ESRI wins $22M mapping deal

The National Imagery and Mapping Agency took a big step toward standardizing on commercial mapping software by inking a $22 million deal with Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. for a host of electronic and geospatial mapping products.

For NIMA, a Defense Department group that has relied on custom software to make maps for military mission planners and policy-makers, the blanket purchasing agreement reduces its procurement overhead and helps speed its applications development.

"The signing of this [General Services Administration] schedule BPA will afford both ESRI and NIMA a simplified approach to handling geospatial technology," said NIMA Commercial Office director Clay Ancell. "It just makes good business sense for both parties. We encourage all of our vendors to hop onboard with GSA for many reasons, the most notable being saving time and money."

The deal represents a big endorsement by NIMA, already a heavy user of ESRI products. "It's a jewel in our crown," said ESRI president Jack Dangermond. "NIMA is the largest mapping agency in the world."

The deal should mean smoother procurement of software when NIMA needs it, observers said. "I think it's...a logical move for NIMA," said David Sonnen, owner of Integrated Spatial Solutions Inc., Blaine, Wash. "Why not? They have got a huge investment in ESRI products and formats already."

Other federal agencies have made similar investments in ESRI, making its products standard within them.

These include the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bureau of Land Management, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Forest Service, according to Dangermond.

ESRI is a strong player in the market for traditional mapmaking, Sonnen said.

Other electronic mapping companies compete best in "business support applications," which might, for example, enable an insurance company, using an electronic map, to determine rates based on a region's earthquake or wind damage history.

Yet traditional mapmaking tools are essential for NIMA, which produces maps - in electronic and paper form - to the military and intelligence communities, diplomats and public policy officials. "NIMA is interested in creating good digital data, good maps," Sonnen said.

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