Introducing Business School Students to Location Analytics

While many aspects of business are directly related to location analytics, such as site selection and supply chain management, business schools have only recently become aware of the benefits of including courses on location analytics in master of business administration (MBA) and master of science in supply chain management (MS SCM) programs. In the following interview, Dr. Joseph J. Kerski, geographer, educator, GIS professional (GISP), and education manager at Esri, shares his thoughts on implementing location analytics into the course curricula of these programs.

Baumann: What is the current state of offering location analytics-related classes in the MBA and MS SCM course curricula?

Kerski: Because in business, it is “location, location, location” that matters, and because location analytics tools and geospatial data are increasingly used in business workplaces, university faculty are increasingly using location analytics principles and applications in their business courses and programs. Universities are seeing that as societal and educational needs change, geotechnologies coupled with spatial thinking in their teaching and research are key ways that universities can remain relevant and innovative.

Baumann: How do students enrolled in MBA and MS SCM programs benefit from learning location analytics?

Kerski: Students who are rigorously using location analytics in their courses develop skills in critical thinking and spatial thinking. GIS has always been a thinker’s tool for solving problems from a local to a global scale. Using location analytics fosters media fluency and the opportunity to work with a large volume and variety of data. The story maps [Esri Story Map Apps and now ArcGIS StoryMaps stories] and other web mapping applications that they create for presentations foster oral and digital communication skills. These skills and perspectives enable students to be key decision-makers when they graduate.

In addition, having location analytics on students’ tool belts helps them stand out among the thousands of business students graduating each year with skills that are in demand in the workplace. The fact that much of Esri location analytics has evolved into a cloud-based platform that is capable of being accessed anytime, anywhere, on any device, lowers the technology barriers in education.

Baumann: What are some of the challenges in introducing location analytics into these curricula?

Kerski: Like all large organizations, educational institutions—such as community colleges and universities—contain a diverse set of people, programs, and goals. They need to see a positive return on investment for any set of tools and approaches before widely adopting them. Furthermore, the rapid advance of location analytics tools and the spatial data behind the tools make it a challenge to determine how and which course activities should be included.

Using any professional tool presents a double challenge to faculty. Faculty must at least be comfortable enough with the tools to use them in their courses. They must understand how to effectively teach with them. Location analytics is part of a system—a geographic information system—that contains many interlocking components. Deciding which of the components to use in teaching and in what manner to do so takes effort.

However, teaching with inquiry-driven approaches and tools yields many benefits in student learning that instructors are increasingly valuing. In addition, when students learn with location analytics, they become much more marketable, no matter which aspects of business they choose to pursue.

Baumann: Please describe how you advised Dr. Bill Ritchie at James Madison University on a supply chain management course he was teaching.

Kerski: Dr. William Ritchie, associate professor of management, has been using location analytics in the university’s supply chain management program for the past three years. Most recently, with the disruption caused by COVID-19, he created and taught a five-week supply chain course—entirely online—entitled Introduction to Supply Chain Management. This course used location analytics as its primary framework, asking the students to investigate such spatial problems as the COVID-19 impact on hospital certification visits and staffing shortages in distribution centers. It also included activities, such as mapping the distribution of Starbucks restaurants and tracking maritime vessels, using ArcGIS Online tools and remotely sensed data.

Baumann: How did the students respond to the class?

Kerski: The students overwhelmingly commented that the hands-on ArcGIS Online tools…were very engaging. After each supply chain management tenets was explained, students could immediate apply what they learned by working with real data in real scenarios, at multiple scales, ranging from local to regional to global. As the tools used were part of ArcGIS Online, and the data was accessed as online data services, this approach meshed perfectly with conducting the course using an online learning management system (LMS)—in this case, Canvas [an LMS from Instructure].

Baumann: Please describe the program that Esri and Texas Christian University are developing.

Kerski: Location analytics has long been integral to Texas Christian University’s GIS courses. In the introductory course, lab assignments give students experience using GIS in thematic areas such as demographic analysis, market research, and urban environmental change. In another course, Urban and Business Applications of GIS, students gain experience applying GIS to solve real-world urban and business problems.

Topics for the graduate school program being developed include demographic analysis, remote sensing of urban areas, network analysis, 3D urban modeling, spatial statistics, temporal analysis, geodemographic classification, market area analysis, and Web GIS services. Students will also complete a semester-long group project that applies GIS to assist an organization or business in the area where the school is located.

Recently, Esri supported Texas Christian University’s Neeley Center for Supply Chain Innovation’s Graduate Supply Chain Case Competition [held Febrary 20–23, 2020]. The case competition, sponsored by Chick-fil-A, addressed the challenges of supporting high supply chain growth in seven western states. Utilizing demographics, consumer behaviors, and natural seasonality, each team of students was tasked with expanding distribution networks to meet customer demand for Chick-fil-A products. Teams were also provided with GIS software from Esri.

Esri was recently selected as an industry partner for the University of California, San Diego, Rady School of Management, Master of Science in Business Analytics [program], student capstone project. In the project and program, students used [ArcGIS] Business Analyst Web App, R [programming language], ArcGIS Online, and other tools to propose the most commercially viable use for a parcel outside of Redlands, California. Their proposal included descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive elements. Students approached the problem from a data science perspective, creating a set of Esri Story Maps apps to present their results.

Included in a new program at the University of Redlands is a spatial business initiative with Esri. Esri has also been honored to be advising the Location Analytics for Business courses at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. This course is included in an 18-credit-hour applied business data analytics certificate, providing rigorous exposure to predictive analytics and modeling, big data techniques, and visualization.

Baumann: Is there anything else that you would like to add?

Kerski: All of us at Esri are deeply committed to the value of GIS throughout society, including all disciplines and all levels of education. We want to be considered as a trusted partner that universities can count on to assist them as they chart a course through the educational waters ahead.

For more information, and to connect to the GIS education community, start with the Education space on GeoNet.

About the author

Jim Baumann

Jim Baumann is a longtime employee at Esri. He has written articles on GIS technology and the computer graphics industry for more than 30 years.