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Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Succes Story Moving to ESRI to the Cloud

The Geographic Information Systems (GIS) program in the Department of Geography and Planning supports students, faculty, and staff across the University and within our community. This includes almost 500 students in GIS-related classes, undergraduate and graduate student research projects, faculty research, collaborative lesson plans in Location Analytics with School of Business courses, GIS support for University managers and administrators with COVID-19 planning and response, and GIS projects with community partners across the region. 

IS&T helps the Department support 3 GIS and Planning Studio labs with over 20 software packages and Apps (from ESRI, the world’s largest GIS software company), 70 computers, AR/VR equipment, smart phones/iPad and GPS for mapping and field data collection, and drones for aerial imagery and mapping. With the labs and building being shut down, the Department faculty, working with IS&T and our Lab Manager, Josh Marcinik, were able to move our operations into the cloud. 

IS&T helped establish and improve, 3 critical components of our GIS platform that has allowed our program to continue and actually, grow. Some of these components had been completed or started before the shutdown but have been an essential part of our success during this time. This includes 1) Enterprise logins for our ESRI licenses and Microsoft Office 365, using the domain, 2) setup and installation of our virtual servers to run our database and GIS software as a web portal, and 3) installation of our newest desktop software, ArcGIS Pro, as part of the RamCloud desktop. Of course, students that needed computers at home, were able to get loaners thanks to IS&T. 

Enterprise logins have enabled us to provide access to software to anyone with a WCU email, across Windows and Mac platforms, and we no longer have to establish and manage each user account. This is a tremendous time saver and allows our Mac users (a growing population in our courses) access to cloud-based GIS applications. Most people do not know this, but WCU has one of the largest allocations of ESRI licenses in Higher Education. Our students (over 1,000 current users) are able to work with software such as Business Analyst, ArcGIS Urban, ArcGIS Hub Premium, Python Jupyter Notebooks, ArcGIS Enterprise Database Server, and apps for dashboards, data collection, and Story Mapping with no interruption due to the COVID-19 shutdown and IS&T support. Our new, ArcGIS Enterprise database servers run Microsoft SQL Server and ESRI’s web server and portal software so we can continue to teach our database/modeling courses and students can access our spatial data, online. Finally, the installation of ArcGIS Pro, a complex web/desktop-based platform was completed in time for us to resume teaching (not easy and IS&T really came through).  

At this point in time, probably everyone has seen a map of COVID-19 cases, dashboards presenting data analytics, and maps to support local businesses and planning for reopening of economies. Because WCU was prepared, we were able to teach with data, related to these issues, help our students learn the “new normal” ways of working with spatial data and analytics, and continue to support our community partners with online GIS projects. With IS&T support our ability to teach and provide support has kept pace with these new ways of working and communicating information.  

Student Project Example