Bio: Victoria Kouyoumjian is a senior IT strategies architect at Esri, a leading international software vendor for geographic information systems (GIS), headquartered in Redlands, Calif. With a background in software product management, Kouyoumjian now dedicates research and attention to new and emerging technologies and trends, including tech disrupters that may impact the geospatial community. She holds an MBA, as well as a B.S. in geography from the University of Wyoming, and a B.A. in English from Mt. Holyoke College in western Massachusetts. She co-authored “The Business Benefits of GIS: An ROI Approach,” in 2008; contributes as a regular corporate guest blogger; has written several articles on cloud computing; and presents frequently on the topic of high tech, as burgeoning trends move into mainstream. She is a certified Southern California Master Gardener, an avid skier, and lives on a small organic avocado farm in Southern California.
About Esri: Geography connects our many cultures and societies and influences our way of life. Esri is built on the philosophy that a geographic approach to problem solving ensures better communication and collaboration. Geographic information system (GIS) technology leverages this geographic insight to address social, economic, business, and environmental concerns at local, regional, national, and global scales.
NTT Com: Your company provides geographic information systems. Can you explain what they are?
Kouyoumjian: Often the concept of geographic information systems, or GIS, is much more complex than people can understand in three minutes or less. Sometimes I think of GIS as the most important technology that most people have never heard of. Many companies and people are exposed to GIS or need it, and really don’t realize it. At a high level, GIS is geospatial analytics or intelligent mapping. It’s a way of making a visual representation of data to help make intelligent, rational, educated decisions.
NTT Com: What is the importance of such systems and what types of organizations can benefit from them?
Kouyoumjian: Esri has thousands of customers that implement these systems to a variety of ends. They range from the public sector (including all levels of government) to the private sector (including financial organizations, healthcare institutions and utilities companies, among others). Despite the fact that GIS is useful in a variety of industries and verticals, these organizations all need to support some or all of five specific processes in order to effectively meet their business objectives. First, they may need to manage and maintain assets that are located in various locations. These can include things like people, facilities or infrastructure. Second, they may need to take ordinary data and turn it into actionable intelligence that can be used to make decisions. This includes information like maps, wind speed, and the location of possible evacuation routes that can be analyzed to help a company contain and manage its response to something like a chemical spill on a highway. Third, they may need to manage field mobility, including in the chemical spill example, emergency responders who are going to the scene. A GIS system can help these field workers provide information about what is happening at a specific site so that decision makers elsewhere can use it to make better decisions. The fourth process is operational awareness, or the need to create a single view of a situation that aggregates a lot of different information to allow executives to view a high-level, complete picture of a specific situation. Finally, an organization may need to provide outside stakeholders with a transparent view into a specific situation. So whatever type of organization is using GIS, they all display one or many of these behaviors, which is where our systems can help.
Most organizations will know immediately the top three pieces of information that they need. Other pieces that become important can be added later. GIS requires continual data updates so that decision makers can get an accurate view of a situation at any given time.
NTT Com: For an organization that is using GIS to help with these processes, how does all the necessary data get into the system? For instance, in your chemical spill example, I’m sure some of that information would be tracked continuously, while other data points would have to be gathered during an event.
Kouyoumjian: The lynchpin for GIS to work is data. You must have easy access to and governance for all the data that needs to be put into the GIS system. Without this data, you don’t get the most accurate picture of a situation and you can’t make the most accurate decision. For instance, during the Gulf oil spill, there were a lot of agencies working together — the EPA, NOAA, the Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers, and others — to pull together all of the different data, including images, files and other formats. GIS lets you pull all those different forms of data into one uniform platform so that you can do the analysis and come up with results.
Another example is the flooding that happened in Queensland, Australia in late-2010. Our distributor there helped the local Brisbane City Council to gather the necessary data and build an application that would help them respond to the situation. The building of the application itself took just a few hours. What took the most time, eight hours or more, was gathering the data. This is a challenge for any organization because data is constantly coming in from multiple locations and in multiple forms, everything from social data like tweets to imagery like aerial photos to audio recordings. For something like an emergency response, it’s important to already have access to at least some of this data, to have the pipelines open so that when something occurs you can simply put together a template that allows you to factor these data points into your analysis. Most organizations will know immediately the top three pieces of information that they need. Other pieces that become important can be added later. GIS requires continual data updates so that decision makers can get an accurate view of a situation at any given time.
Kouyoumjian: Esri has actually been using the cloud for about 10 years to provide software plus services. Today, everybody appreciates the cloud for its ability to provide an always on, on-demand solution. For GIS and geospatial analytics, the cloud makes this very complex process accessible to those who are not technical experts. Suddenly, all you need is a browser with an Internet connection, and you can access and share spatial data.
Also, geospatial analytics can be incredibly compute intensive, requiring a lot of horsepower to sort through data and provide results. The cloud makes this type of hardware power available for small organizations that couldn’t otherwise afford it, or even for large organizations, particularly attractive when they are trying to do something short-term, like a proof of concept. So for something like geo-analytics, now you can have all the compute capacity you need because of the cloud, and you can have it when you need it. In fact, one of the growing uses of cloud-based GIS is for emergency response, where you have a sudden, immediate need to analyze large amounts of data. For instance, after the earthquake in Haiti, in about two hours, Esri was able to provision a server that had up-to-the-minute satellite images of the affected areas for emergency responders. So relief workers were able to quickly identify evacuation routes and the hardest hit areas using a system that was remote and not vulnerable to a potential second earthquake.
NTT Com: Are there problems that GIS hasn’t yet addressed that you think it may eventually help solve?
Kouyoumjian: The thing that comes to mind that I personally would really love to see GIS address is the monitoring of systems of the human body to predict and respond to potential illness or disease. For things like cancer and Alzheimer’s, it feels like GIS may eventually play a role. There are already applications that are used to identify geographic areas that have higher rates of specific diseases. We already use GIS to monitor things like systems of roads and freeways to communicate when there is a traffic jam. Similarly, I believe GIS could be used to map the body. Veins and arteries are the infrastructure of the body. With nanotechnology being what it is now, as we move forward, I think it would be incredibly exciting to be able to monitor the body in a way that alerts us to health problems as they arise.