UC with ArcMap 10.8.1 only containing bug fixes and security updates.

Esri continue to “encourage everyone to move to ArcGIS Pro”, although personally I’d like to see Esri announce end-of-life for ArcMap as this would really drive ArcGIS Pro migration.


ArcGIS Pro

Since last year, over 200 new geoprocessing tools have been added to ArcGIS, helping ArcGIS Pro officially achieve analytical equivalency with ArcMap. However, ArcMap fans should take note as ArcGIS Pro also contains built-in Python notebooks and supports numerous AI, machine learning and deep learning tools – all features ArcMap never had.  As Esri says, “ArcGIS Pro now surpasses its predecessor in many ways.”

In terms of the ArcGIS Pro product roadmap, shortly after the UC, Esri will release ArcGIS Pro 2.6. Highlights of this release are said to include:

  • Map Graphics (yay!)
  • Voxel Layers (interesting…)
  • Trace Networks
  • Project Recovery
  • OLEDB Connections
  • Bookmark Map Series
  • Vehicle Routing Problem (VRP)
  • Parcel Adjustment
  • Non-spatial Objects in Utility Networks
  • 3D Mesh Manipulation
  • Interactive Suitability Analysis

Staying on ArcGIS Pro, there is also a new option called Big Data Connections, which allows you to treat a series of files (shapefiles, CSVs, ORC files, or Parquet) as a single input for any applicable geoprocessing tool in ArcGIS Pro. This is meant to eliminate the need to manually stitch together data files or run multiple analyses to answer the same question.

In addition, ArcGIS Pro geoprocessing tools and “analysis pipelines” can now be automated with a built-in scheduler.


ArcGIS Online

The ArcGIS Online usage stats are always interesting. In this year’s Q&A Esri reports that its users have created over 33 million items worldwide and estimates that “just over 55% of these items are shared collaboratively beyond their own organizations”.

During the UC, Esri will be announcing the availability of ArcGIS Imagery. Users will be able to upload all forms of imagery and rasters to ArcGIS Online, then access the imagery in one of two ways. The imagery can be 1) streamed as tiled imagery to different web and desktop clients, with processing performed on the client side, or 2) served as dynamic imagery with on-the-fly processing and dynamic mosaicking, enabling the full information content in imagery to be accessible.

Some good news on the Group Layers front – these will finally be available in ArcGIS Online, although only via the new Map Viewer (which is currently in beta but expected to be formally released “later in 2020”). Group layers will apparently be created and stored in the Web Map.

In March of this year, ArcGIS Online added the capability to host content outside of the United States. This is a very important issue for organisations that have legal or policy requirements for data to be hosted in their own region. Right now, you can select between the US or Europe as your hosting region, and Esri plan to add more, starting with Asia-Pacific in Q4 2020. Note that outside of features, tiles, data files, and web maps, all other content and user information remains in the United States.

On the Big Data front, expect to see ArcGIS GeoAnalytics – currently only in ArcGIS Pro and ArcGIS Enterprise – made available for ArcGIS Online “in the next year”.

On the security side of things, on December 8th 2020 Esri will be enforcing HTTPS/HSTS for ArcGIS Online. This could be very disruptive if you have not been shifting any links you have stored within ArcGIS Online to use HTTPS – no time like the present!


ArcGIS Enterprise

Moving on to ArcGIS Enterprise, the new ArcGIS Online Map Viewer interface will be available for ArcGIS Enterprise in “the next release”.

Some interesting news if you deploy ArcGIS Enterprise in multiple environments (e.g. development > staging > production) – at 10.8.1, releasing soon, there will be new capabilities for moving content (hosted feature layers, maps, apps) from one environment to another.

ArcGIS Enterprise 10.8.1 will also bring the following new features:

  • The ability to set up emails for important notifications
  • New applications: ArcGIS Story Maps and ArcGIS Experience Builder
  • Shared instances support for services with Server Object Extensions (SOEs) and Server Object Interceptors (SOIs). Shared instances has been available since ArcGIS Enterprise 10.7.
  • The ability to schedule notebooks in ArcGIS Notebook Server

For customers investing in cloud-native technology, ArcGIS Enterprise on Kubernetes is well underway, with Esri targeting a beta program later in 2020 and a first release in early 2021. Note that this is purely a deployment option – it has no functional additions or unique GIS capabilities over ‘regular’ ArcGIS Enterprise. The big difference is that it will not have physically separate components such as ArcGIS Server, Portal for ArcGIS, or ArcGIS Data Store. Instead, these components will be broken down into smaller containerized microservices, with computer resources managed entirely at the services level. The Kubernetes deployment option is said to simplify administration through increased system visibility and enhanced logging; high availability leading to reduced down time; and improved scalability.



The ArcGIS API 3.x for JavaScript is slated to be retired on August 1, 2022. However, Esri will continue to host “all versions for the foreseeable future” – so apps built with older versions of the API should continue to work beyond the retirement date. Note that Web AppBuilder uses 3.x and Esri have no plans to migrate it to 4.x – Esri says that “while Web AppBuilder continues to be a supported product still being developed and improved, the versions of the ArcGIS API for JavaScript that developers will use for building custom widgets will continue to be 3.x for 2D mapping applications and 4.x for 3D mapping applications.”

For all you hackers out there, ArcGIS Notebooks are now available across the ArcGIS platform within ArcGIS Pro, Enterprise, and Online providing a Jupyter notebook environment. New in ArcGIS Notebooks is the ability to parameterize and schedule notebooks within ArcGIS Enterprise (this will be coming to ArcGIS Online later in 2020).

Elsewhere in the development stack, Esri is exploring new ways that augmented reality and virtual reality technology can be applied to GIS workflows and applications by introducing a new AR/VR Runtime beta.


Last, but by no means least…

ArcGIS Analytics for IoT, a SaaS offering that allows you to perform real-time and big data analytics in the cloud, was released earlier this year. Within ArcGIS Analytics for IoT you can perform on-the-fly aggregation and visualizations of streaming data and can perform batch analytics on big datasets and data collections. Esri says that “in the fall, there will also be two new license levels released to offer Analytics for IoT at different velocity and volume capacity tiers so that more Esri customers can leverage the real-time and big data analysis capabilities of ArcGIS Online.” I believe that this is designed to open-up the offering to smaller customers than at present.

Esri has published a new set of live feeds to The Living Atlas including frequently updated data from oceans data sources like NOAA, NASA, and the US Geological Survey. In addition, to make it easier to find content within the Living Atlas, Esri has added new categorization and filtering options – this is great to see, as there is so much content in the Living Atlas and it can be tricky to find.

And finally, for the ArcGIS mobile apps (Collector, Explorer, Navigator, Tracker, and Workforce)  – now referred to as “Field Apps”, I notice – there will be a major reveal during the Field Operations Road Ahead session that Esri says “you won’t want to miss”. I suspect it might be related to the recently announced ArcGIS Field Maps product.


We won’t see you there!

Sadly, we won’t see one another this year, but I hope you all enjoy the virtual event and with any luck and a fair wind, I look forward to seeing you all in San Diego in 2021.


Posted by Chris Jepps, COO, Exprodat.