The upcoming Esri Conference (July 13-15, 2020) will be fully virtual experience like so many land surveyor and geospatial events impacted by COVID-19 this year. But judging from the conference's extensive agenda, released last week, the geospatial brand is turning the ongoing pandemic into a major talking point about the use of geographic information systems. 

In an exclusive interview with POB, Esri founder and president Jack Dangermond explains how GIS can and will play a pivotal in subduing the coronavirus pandemic and any other future societal ills. "I think COVID-19 has demonstrated that we are ready for a shared geospatial infrastructure," he says, "and we are prepared to scale it to tackle challenges like climate change and global pandemics." This stance is also reflected in what seems to be the theme for this year's conference, Interconnecting Our World.

With a program packed with GIS-focused technical sessions, user presentations and real-time networking via virtual expo, the Esri conference will cover a lot of digital ground in three days — work-from-home distractions be damned. To help plan your conference schedule accordingly, we've prepared a punch list of the five things you should know going into the virtual event. 

1. Plenary Sessions at 2020 Esri Conference

There will be three plenary sessions over Esri Conference's three days starting with "Interconnecting Our World"— a presentation (10 a.m.-noon PDT) by Esri president and founder Jack Dangermond. According to the plenary description, the talk focuses on all the ways the world is now more connected than ever through geographic information systems. 

"It is through this global pandemic that we see just how interconnected the systems of the world are — and the important role GIS is playing in moving the world forward. These include connected systems across national, state, and local governments, private businesses, individuals, and society as a whole," the description says.  

Tuesday's plenary (10 a.m. -11 a.m. PDT) will focus on the technology and new applications behind ArcGIS, Esri's marquee GIS software.

The final plenary on Wednesday (10 a.m.- 11 a.m. PDT), "Making Geographic Knowledge Pervasive," features National Geographic Society executive vice president and CEO Vicki Phillips and world-renowned economist, professor and author Jeffrey Sachs.

Phillips will discuss the "many ways geography and spatial thinking play a vital role in the multidisciplinary education of our next generation" with Dangermond. Then Sachs closes things out with his vision on how monitoring and analysis of data will help achieve global sustainability development goals. 

2. Esri Conference Session Topics

Since the initial outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Esri has made headlines for making its GIS software available to various nonprofits and institutions looking to study and stem the tide of coronavirus infections. The conference's technical sessions further buttresses Dangermond's belief in creating a an interconnected GIS infrastructure.

The list of sessions is available online, but here are a few sessions we are especially looking forward to: 

  • Integrating BIM and GIS for AEC and Asset Owners
  • Developing and Executing a Geospatial Strategy
  • Esri Data and Location Services: An Overview
  • Incorporating Business Value in Your GIS Strategy

As the event gets closer, we will be adding more details on the events and speakers we are looking forward to the most during the conference. 

3. Esri Virtual Expo

Expo time is usually when attendees get some much-needed face time with exhibitors to talk new technology and business. Since face time is officially not recommended by the CDC, conference attendees will have to make due with some virtual meetups. 

Virtual expo times are as follows: 

Monday, July 13

  • 12:05 pm - 3:50 pm 

Tuesday, July 14

  • 7:30 am - 9:40 am
  • 11:10 am - 3:50 pm 

Wednesday, July 15

  • 7:30 am - 9:40 am 
  • 11:10 am - 3:50 pm

With your user profile, conference attendees can add topics and technical sessions to make their own custom schedule. 

4. Esri Conference Special Interest Groups

Although the conference is officially over on Wednesday, there is a list of special interest topics streaming on Thursday (July 16) that might be worth a view. A few highlights include emergency communications, nonprofit and sustainable development, mining, forestry and real estate. 

Conferences can be formulaic. A few days of grueling sessions, business meetings, dinners, and attendees fly home feeling accomplished if not relieved to regroup. A virtual conference asks for uninterrupted engagement in a digital world that rewards short attention. Renowned for geospatial innovation, Esri absolutely has enough technical material to fill a conference program and then some. How they plan to ensure that material makes an impact through the virtual space will no doubt set a tone for other companies to follow. 

Registration is open now for the 2020 Esri Conference at