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GIS now support a larger array of business activities
Aart van Wingerden, General Manager Europe at Esri
AUTHOR: Interview questions by Atanas Georgiev

Mr van Wingerden, what is the current development of the GIS market?

Today, most infrastructure, energy and utilities companies use GIS for automated mapping and facilities management (AM/FM). They use it for a large part as a network documentation management system. It would be hard to imagine operating complex infrastructures without a good understanding of their condition and configuration. Companies need to have an enterprise view of their assets that GIS can provide. They have to have an overall view of this.

But GIS itself is much more than making maps and documenting the networks. It is really about transforming the business: lowering costs, improving decision making, communicating internally and externally with customers in ways that was not experienced before, becoming more efficient and effective (like deciding where to build a new power plant, how to get new customers in a liberalized market, how to optimize the travel paths for fleets, etc.) and preventing for calamities to happen using information such as historical trends and patterns. GIS is so critical and this is because nearly every aspect of the infrastructure, energy and utilities business involves location.

What is the effect of the current infrastructure challenges and policies in Europe on the development of the GIS business?

In Europe, we are seeing, over the past 3 years, a shift from infrastructure companies using GIS for AM/FM to using GIS as a platform and supporting a larger array of business activities such as regulatory compliance, emergency preparedness, outage and leak management, geo-marketing and sales, field force management, operations and maintenance support, risk/integrity management, route optimization, customer care and services, etc. This is being achieved using the integration capabilities of GIS with SCADA, ERP, BI, DMS, Billing, CIS systems and with real-time data feeds such as weather information and data collected by sensors. Even the financial data and spreadsheets are connected to the GIS.

Every enterprise should enable their employees to use, make, and share maps and geographic information by everyone on any device, anywhere at any time. GIS was originally in the office, but now is an integrated part of the whole enterprise. Also you can see that companies have executive dashboards so that the management and the executives of those organizations can look at it and see the status of their company, which is new in terms of GIS use. That is where the market is going to and where I see a very bright future for GIS.

The European energy (power and gas) and water market has changed dramatically over the last several years driven, in large by the EU gas, electric and water directives and EU programs such as the Digital Agenda and the EU 20/20/20 target. It is therefore important that infrastructure companies find effective strategies to remain in the game of an openly competitive market, and therefore opt for supporting ICT solutions to do so, GIS is being one of the solutions and the glue to bring it all together.

You are in Bulgaria for the International GIS Day. What are the energy and utilities challenges in Bulgaria, according to the experience of your company in the country?

There is pressure from the EU to move faster towards liberalization in several countries in Europe, including for Bulgaria. When this happens new entrants will be able to sell energy. For Esri, we anticipate GIS being used a lot for marketing and sales strategies by these new entrants. They will have the ability to visualize their customers and strategize to grow their customer-base. The sales force will be able to prioritize their efforts and better organize their days to get new contracts signed.

Another challenge in Bulgaria is the aging utilities infrastructure. We have cooperation with a company called OSISoft, which has a system, called the PI System, that is managing and analysing real-time data and hence can predict the quality of the network. That company did not have a GIS front-end – Esri has a GIS platform and does not do what the PI system does. We integrated our two systems and combined the best of both worlds.

Often time, organizations take for granted that GIS is used for siting power plants, this is correct, but can also be used for decommissioning economically and environmentally non-compliant power plants. It is my understanding that Bulgaria is facing an overcapacity of power being produced – either from renewable or non-renewable power plants. Therefore GIS is expected to play a large role here.

Energy efficiency throughout the full chain is also a big issue. Being able to apply spatial analytics for identifying residential energy efficiency and energy consumption is a fantastic tool that has been deployed already in several Western European countries ranging from utility service territory all the way to individual meter locations.

What are the possible applications of the GIS technologies in the field of environmental protection in Europe and Bulgaria?

At Esri, environmental applications are part of the company’s DNA. Esri stands for Environmental Systems Research Institute and the Esri platform provides applications for environmental impact assessment, siting, suitability studies, regulatory compliance and many others that energy and utility companies require to conduct their business. In Bulgaria we also have a system at the Ministry of Interior for fires and floods information and prevention.

Pollution is a major challenge. Let me give you an example of how GIS is used to face this this challenge. The European Environment Agency at the European Commission receives sensor data from hundreds topic centers. The data is streamed into a central data repository. As part of the open data policy of the European Commission, after having processed the data, they make it available to the public and the private sector. These could be data about water and air quality, for instance. Having these data available, means opportunities for small and medium enterprises to build solutions or applications – apps, which they can market at Esri’s Marketplace, which is similar to the smartphone marketplaces. The marketplace hosts both apps and data. This is an area where Esri foresees a strong growth.

How can Esri support Bulgarian companies in solving the infrastructure challenges?

Our focus is on serving our customers by providing a world-class GIS platform that is deployed throughout the enterprise and that 'lightens up' the organization. Think in this case of integration of GIS with for example ERP, BI, real-time systems and visualize this on executive dashboards. This GIS platform also enables organizations to empower their employees and stakeholders to use and share maps on any device, anywhere at any time and to be more efficient and effective in the objectives they have set.

How does the Bulgarian GIS market perform – is it moving slower or faster than in other countries in the region and what are the reasons?

There is no doubt, that Bulgaria is facing economic challenges. But on the other hand, even though I do not visit often the country, the first time I met my colleagues here at Esri Bulgaria was about 20 years ago. What I am seeing is that despite the fact that the economy is having challenges, Esri Bulgaria is keeping pace. What I have seen today at the GIS day is that there is a lot of knowledge and our customers are well-advanced and get international awards in various areas – i.e. the Ministry of Environment and Water for the Natura 2000 system. When we compare Bulgaria with other countries – e.g. Romania, Hungary, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia – I am very proud with what was achieved here. And the secret here is that Esri Bulgaria has been always sticking to the commitments they make – even at times that the money was not flowing. And these are exactly the times when you have to be with your customers. This is a philosophy of Esri as a company.

Aart van Wingerden is General Director for Europe at Esri – a global leader in GIS technologies. With over 30 years of professional experience in the field of GIS technologies and their implementation in hundreds of organizations to improve their business processes and decision-making, he is responsible for strategic development of Esri at European level. He started his career at Computervision GIS in the Netherlands and in Switzerland, where he was working for 12 years as director sales and systems integration services for Europe, Middle East and Africa. He joined Esri in 1994, initially at a regional manager position, and in 2010 became general manager of the company for Europe. He works with many organizations in various industries, including international organizations, multinationals, national governments, public authorities at local and regional level, private companies and others. Also he and his team are working actively with the European Commission, and Executive Agencies as their partner in developing strategies for successful implementation of GIS solutions in their operations. He graduated as a Chartered Surveyor at the Utrecht College of Advanced Technology.

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