Technology conference looks at GIS

by Wally Northway

Published: November 19,2009

Tags: education, federal agency, state agency, technology

JACKSON — Nov. 18 was “World GIS Day,” an 80 country effort sponsored by the National Geographic Society, Hewlett-Packard and the Library of Congress to promote further education and advances in the geographic information systems industry, technology used for an array of reasons from tracking hurricanes to pinpointing 911 phone calls to Google Mapping that new restaurant that everyone is talking about.

The Mississippi Technology Alliance (MTA) incorporated the occasion into its 10th-annual Conference on High Technology, held Wednesday at the Jackson Convention Complex. Technology entrepreneurs and industry experts joined investors and economic developers from around the Magnolia State for two days of breakout sessions, networking functions and a series of lectures and presentations from some of the state’s leaders in GIS.

“Everyone is familiar with GPS and TomToms,” said MTA vice-president Tony Jeff adding that the industry plunges far beyond the consumer sector. “Many of these GIS maps are hypo spectral,” Jeff said. “Cameras or satellites can fly overhead and do crop assessments that can determine what farmers need to do with their fields.”

Jeff said that GIS was critical in the days and weeks following Hurricane Katrina as insurance companies and energy providers tried to assess damaged areas and emergency responders searched for secondary routes through southern Mississippi and Louisiana.

Representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, four public Mississippi universities and a number of private geospatial companies led a round robin of sessions on Wednesday followed by an informal “speed dating” event where they talked about informally about upcoming projects and research.

“The Mississippi high school curriculum has a module for geospatial information systems studies yet teachers don’t have the background needed to teach it,” said Dr. Gregory Easson, a geologist and director of the Enterprise for Innovative Geospatial Solutions at the University of Mississippi. “When we go into the classrooms, most kids have no clue what GIS is.”

Easson said his office works to match enthusiastic teachers with mentors within the GIS industry. One recent project in Water Valley resulted in the local high school doing a quality assessment study that mapped all the fire hydrants in the city and also how many more would be needed for the city to avoid a rate increase.

The MTA conference ended Thursday with an address from Bomgar Corporation co-founder and CEO Joel Bomgar.

“A chronic problem is companies chasing their competition,” Bomgar told the MBJ. “Rather than try to do get as far away as possible, they just mimic, they follow the competition going around doing me-too after me-too.”

Bomgar used the examples of national and Mississippi-based companies and how being different enabled these companies to beat a far greater competition.

“If more companies stopped mimicking their out-of-state competition then more and technology companies would break out in Mississippi. You have got to change the rules somehow. Dell Computer was competing with IMB and they said, ‘We’re going to sell direct because they’re not selling direct.’ They took something fundamental and changed the rules.”

Another example Bomgar cites is Southwest Airlines decided that it was going to fly only the Boeing 737 and flew it point-to-point instead of hub-and-spoke exclusively in the United States.

“Viking Range said they were going to bring an industrial range into the home. Nobody else had done that,” Bomgar said. “They brought the monster truck into the show room. They weren’t following around their competitors. If more companies in Mississippi had that strategy, both tech and non-tech, then their likelihood of being big and profitable and overtaking the leader would be much higher.”

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