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2005 August 11


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Editor's Introduction

This week I bring you three interviews I conducted recently with executives of CompassCom, MetaCarta, and Leica Geosystems Geospatial Imaging. Plus my usual roundup of news from press releases.

— Matteo


This week I talked with W. Brant Howard, founder and CEO of CompassCom. Howard founded the company in 1994 as a Trimble and ESRI dealership and later turned it into a solution provider integrating GPS, GIS, and wireless technology. CompassCom sold field data collection tools, collected GPS data, and integrated AVL solutions. Two years ago Howard spun off CompassTools and CompassData from CompassCom, resulting in three separate companies. CompassCom specializes in providing solutions for mobile resource management. CompassTools is a provider of tools used by GIS professionals to collect and integrate data into their GIS. CompassData provides photo-identifiable ground control used by the aerial and satellite imagery industry worldwide to make their product more accurate. The three companies have a total staff of about 35 people and numerous partner relationships that reach around the globe.

How long have you been in this industry? "I started with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) as a hydrogeologist in the late 70s, worked in the contract engineering business in the early 80s, and worked with aerospace engineers as they developed spacecraft into the early 90s. As GPS became a commercial option in the early 90s, I founded CompassCom to bring GPS, GIS, and wireless technology to the market. In the early days we had to educate the market on how these technologies could be used in their applications. Now it is about how these technologies will help their organizations make better decisions and provide a return on their investment. As the industry has expanded, we separated CompassCom's three business units into separate companies to server the growing market."

How long have you been attending the ESRI International User Conference and what did you think of this year's conference? "We have attended more than seven times and have had a long-standing relationship with ESRI as a dealer and developer. We have been an exhibitor for the past five years. The conference this year was upbeat about the prospects for integration of GIS, GPS, and wireless into the enterprise of government and industry. The Compass family of companies is reaching markets we were not reaching before and becoming increasingly a part of what the ESRI family is using on a daily basis."

What is your take on the geospatial market? "The geospatial market continues to grow. Google maps were big news this year. Now, for a few hundred dollars a year and with a few clicks of your mouse you can have satellite imagery and GIS as part of your decision making process. It is becoming mainstream."

What's your company's place in the industry? "The Compass family of companies provides the tools and data to enable people to make good decisions. You can't make good decisions today without real-time geospatial data. For example, CompassData enables imagery providers — such as Space Imaging, Digital Globe, and Orbimage — to enhance their data and deliver it in a useable way, such as Google Maps. To do that, they need reliable ground control world-wide with off-the-shelf delivery at reasonable prices. CompassCom develops software that delivers real-time location, status, and messaging of mobile assets and sensors into a GIS environment that enables supervisors and commanders to make decisions that may save lives or provide better customer service. We make GIS move!"

How do you collect your data? "We've collected data ourselves and also formed partnerships with companies around the world. Now we can go essentially anywhere and provide the data that our clients need. Since we own the data and license it to our customers to build their products, we have become a library — a resource that is available to our customers. We can deliver ground control data quickly, just as TeleAtlas can deliver maps. We're becoming known as the go-to company for ground control and the feet on the street to go the extra mile to collect quality GPS data. When someone needs data, we probably have it off-the-shelf. CompassData has about 8,000 photo-identifiable ground control points worldwide in our library."

Does CompassData have any direct competitors? "We are one of the few that we know of that operate on this scale. Typically, when you need ground control points, you hire a local surveyor. If you need some more points elsewhere — say, in a different country — you have to find a different surveyor. Then you also have to worry about quality control, qualifying different suppliers, and data consistency. We are automating the delivery to our clients' with an automated backend. It's taken us ten years to build our library. We have trained and certified partners in many countries. If someone were going to compete with us, they would have to find, train, and certify partners. Plus, the customer would get the data in 100 different ways from 100 different suppliers. We deliver the data with consistent quality, in a repeatable format that allows our customers to automate their production, at a reasonable price and a predictable delivery. Jan Van Sickle, our Chief Technical Officer, a PLS and renowned author in the use of GPS/GIS technology, is the leader of our technology and has been instrumental in developing our relationships around the globe."

What does CompassCom do? "People already want to make maps and write queries on data to make decisions with what they have entered into their GIS. The next step is leveraging real-time data into the decision process. CompassCom's server software, CompassLDE, is a gateway for wireless devices into the ESRI, GIS, CAD, Workflow, and ERP worlds. It is a plug-and-play interface for ESRI's Tracking Server product. Our server drives real-time mobile asset or sensor data into that environment. It is a standard plug-and-play interface, so that developers can focus on making the display client match the users' needs. We have been working with Jack [Dangermond, ESRI's president] and Northrop Grumman for five years to provide this plug-and-play server product to enable developers to easily integrate disparate wireless sources into the GIS environment. Every year government and industry want do more tracking in real time. The integration of real-time data into GIS is the next frontier."

What does CompassTools do? "We provide the tools for data integration of into the GIS. We sell Trimble GPS solutions, laser rangefinders, mobile computing devices, imagery, and basemap data. We also provide certified training for these field tools that enable GIS professionals to build the best possible data, the most important component of a GIS system, to make decisions based on accurate information."

What is your goal for your company over the next few years? "It is about providing the data that empowers GIS to make good decisions. Whether CompassTools is selling and training GIS professionals to collect quality data, CompassData is providing geodetic control off-the-shelf via the Internet, or CompassCom is 'Making GIS Move' by serving wireless mobile assets or sensors, my goal is to enable our customers to make decisions based on the best data available in real-time. Our success will be measured as our business and industry grows."

What is your perspective as a business owner? "As an entrepreneur and business owner I believe that we've all come through a difficult time post 9/11. We are moving forward, using technology to make better decisions by integrating solutions that deliver results, not promises. During these trying times the companies in the geospatial business have hung in there and helped the industry grow. Now, as IT and GIS grow closer together to provide solutions to the end user, the sky's the limit."


I recently spoke with two executives of MetaCarta: Randy Ridley, Vice President and General Manager, Federal Systems, and Mike Odell, Vice President and General Manager, Energy Industry.

Ridley was eager to tell me that MetaCarta is concluding "a very successful data fusion counterterrorism project with the State of Arizona." The Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center (ACTIC), one of the first such units in the country, combines 15 federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. Over the last four months it has been using MetaCarta's Geographic Text Search (GTS) technology to assist with its intelligence-gathering efforts. GTS enables an organization to search through any document database using geography as a filter and find any information written about a location. In ACTIC's case, the unit's officers have been able to use the company's technology to go through open sources of information, such as local newspapers' Web pages on both sides of the US - Mexican border, and gather intelligence about a specific location.

MetaCarta also recently signed a new contract with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This involves the integration of MetaCarta's technology with the EPA's Windows To My Environment (WME) — a Web-based tool that provides the public with a wide range of federal, state, and local environmental information on a particular geographic area of interest. With the addition of MetaCarta technology, this portal's capability is expanded significantly, enabling greater depth of information that is also specific to the searcher's interest. The EPA will first test it internally, before deploying it for public access through its website.

"These are two vastly different fits," Ridley told me, "but they show the range of MetaCarta's projects. The first one is a state and local project, during which we discovered that analysts for state and local governments consider local media to be a critical part of their sources. The second one is a portal for people who are trying to organize their unstructured data."

What was special about your Arizona contract? "It was our first state/local deployment. We treated Arizona as an information gathering exercise. We are a very good fit and learned some important lessons. The main one: the value of local media for state and local homeland security initiatives. Arizona is a flagship security center, both because they are on the border and because they really stepped up to the plate with regard to homeland security."

What are your markets? "We have two," Ridley told me. "One is the public sector. Our current customer base is mostly in the U.S. national security community. The Department of Homeland Security is our first client that is not funded by the Department of Defense. Our other market is the private sector, especially oil exploration and the rest of the energy industry."

Who are your principal customers? "We have 50,000 to 100,000 users in the federal government, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Special Operations Command, and a lot of top secret contracts."

How does a typical deployment work? "About 25 percent of our customers start out with a pilot project. We sell our technology at the enterprise level and deploy it as a Linux appliance behind the firewall. We deliver a box that is devoid of text data but has the biggest gazetteer in the world. We then copy the organization's data onto the box and do an initial massive data ingestion, which might take a few days at a rate of about 20 to 100 documents per second. The user then just enters a URL and it brings up a GUI that allows searches against the data on the box — their files plus local media (which doesn't care about administrative boundaries) and relevant websites. Arizona, for example, already knew what websites it wanted included."

What kind of follow-up do you have to do? "Our box is designed to work automatically. After the standard enterprise set-up issues are resolved and it is up and running, it works 24/7 on its own #151 crawling the sites that we specified and keeping the data fresh. Support on the customer's side is minimal, taking up a quarter of one system administrator's time."

With Odell I discussed MetaCarta's work with the energy industry, especially the oil industry.

Where does your product come into play in a new oil exploration? "We focus on upstream Exploration and Production (E&P;)," Odell told me. "This is the area where most oil companies spend the largest portion of their budgets. Some companies will spend 65-70 percent of their total revenue on exploration. A new ventures team — for example, in Libya or Vietnam — is the first team in an area. Explorers have to read reams of documents to quickly determine if the economics are justified to explore in a particular area. Several companies are tagging documents by hand so they are manually doing what we do automatically: we index hundreds of documents per second."

What kind of data do you search? "We look at past research in technical publication libraries and subscription data. We index internal content and external and third party subscriptions. These companies spend tens of millions of dollars each year to buy content. For one oil company that was going to lay down a pipeline on the ocean floor we indexed journals on the migration path of whales. We are accustomed to evaluating the political stability of governments and can limit our search to particular countries and areas. Our federated searches enable users to search all their internal and external documents via a single GIS map view — increasingly using ESRI software. We also extract documents from Documentum, Open Text's LiveLink, and network shared drives. Often companies acquire other companies and have no idea what are on those companies' hard drives. (BP, for example, bought many other companies.) However, oil companies know that the geology doesn't change much and that old documents, if they can find them, are just as valuable as new ones."

How do you handle images? Does data storage become a problem? "Right now we strip out images and compress the text."

What is the return on investment (ROI) on your products? "The average selling price is between $200,000 and $1,000,000 for the hardware and software and most companies can justify that quite easily. The ROI is pretty compelling, because our product enables the researchers to research and the analysts to analyze. We are talking about geophysicists paid $300,000 a year to evaluate possible drilling locations. One customer is claiming to save $6.8 million per year in using MetaCarta to analyze subsurface drilling prospects in the Gulf of Mexico."

Leica Geosystems Geospatial Imaging

This week I spoke with Wendy Watson, Vice President of Product Management and Marketing for Leica Geosystems Geospatial Imaging. This division of Leica Geosystems was formerly called Leica Geosystems GIS & Mapping but it was renamed, Watson told me, to better reflect the complete scope of its business.

Is Leica Geosystems' client mix changing? "No. Our client mix is not changing but our base is expanding. We are seeing more intensive users and our applications are becoming more tailored to enterprise use. We have a wide range of customers because our product offering can be used in a variety of applications. For example, both public and private forestry agencies use our solutions for various projects such as distinguishing tree stands, disease control, and for fire control and suppression."

What is the effect on the industry of the proliferation of mass-market satellite and aerial imagery? "The Googles and Microsofts of the world are driving the demand in the market for more up to date imagery and are educating the mass-market about geospatial imaging. This creates opportunity for our customers to provide aerial data that may not be available through satellite imagery. Aerial imagery from sources such as the Leica ADS40 can be used if no satellite data is available or more accurate data is required."

What are some of the major trends in the industry? "More and more, people want to visualize their spatial data in 3D. Now 3D visualization is the standard in the geospatial market. The other major trend is the move to enterprise-based systems. Companies want to be able to share their data across various departments, locations, and applications and the geospatial market is responding to that trend."

Where are you taking ERDAS IMAGINE next? "ERDAS IMAGINE will continue to be our flagship product. We are aggressively developing new features and functionality so we can make a strong push to the market toward the end of this year. An example of this is the integration with Oracle 10g. The next release of ERDAS IMAGINE will be based on the Oracle 10g server. We recognize the demand for an enterprise version of ERDAS IMAGINE and have been working with Oracle because of its market dominance. These advances will help us satisfy our current desktop customer base as well as our enterprise customers."

How would you characterize Leica Geosystems' relationship with ESRI? "We have a very open and good relationship with ESRI. Historically we have worked in the raster world and ESRI worked in the vector world; but the demand for imagery in GIS has brought our markets together. As the market grows there will continue to be gray areas where our product capabilities coincide, because we both need to provide solutions for our customers. ESRI and Leica Geosystems acknowledge the overlap as 'just business' and we continue to cooperate in areas where both of us can benefit."

How do the markets for ESRI's Image Server and for Leica Geosystems' imaging products differ? "The products have some overlap; however in many cases they have significant distinctions. If you use images professionally in your business, if you have to import and manage a lot of images or combine and re-project images, and if you have to do this in the context of your geospatial business, then you need to use professional tools such as the Leica Geosystems suite of products. Our focus is still on data production — such as DTM extraction and triangulation as well as analysis with tools for classification and feature extraction."

Who is your direct competition? "While we do have direct competitors in the photogrammetry market, our photogrammetry suite has the advantage of being part of the larger range of Leica Geosystems offering of products. ERDAS IMAGINE is a suite of tools offering a wide range of imagery exploitation capabilities. What we do see are niche applications from smaller companies that focus on one task that ERDAS IMAGINE offers. Many of these niche applications complement and integrate with the capabilities of ERDAS IMAGINE."

So, how do you distinguish your company from the competition? "We offer solutions for every part of the Geospatial Imaging Chain, which includes capturing, referencing, measuring, analyzing, and presenting geospatial information. We are the only player in the geospatial market that can deliver end-to-end applications for geospatial imagery exploitation. From data acquisition and large area data processing to final product production and Web publishing, we provide solutions along every part of that process.
     Many of the other players in the sensor market still process images in a frame-centric way, emulating the old way of doing aerial photography. We have moved to a continuous digital data stream — a 'pixel carpet.' It saves time on processing and mosaicking and helps to optimize the digital workflow while decreasing the time from image capture to product delivery. We believe that the industry is going in this new direction and as a leader we are committed to educating the market on the future of digital workflow."

How else does your company distinguish itself? "Another distinction is that we are still traditional in our approach to customer service. We are focused on technology development but we haven't forgotten that the most important thing is taking care of the customer. We have the largest and most experienced customer support organization in the business."

Leica Geosystems Geospatial Imaging has just purchased Calgary, Alberta, Canada-based Terramatics Systems, which integrates GPS receivers and inertial navigation systems (INS) for specialized applications. What is your strategy with regard to acquisitions? "We are in the business of measurement, so Terramatics is a logical fit for Leica Geosystems. GPS/INS is core to our current solution in the digital sensor products and our strategy of increasing workflow speed from capture to data product. We always look for ways to integrate core technologies that will help us achieve our goal of enhancing the digital workflow."

News Briefs

Please note: I have culled the following news items from press releases and have not independently verified them.


Spatial Insights, Inc., a geographic information services company, has partnered with Directory of Major Malls, Inc. (DMM) in order to provide customized shopping center data to its clients. Spatial Insights will be able to deliver customized data subset by geography, leased area, and several shopping center attributes. Spatial Insights will act as a reseller for DMM. In addition to DMM's standard products, Spatial Insights will be able to create custom files from the nationwide dataset.

NVision Solutions, a provider of GIS-based technologies, and Taimerica Management Company, an economic development company, have formed an alliance to create TaiMap, a Web-based decision support system that enhances a community's ability to conduct economic development. TaiMap, developed in partnership with NASA Stennis Space Center's Technology Transfer Program, integrates GIS, database, and Internet technologies with property values, geospatial selection criteria, and user-defined preferences to provide new on-line economic development tools. The system gives communities a technological advantage and Internet presence that makes them more attractive to site selectors, property developers, businesses, and industries.
     TaiMap's Web-based interface enables users to browse a community's properties and conduct advanced site selection analysis using datasets that are not commonly available to users without advanced skill in geospatial analysis. Additionally, users can get directions and maps to sites through email or over a PDA, can query and view a community's demographics and site parameters for various buildings and sites, and can view satellite imagery and aerial photography.

American Digital Cartography, Inc. (ADCi), an authorized distributor for NAVTEQ data to state, county, and local governments in the United States, has entered into an agreement with the Massachusetts Highway Department, an agency of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, to provide an enterprise-wide license allowing Commonwealth-wide use of NAVTEQ's base maps and associated address range data. The agreement enables the state to use the NAVTEQ NAVSTREETS data at any of the over 300 agencies that are part of the enterprise-wide license.
     The license also includes a maintenance agreement with the Massachusetts Statewide Emergency Telecommunications Board (SETB), a public safety agency in the Commonwealth. Under the agreement, ADCi will provide quarterly updates to the statewide NAVSTREETS data. This agreement provides SETB the ability to report any suspected errors or omissions in the data, which will be investigated by the NAVTEQ field technicians on the ground and corrected as appropriate using GPS-based field data collection techniques.

The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) has selected Timmons Group, a provider of geospatial and engineering services, to provide systems analysis and design and application programming services. Timmons Group performed an initial systems analysis and design of the existing information architecture, data, and workflows for VDOF. Using this collateral, Timmons Group professional consultants developed a conceptual framework for the Web-based enterprise system, IFRIS (Integrated Forest Resource Information System).
     IFRIS will include application modules that support enterprise computing functions, including the following: federal reporting requirements compliance, time and accomplishment reporting, forest stewardship plan management, forest lands (tracts and parcels) management, automated fiscal and strategic goal reporting, and field data collection. IFRIS will allow for the elimination of many existing paper forms, cumbersome work-flows, and will consolidate data capture and maintenance. Employee time and accomplishment (i.e., forestry practices) reporting will be linked interactively to spatial features, including managed tracts and parcels, facilitating advanced spatial decision support functions. Advanced Web-based mapping functions will allow for the creation and manipulation of a variety of spatial features, including forest stands, tracts, and parcels.
     As part of the initial service offer, Timmons Group also assisted VDOF in the development of a supporting information architecture solution, which includes the use of ESRI's ArcGIS Server, ArcIMS, and ArcSDE to meet spatial data management, reporting, and analysis. The proposed architecture will be extensible and will offer geospatial Web services as part of a service-oriented architecture (SOA) model. It is envisioned that the SOA geospatial Web services will be consumed by other, non-spatial applications both within VDOF and other agencies in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has retained GeoAnalytics, Inc., a provider of geographic and land information systems (GIS/LIS) technology and management consulting, to spatially enable its DELTA permit and regulatory data management system. GeoAnalytics will design and build a GIS application extension to the agency's current DELTA permit and regulatory data management system, which is based on Oracle DBMS and PowerBuilder technology. The GIS extension, to be built using ESRI desktop GIS 9.x tools, will allow agency staff to browse and query DELTA data in a spatial format as well as edit the locational characteristics of individual system records. The application will serve near-term functional needs based on the current DELTA technology, yet be scaleable to meet future agency technology standards and user expectations. This includes support for more complex geographic features (lines and polygons) and compatibility with future MPCA data management systems based on Web technologies.

Kunming Surveying and Mapping Institute has established the first Leica Geosystems GPS reference station network in Kunming, China for pushing forward the digital city project there. This project started in March 2004 by constructing six GPS reference stations, a data center operating with network RTK software, and a data communication network. The whole system was completed in May 2005. This GPS reference station network is now able to serve various applications and needs, including city planning, surveying and mapping, land management, construction, structural and disaster monitoring, navigation, and fleet management.
     The Kunming GPS network is operated by Leica Geosystems GPS reference station technology and GPS SpiderNET solution covering an area of approximately 6000 square kilometers. The average real-time dynamic positioning accuracy is 2.1 centimeters in horizontal and 4.6 centimeters in vertical and the effective GPS RTK baseline is at least 53 kilometers. Users can access the real-time network RTK correction data via GSM connection anytime, anywhere. The system can also provide multiple accuracy level positioning services for different application needs.


Applanix has released its latest data post-processing software specifically developed for land-based mobile survey operations-POSPac LAND 5.0. Configured for use with its POS LV (Position and Orientation System - Land Vehicles), the new software is designed to take advantage of the tightly-coupled inertial/GPS engine to operate in a land environment.
     The modular software is a processing suite that offers multi-mission project capability. This mobile mapping solution includes Wizard setup options, major enhancements for fast ambiguity resolution, and inertial cycle slip detection. POSPac LAND is aimed at those organizations currently undertaking mobile data capture for road surveying, pavement inspection, GIS and asset management, as well as non-conventional applications, such as autonomous vehicle navigation and high performance vehicle dynamics.

ESRI has begun shipping RouteMAP IMS 3, the latest release of this Internet mapping solution, which now supports .NET. Included with the release are new North American and European datasets from Tele Atlas and 18 million integrated Dun & Bradstreet business listings (United States only). RouteMAP IMS is designed to help users add mapping and routing capabilities to their Web site. Map templates included in RouteMAP IMS make it easy to create maps with symbols for unique company locations. Data package options allow users to select the map data they need to produce attractive Internet maps. Users can also create customized maps using the provided ActiveX, Java, and the new .NET application programming interfaces (APIs). RouteMAP IMS also enables users to generate more business activity by allowing prospective customers visiting their website to see maps and get driving directions to their various business locations.

DeLorme has released its new STREET ATLAS USA 2006 software suite, which includes Street Atlas USA 2006, Street Atlas USA 2006 Plus DVD, and Street Atlas USA 2006 Handheld. The data revisions include more than 268,000 additional roads, with a special emphasis on populous and fast-growing areas. In addition, Street Atlas USA's four million points of interest (POIs) have been augmented with GPS-accurate location data supplied by over 90 national lodging, restaurant, gasoline, and retail chains.
     New features include EZ-Nav toolbar for access to the program's key functions, including routing, GPS navigation, customization, shortcut key settings, and Web-based map sharing; Options Window, for setting map, voice, and GPS preferences; draw tools to easily block out large areas you prefer to bypass; MapShare, to post maps and directions online with a unique URL for secure access; Address Book, to import, locate, and route to and from your contact manager listings; Auto Zoom on upcoming turns when tracking with GPS - especially useful for multiple-turn scenarios and complex intersections; user-defined settings for GPS voice turn-alert timing; user-defined keyboard shortcuts for GPS-centric functions and in-vehicle laptop use; and new GPS log playback detail and trip previews. Street Atlas USA 2006 Handheld also includes the updated road and POI data and now supports Windows Mobile PDAs and phones as well as high- resolution Pocket PCs (480 x 640) and hot synching maps to a Palm OS external media card.


Telcontar, the geospatial software platform provider that powers the location-based services (LBS) engines of Google, Yahoo!, and Ask Jeeves, will hold its first annual Developers Conference on September 26 at SBC Park in San Francisco, California. The event is open to application developers, partners, and customers and features two tracks - one to educate those new to LBS and another focusing on advanced topics.
     The conference will feature a mix of short presentations, panel discussions, in-depth technical topics, and forward-looking expos�s on the trends in technology and market dynamics for LBS. It will feature a series of sessions that will provide a crash course on developing LBS applications using Telcontar's new web services API.
     Topics will include using location and proximity to present information in a new way; demystifying how location is determined in mobile networks; techniques to integrate new, volatile location-oriented data; improved route guidance and turn-by-turn applications on mobile telephones; and what you should know before releasing your application internationally.

ESRI Virtual Campus will present Metadata Tips & Tricks, a new free live training seminar, on August 25 at 9:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., and 3:00 p.m., Pacific time. The seminar is designed for those who want to explore how to go beyond the basics of creating metadata and learn what goes on behind the scenes. Metadata describes GIS resources by indicating whether the necessary resources for a project exist, and it is critical for sharing tools, data, and maps. ArcGIS offers a set of tools that allows users to effectively search metadata, view metadata independently of a style sheet or editor, and control when, or whether, the software will update the metadata properties.
     Metadata Tips & Tricks will demonstrate how to take advantage of these tools and will also share tips for making daily metadata workflow more efficient. The presenter will discuss updating metadata, browsing the XML style sheet, searching metadata, and working with samples. Overall, attendees will learn how to use techniques in ArcGIS that help with metadata-related tasks in daily work projects.
     A broadband Internet connection and an ESRI Virtual Campus membership are required to view the seminar and becoming a Virtual Campus member is free and only takes a few minutes. Following the live presentation, the seminar will be archived and available for viewing at any time on the Virtual Campus Web site.

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