“We only provide MS Excel to business majors”

02-16-2021 12:30 PM
Esri Regular Contributor
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Can you imagine if a university limited the use of MS Excel to business majors? What if licenses of SPSS were only provided to statistics majors? While GIS software has its roots in geography, its wide-ranging application demonstrates clearly how students and faculty across institutions should have access.  

While the concepts of GIS have always been useful for a vast array of disciplines to employ… let’s be honest, the learning curve of desktop GIS made wider adoption and use of the technology prohibitive. Yet, in the past few years, the ease of using web-based GIS tools has removed this barrier. GIS is now easier to use and students in any field can take the skills and tools available and apply them to their discipline. History, public health, business, anthropology – all these fields require the ability to visualize, analyze, and present information in a spatial context. We have seen countless examples of students building StoryMaps for archaeology, deploying mobile data collection applications in biology, or creating maps in urban planning. 

To ensure that students, faculty, and programs can begin to use GIS more broadly, one of the most successful strategies that we have seen deployed is centralized funding for GIS. Without the hurtles in place that limit access, faculty and students are free to innovate. The change in funding also has much broader implications for educational institutions. 

Some of the top benefits of this change have been: 

  • Increased return on investment (more users = more value = increased ROI) 
  • Eliminating labyrinthian ‘charge back’ procedures 
  • Fostering innovation 
  • Quick & easy access 

Increased value 

With budget cuts and an increased awareness of costs of all kinds, increasing the return-on-investment (in the eyes of administrators) and the value (more faculty and students) for software purchases is a win-win. The wider access to the technology quickly dilutes the ‘cost’ to the university, while also increasing the value to staff, students, programs, and the university  

Fostering innovation 

Students, faculty, and programs (as well as employers) are constantly looking for innovative uses of technology and software. The geospatial market is set to triple to a $25b industry over the next 10 years and employers in every field will be seeking out professionals with these skills (PS Market Research, 2020). The big takeaway is that GIS is not just for geographers. Innovative uses of geospatial technology and skills are happening in virtually every discipline. To ensure that innovation thrives at your institution, the culture and experience must encourage an ability to try the latest technology. 

Removal of ‘charge backs’geography major.png

We have yet to meet a faculty or department staff member that has created a fluid ‘charge-back’ process to other departments or programs. Many stories that we hear are filled with the administrative headaches and pains that accompany software access and requests. By acknowledging the broader application of GIS to more fields and in turn, moving the funding of GIS to a centralized funding model the software can be more efficiently managed. Your university already has staff specialized in the licensing of software that is used across campus, utilizing these resources lets staff focus on their primary roles.  

Quick & easy access 

If students or faculty need to visualize or analyze spatial data… they can! Rather than spending time trying to figure out ‘how’ and ‘what’ to get access to, they can start using the tools and technology. If combined with an enterprise ‘single sign-on’ SSO policy, users simply log in, and get started. An enterprise SSO policy also removes administrative work when it comes to generating usernames or granting access. 


Over the past 10 years, GIS has evolved. While the software has been widely used in the discipline of geography, the skills and tools are applicable to all fields. Just as MS Excel outgrew its roots in business, ArcGIS is no longer tied solely to geography departments. Moving GIS to a centralized funding model provides a wide array of benefits and helps to build more innovative departments, students, and faculty.

About the Author
Brian works as a Lead Engineer at Esri to support customers in Education. Brian has worked as a lecturer in GIS, supported non-profits through his community planning work, and honestly just loves working with users to help solve their geospatial quandaries!