GIS for Everyone (...and how to build your own ArcGIS Dashboard to show it!)

06-03-2020 02:31 PM
MVP Regular Contributor
12 1 6,148

Knock, knock … Who’s there? … A lot of us!


When I first began using ArcInfo and ArcView GIS many years ago as a student, I was part of a rarified group of workstation/desktop GIS users, representing a small number of departments on the university campus. And while such users are still well-served by what we know today as the ArcGIS platform, it is through its evolution, from desktop to web GIS, that a new, even larger user base has been empowered with geospatial technologies. A community that now encompasses a majority of the Schools and Colleges at the University of Michigan, across all three of our campuses in Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Flint.

With any enterprise-scale system, it is important to assess and understand its relevance to campus personnel (faculty, staff, and students). Such information is key to setting budgets and justifying expenditures, especially in this time of pandemic-driven monetary concerns and constraints.


So how do we show that GIS is now used by more than just a few researchers from select disciplines and students in GIS courses? How do we illustrate the emerging impact of GIS on the university’s educational and research mission? And, most importantly, how do we communicate this message of broad adoption to our user community, as well as to the university stakeholders responsible for funding, maintaining, and supporting enterprise-wide systems, like the ArcGIS platform has become?

University of Michigan ArcGIS Usage Dashboard


Enter ArcGIS Dashboards, the app that conveys information by presenting location-based analytics using intuitive and interactive data visualizations on a single screen; because a picture is worth a thousand words! By combining ArcGIS platform usage data with information from our enterprise directory service, our University of Michigan ArcGIS Usage Dashboard serves to highlight the ongoing growth, depth, and breadth of GIS use at the university.

Some of the dashboard’s key metrics:


  • Registered Users -- Indicates how prevalent ArcGIS platform use has become on campus, and its growth over time. Examine the registered users serial chart and note the increasing slope of the curve. More and more people are discovering ArcGIS each year.
  • Unique Logins -- Insight into the regularity of use of the ArcGIS platform. Individual use might range from a student leveraging ArcGIS StoryMaps for a single class activity during a semester, to a researcher using ArcGIS Pro every day. 
  • Units and Degree Programs – These pie charts illustrate the breadth of the impact of ArcGIS use across the university, in terms of both administrative divisions and academic disciplines.


So what does our ArcGIS Usage Dashboard tell us about our University of Michigan community?


The 5000+ registered users represent >5% of the potential user base of approximately 100,000 students, faculty, staff, and sponsored affiliates across the university. And while users come and go every year – particularly students -- the charts on the dashboard show a continuing increase in the annual user growth rate. The implication being there is still plenty of untapped potential for GIS use within the University of Michigan academic community.


What does the dashboard tell our campus community and stakeholders, in terms our message above of broad adoption, “GIS for Everyone”?


First, we can look at what unit a user is affiliated with; units are the individual Schools and Colleges of which the University is composed, and some users have multiple unit affiliations. The dashboard shows GIS users are drawn from 127 units, out of a possible ~175 across all three campuses. So over 70% of all Schools and Colleges have at least one GIS user among them.


Second, we can examine which degree programs students are enrolled in, who are using GIS. (Keeping in mind that a student might be using GIS for a course in a unit other than the one in which they are pursuing their degree, research purposes in another unit, or self-education.) At the end of our last semester, of the 5000+ registered users, 3500+ were students. The dashboard indicates those students are drawn from 592 degree programs. With ~750 degree programs across all three University of Michigan campuses, this means nearly 80% of all degree programs have at least one student in them using GIS.


Both of these metrics help illustrate that GIS can indeed be a useful tool for nearly anyone in our university community. Hence, we use Enterprise Logins and new member defaults in our ArcGIS Online organization to ensure everyone can access the ArcGIS platform, whenever they need it, without requiring manual intervention from the IT team. After all, a first-time user might be a student starting work on their assignment at 3 am the day it is due, or a faculty or staff member with some spare time on the weekend to explore what GIS might help them achieve.


Whether you are in an educational organization, or one in a different industry, understanding how often the ArcGIS platform is used and by whom is important. Perhaps your organization is experiencing a similar surge in GIS usage, as web GIS expands your horizons beyond just GIS professionals. 

Build your own ArcGIS Usage Dashboard

Are you inspired to build a dashboard to highlight the reach of GIS tools and technologies in your own organization? If so, then please check out our ArcGIS Usage Dashboard Quickstart Jupyter Notebook.

[Note that the Notebook is shared with Everyone, however, due to the unfortunate limitations of ArcGIS Online's sharing model, if you click on the link to the Notebook above, then you will be viewing its Item Details page on the public ArcGIS Online instance (, so the only option you will have is to Download the Notebook. That's fine if you want to run it in Pro or your own local Notebook environment.  If you want to run it on your ArcGIS Online instance, however, then avoid the download/upload process, and instead login to your ArcGIS Online instance first, then search for the Notebook by its item ID: "8cee96275677429685a28231752d9e67" (remembering to toggle the search to look outside of your own organization.) The result will take you to its Item Details page on your ArcGIS Online instance, which means you now have the "Open Notebook" button available to run the Notebook right away!]


As a starting point, the Notebook provides templates for an ArcGIS Dashboard and a feature layer with a public view. It then leads you through the steps of populating the feature layer with historic usage data from your own ArcGIS Online organization using the Portal History method of the REST API. It also includes example code, on which you can base Python scripts, to automate updating your dashboard on a regular basis.


What do you need to get started? Three things:

  1. The ArcGIS Usage Dashboard Quickstart Jupyter Notebook.
  2. An environment in which to run Jupyter Notebooks.
  3. An account on your ArcGIS Online organization with the default Administrator role, which has the required privileges for accessing your activity logs.

The usage parameters tracked in this Notebook are only a starting point. You may want to track other parameters or integrate information from other authoritative systems of record in your organization. For example, our Units and Degree Programs pie charts incorporate data from our enterprise directory service. Or, you might add a chart illustrating the distribution of the number of people and how often they use the ArcGIS platform each month to get a feel for the proportion of heavy-users versus one-timers. Or, you might point ArcGIS Insights at your usage data layers, add in other data sources for your organization, and explore things in even greater detail.

My hope is that this quickstart notebook will help you and your community gain deeper insight into your organization’s use of GIS. Lastly, thanks to my colleague, Abbey Roelofs, for assistance with our University of Michigan ArcGIS Usage Dashboard, and to Jim Detwiller for help testing the Notebook along the way to creating a Penn State ArcGIS Usage Dashboard

To learn more about ArcGIS Dashboards, see ArcGIS Dashboards - Useful Links.

(Content also available as an ArcGIS StoryMap.)

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About the Author
University of Michigan IT Advocate, GIS Evangelist, Cloud-Computing Champion, AR/MR/VR/XR Visionary, Software Poet, and paleoceanographer/geologist.