I read with great interest today’s announcement that AppGeo is no longer an Esri Business Partner. I find the announcement significant for a number of reasons, which I will explore shortly. I have always respected AppGeo’s work. As a small business that does geospatial consulting, they have foregone the “grow at all costs” approach that is seen all too often in the consulting world. They generally stuck to what they do well and branched out conservatively in ways that tie logically back to their core business.
I first met the President of AppGeo, Rich Grady, at an early HIFLD meeting many years ago. (It may have even been before the group was called “HIFLD.”) The work they were doing then was very relevant to critical infrastructure protection efforts and, had some of their concepts for sharing data between state, local, and Federal agencies been adopted, we’d probably be better off today. I have always considered Rich one of the good guys in the geospatial industry and the company he has built reflects his integrity.
Over the years, our companies haven’t quite found the right vehicle to work together and we sometimes even compete against each other. That’s the nature of the consulting business. You will often compete against friends and still be able to have dinner together later.
So I was happy for Rich and AppGeo when I read their announcement. As I said above, I found it significant in a few ways…
The announcement was a textbook example of the professionalism with which such matters should be handled. AppGeo did not burn down the house in announcing they were no longer a business partner. There were no declarations that “Esri sucks” or any other such unnecessary hyperbole. They discussed real, significant differences that had evolved over time with Esri that lead to an agreement that their business interests had diverged to the point that a Business Partner status no longer made sense. While Esri initiated the final break, AppGeo handled it well, stated their case professionally, and gave no ground. Well done. This announcement should be required reading for the various factions and camps in our industry.
A Sign of Maturity
I found the announcement significant because I see it as evidence that AppGeo, as a geospatial business, has evolved to a point of maturity that most businesses never reach. They have built a diverse portfolio and realize they can go it alone without the safety net of Redlands under them. I will note that my company is an Esri Business Partner so I guess we haven’t gotten there yet. I have worked as a consultant for my entire career and I believe to my bones that my primary job is to recommend the most appropriate solution to my customers. That is quite often an Esri solution for a lot of valid reasons, but not always. Right now, I am working on a project for a Federal agency based entirely on open-source geospatial tools. Often, a hybrid solution is really the best fit. The point is that, as a consultant, my job is to first gather data, analyze it, and determine the best solution. My job is not to walk in with a pre-conceived notion. If you call yourself a consultant and never look outside the Esri stable of tools (or whomever your preferred vendor may be), then you are not a consultant but a salesman. Just own it.
AppGeo recognizes this and has built a consulting practice that can proceed forward with less influence from large vendors. I commend them for that.
Maturity of Open-Source Geospatial
This next observation is statistically spurious as it is based only on this particular case, but I see this announcement as a sign of the increased maturity of the open-source geospatial segment. AppGeo is still a fairly small business, and many small consulting shops tend to be very conservative in their business moves. The fact that they are willing to decouple themselves from Esri indicates that they are not only confident in their capabilities with a diverse tool set, but that they are also confident in the stability and reliability of the tools in terms of being able to stake their business on them. Those of us who work with open-source geospatial tools are not surprised by this but it is important to note that AppGeo is as deeply proficient with the Esri tool suite as any company I’ve seen. I am not privy to their internal decision-making process but, at some point, a comparison must have yielded the conclusion that open-source tools (and Google) were sufficient to stand on equal footing in their capability portfolio. When a once-marquee partner like AppGeo reaches that conclusion, I find it significant.
Those represent some of my thoughts after reading the announcement. I recognized a lot in it but I can’t say I’ve had all of the experiences they describe. I can’t say that I’ve ever received any poor treatment from Esri as a Business Partner. I have heard enough stories from others that I don’t doubt that it happens but I have never personally experienced it. Esri has always been exceedingly professional with me and my company. I don’t feel like I’ve ever felt undue pressure to push their products to the front of the line but I recognize that my experience may be atypical.
In many ways, I expect all vendors to be partisan about their products, be it Esri or Microsoft or Oracle or Boundless or whomever. I would be suspicious if they weren’t. Perhaps, because of that expectation, I’ve developed a bit of a filter for it but it doesn’t bother me. My job as a consultant is to stand between my customers and the vendors and use my experience to sort through the market blather, find the real data, help my customers make an informed decision, and then help them implement. I have always felt that proficiency with a broad set of technologies makes me a better consultant, even for my strictly-Esri customers. AppGeo clearly understands this better than most and I commend them on reaching this significant and positive milestone.