Alex Miller has dedicated his life to advancing the field of geomatics and promoting the use of geographic information system (GIS) technology in Canada to achieve sustainability. He has designed numerous GIS systems and techniques that have become the foundation for many of today's Canadian digital mapping applications. He began his career in geodetic surveying at Marshall Macklin Monaghan, where he did extensive software development and design of digital mapping workflows that were used to produce the first digital map of Toronto in 1981. Alex also designed the Province of Ontario's first digital mapping specifications, which became the foundation for the Ontario Digital Basemapping Program. His background in engineering, mapping and computer science has allowed him to design systems that combine high-quality cartography with powerful GIS analysis capabilities. He has leveraged his extensive expertise to help organizations in the public and private sectors apply information technology to land, natural resource and environmental management.
In 1984, he founded Esri Canada, which provides GIS solutions to more than 10,000 organizations in various sectors and helps them increase efficiency and productivity, and enhance decision-making. The company has grown to more than 350 employees today and has been named one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies since 2012.
As a member of the Government of Canada's Open Government Advisory Panel, he shares his expertise in information technology to harness opportunities for innovation and knowledge sharing. He has been inducted as a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society for his contributions in advancing geographic education and making Canada better known to Canadians and to the world through geography. His company is a founding member of GeoAlliance Canada which will lead and unify the activities and resources of various geospatial organizations in the country and promote the value of the geospatial community. The Community Maps program he launched in 2010 is succeeding in creating the Community Map of Canada, a detailed national web basemap built from contributions from authoritative sources. It fosters innovation by providing the public with free access to accurate, up-to-date maps and data for a wide variety of applications. As well, he supports $18 million in research and development in higher education through the Esri Canada GIS Centres of Excellence, which encourage innovation in GIS research, promote inter-institutional collaboration and help expand GIS use across various disciplines.
An advocate for promoting Canada's advanced technology sector, Alex has delivered numerous keynote speeches and presentations at international GIS conferences and provides board leadership to several professional and industry associations in Canada. He has been invited by the United Nations, at the request of well-known international economist Hernando de Soto, to share his insights on how third-world countries could leverage geography to strengthen economic development.
Alex was previously chairman of the Natural Resources Canada Earth Sciences Sector Advisory Committee, co-chair of the GeoConnections Policy Advisory Committee, chairman of the Geomatics Industry Association of Canada and a member of the Federal Department of Natural Resources Minister's National Advisory Board on Earth Sciences. He is also a past member of the University of Waterloo's Faculty of Environment Advisory Committee.
In 1997, he established a K-12 program through which he has donated millions in GIS software and services so that students in more than 3,000 Canadian schools from kindergarten to grade 12 can access the technology, enhance their learning and global awareness. The program raised the bar for geographic education in Canada. After publicly-funded K-12 schools began using GIS to teach geography, several universities and colleges in the country had to upgrade their geography programs. They noticed that most of the incoming students already had a good grasp of the concepts taught in first-year college geography classes because they had learned them in high school.
Alex recently launched a GIS Ambassador program through which professional GIS users, educators and university and college students can volunteer their skills and knowledge. The program connects GIS Ambassadors with schools in their community and provides a wealth of teaching resources including lesson plans, tutorials and activities for students. By becoming a GIS Ambassador, volunteers help Canadian youth build valuable skills so they can succeed in solving environmental, economic and social problems for a more sustainable future.
He also established a Higher Education program to help universities and colleges incorporate GIS courses into their curriculum. As well, Alex has promoted the use of the technology to run schools more efficiently. The University of Waterloo was one of the first universities in Canada to license Esri technology in the 1980s for use in teaching and administration. Alex worked with the head of the department of geography to enhance their GIS program and expand the use of GIS throughout the university. This has helped raise the university’s profile as an innovator. From 2007 to 2010, Alex served as a member of the University's Faculty of Environment Advisory Committee.
Alex has also ingrained social responsibility as a foundational value of Esri Canada. He and his wife Mary-Charlotte Miller have gone beyond industry standard in matching annual employee contributions to the United Way at a generous rate of 200%. In addition to donating technology and services to schools through the company's educational programs, he has also contributed more than $1 million in financial and in-kind support to environmental nonprofit organizations including Ducks Unlimited Canada, which is using GIS to create a comprehensive Canadian Wetland Inventory; and the World Wildlife Fund, which uses the technology to support its conservation planning and operations.
In 2007, after reading a Ryerson University study on how green roofs helped reduce urban heat effect, he initiated a project to turn a concrete terrace at his company’s Toronto headquarters into a green roof. He wanted to set an example on what a company could do to improve the environment. The project was pursued despite the global economic recession, and the green roof was completed in 2009. The rooftop garden has provided numerous environmental benefits including reducing heating and cooling costs, improving air quality and reducing storm water runoff and sewer overflows. The green roof has been recognized with the Green Toronto Award, the City of Toronto’s environmental award of excellence; an honourable mention at the Design Exchange Awards; and named one of North America’s Green Roofs for Healthy Cities. Alex also received the Ontario Association of Landscape Architects’ Certificate of Merit for Service to the Environment.
Over the past 32 years, Alex Miller has mentored and shared his knowledge with his employees, many of whom are pursuing successful GIS careers in and outside of the company. To date, Esri Canada has remained debt-free; as well, Alex reinvests profits back into the company to ensure viability and employment of more than 350 Canadians. His work and initiatives in GIS, as well as his philanthropy, have significantly advanced the GIS community in Canada and positively contributes to the sustainability of Canada’s economy, environment and society. He embodies all the qualities that the URISA stands for and serves as an inspiration to GIS professionals worldwide.