Geospatial Firsts: ESRI Aids In Spreading Technology

Being first paid off for Environmental Systems Research Institute, a privately held company that has led the charge in developing geospatial information systems since its founding in 1969.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

March 7, 2003

2 Min Read

Being first paid off for Environmental Systems Research Institute, a privately held company that has led the charge in developing geospatial information systems since its founding in 1969.

In the 1980s, ESRI launched its first commercial GIS software, called Arc/Info, which combined computer-display geographic features such as points, lines, and polygons with a database-management tool for assigning attributes to these features. That was around the same time government agencies were beginning to show interest in GIS. ESRI got in the door early, and now nearly 70% of its sales are to government agencies. The company's offerings are the de facto standard for government GIS and were of critical importance during recovery efforts after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and, more recently, the space shuttle Columbia disaster.

ESRI has in place a grant program to award GIS devices to state and local agencies, such as the Louisiana State Police Department. But there's a catch: "To get the money, the agency has to prove that its intent is to share data at any time with other agencies that might need it in the interest of homeland security," says Russ Johnson, ESRI's director of public safety. Before joining the company, Johnson worked on GIS projects for the federal government.

ESRI also provides its applications to universities offering GIS training classes for a nominal fee so that future system operators will be well-versed in its systems. As part of an international effort, the company is offering grant programs to impoverished cities to assist in the collection of information, such as poverty levels, availability of services and housing, and existing infrastructure, to improve city management as part of the United Nations Millennium Declaration Goal to improve the lives of urban citizens.

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