Google / Esri – What will this mean for You?

Q             Why is this such a big deal?

A      Strategically, this is about mindshare.  Google offers Esri a massive boost in mindshare outside the traditional GIS community – which has to be a good thing for GIS.   That mindshare will likely translate into wider understanding of the critical importance of quality spatial information for decision support.

A      Operationally, this brings clarity to an ambiguous relationship.  Google and Esri should never have been in competition and arguably never really were.  But ambiguity breeds misunderstanding and misunderstanding spawns competitive positioning.  Most Google Earth Enterprise customers were actually buying content and content viewers rather than analysis or editing capability.  With that new clarity we can see how Esri’s analysis and editing capabilities working on Google’s content and viewers creates an immediate win-win and long term powerful synergy.

A      More tactically, this isn’t necessarily such a big deal.  Many of the bigger Google Earth Enterprise customers were already running hybrid environments with Esri technology on the back end.  So I’d anticipate that ‘hybrid’ might be a theme running through the early days of this new relationship with ‘hybrid’ becoming more and more seamless over time.

Q            What does this mean in technology terms?

A      In many respects, Esri and Google technology has become well aligned over the last decade.  Their architectures have become similar, the underlying IT frameworks are compatible and the technology transition from Google Server to ArcGIS Server and/or ArcGIS Online should be relatively smooth, particularly for hybrid users.

A      For Google-only and Google-other users, the technology transitions will still benefit from the fact that Google and Esri both tend to follow IT best-practice in terms of their platform architectures.

A      Note that the question and first answer referred to ‘technology’… the other elements of processes, people and information all need to be carefully considered since the processes will need to change; the people will need to be trained; and the information type, sources and flows through the organisations will change.  In a nutshell, the spatial information supply chains for your organisation will need to change, potentially for the better.

Q             What about KML?

A      In the short to mid-term, KML must survive.  It is an open standard and will retain its place in the standards ecosystem.  That’s not a huge challenge for Esri – the ArcGIS platform already serves and consumes KML.

A      In the mid- to long-term, expect to see Esri’s ArcGIS REST API edge out KML.

A      That does beg some questions about whether that will change OGC’s opinion of adopting the proposed REST standard:  we watch with interest.

Q             What about content?

A      Content is perhaps the biggest unanswered question about this new collaboration.  Google Earth and Google Maps are the content kings and have unrivalled content for the whole world, but that content is currently locked into those applications – you can’t consume Google basemap content outside Google applications or APIs.  There’s a very good reason for that restriction; Google pays content providers a fortune in licensing fees and those license terms do not allow that content to be used in other applications.   I foresee a lot of behind-the-scenes horse trading ahead.  That begs some other questions about content:

Q             Will Google continue to invest in content at the same level? 

A      On one hand, local search will continue to demand high quality, recent map content.  Imagery is less important in that local search respect and so perhaps we can expect to see a slower refresh of satellite imagery, although arguably the community has become very familiar with the satellite imagery view of their local place, so that could be a driver to maintain some level of information refresh. The fact is that at present, we don’t know.  We will watch the content space carefully!

Q             Will Esri provide a new monetised channel for that Google Earth content through ArcGIS Online? 

A      ArcGIS Online has become a mature content platform over the last few years with premium services that match and in some cases beat Google Earth content.  So Esri already knows how to monetise premium content.

A      I suspect the biggest challenge will be battling the naïve expectation that Google content is free.   In the context of consumer applications, it is!  In the context of Google Earth Enterprise, it certainly isn’t.   If (and we can only surmise at this point), Google Earth content were to become available through ArcGIS Online, it would make ArcGIS Online an unrivalled spatial content platform.

Q             What about the ‘private’ content which organisations currently store in Google Earth Enterprise?  

A      In many cases, there will be huge volumes of data stored in Google Earth Enterprise. That’s going to need to move to a different information store; that’s going to depend whether you want to head down the on premise or cloud road.  Either way, it’s a trivial task in terms of technology; Esri for example has a batch data conversion process and tools like Safe Software FME have had this capability for years.  It is important to set this work into a strategic framework: do I need to convert everything; do I understand my most precious data; are the data models still valid?

Q             How do I set about planning a migration?

A      This where it is essential that organisations do their research and make a clear decision about the road ahead.  A knee-jerk reaction is rarely going to result in a good outcome and is unlikely to create consensus.

A      This is where a spatial strategy is required:  what are you currently doing with Google Earth Enterprise; what are your aspirations for spatial technology; how best to achieve those aspirations (recognising that staying with Google Earth Enterprise isn’t an option)?   Out of that careful assessment will emerge technology options.  Developing this spatial strategy and roadmap is what Spatial.IQ does best!

Q             Are there other technology options apart from Esri?  

A      Part of developing a migration strategy must be an assessment of technology options.  This is where the crystal ball becomes a little murky.  In my experience of Esri, they don’t take short-term views of partnership; indeed, many of the frustrations that Esri users tend to suffer are ultimately caused by long-term vision trumping short-term fixes.  So my guess is that there’s much, much more to the Google / Esri partnership than has been announced so far.

A      Clearly, any benefits that might emerge from the Google / Esri partnership in the mid- to long-term will only be available to those who chose the Esri option.  Organisations need to start migration strategy work sooner rather than later and so will need to explore those other options.

A      Safe Software set out some useful thoughts in their excellent blog post at titled, ‘Esri & Google in a Post Google Earth Enterprise World’.

Q             How do I compare the technology options?  

A      In a word: holistically.  The fact that Esri has a free replacement software offer is useful for avoiding that particular aspect of CAPEX.  That levels the playing field against open source (for the first year anyway – note that maintenance does kick in after that to cover both tech support and ongoing upgrades); and potentially tips the balance away from other commercial software offerings.  The fact that training is free (but check the small print to find out what’s in and out of scope) tips the balance away from open source.

A      Software and training are only a part of the real costs of a migration.  Applications will need to be rebuilt; integration with other enterprise systems reworked; and a new technology culture established.  Those represent potentially big costs and big turmoil.

A      Those are the implications when a vendor backs away from a market and those are costs which all Google Earth Enterprise customers are going to need to wear.   So best not make the same mistake again!   This suggests that this comparison of technology options is a BIG DEAL!  There will be very few Google Earth Enterprise customers that will have the expertise in-house to do that holistic assessment.  Call us – this is what we do; we can help!

Q             How can I plan my implementation?

A      Migration is never going to be as simple as adopting ArcGIS licenses and getting up and running the following day.   There has to be a full audit of your current state and an assessment of how the organisation will need to change its integration points to other enterprise systems.

A      LINQ has developed a powerful methodology for understanding the relationships between information, processes (actions), people and systems in the ‘as built’ environment; helping plan cost effective migration to the desired future state.  Please take a look at our white paper to understand how LINQ can help your implementation planning.

Q             Where can I find more information?

A             To our surprise, we’re still not seeing much blog activity on this important topic.  I’m sure that Esri will be pushing more information out on its various blogs.  I’m waiting for Google to push information out on the Google Earth blog and the Google for Work blog.  I’m also sure that Safe will continue to post great content. LINQ will continue to assess the situation and we aim to post regularly on this topic. In the meantime, if you have any additional questions, feel free to pass them to us and we will do our best to address them through further blog posts or where appropriate, individual engagements with you directly.

We’d welcome your thoughts and / or more questions either in comments below or via e-mail.