5 Shining Examples of the Use of GIS in University Schools of Business

Given that location analytics tools and geospatial data are increasingly used in business workplaces, university faculty are increasingly using location analytics in their business courses and programs. The work that five universities featured in this article are doing with location analytics fosters critical thinking skills, spatial analytics skills, and problem solving, preparing students to be key decision makers when they graduate.

1. University of California, San Diego: Master of Science in Business Analytics

Spatial analysis and data science featured prominently in the capstone projects of the Master of Science in Business Analytics program recently at the University of California’s Rady School of Management. For the capstone research course, students proposed the most commercially viable use for a parcel outside of Redlands, California using Business Analyst Web, R, ArcGIS Online, and other tools. Proposals included modular units creating an outdoor food court, a hotel, a multifamily apartment building, and a health care facility. The project required the business goal to be framed in three phases: Descriptive, Predictive, and Prescriptive. Advised by members of the Esri education and commercial teams each week during the semester, these students approached the problem from a data science perspective, creating a set of story maps to present their results to each other, to Esri staff, and to their professors.

Medical/hospital/accident insurance data captured by student in capstone course.

2. University of Redlands: Mastering the Business of Where

The University of Redlands was one of the first universities to create an MBA program concentrating in Location Analytics. Citing statistics that GIS will be a $10 billion industry by 2023 (according to, the program seeks to “equip students with the skills to unlock the potential of spatial data, solve real-world problems, and gain competitive advantage in today’s business world.” The university’s graduates are thus prepared to use the power of location intelligence to improve decision-making, organizational performance, and business development. Included in the 24-month program is a spatial business initiative with Esri, that aims to maximize the understanding and effectiveness of GIS in business through education, publishing, research, and advising.

The University of Redlands School of Business has a long history and expertise in using GIS for business. In addition to its MBA in location analytics, it is the only business school that requires a location analytics course for undergraduates and hosts two GIS for business research enterprises: The Center for Spatial Business, which develops curricula, provides leadership in spatial thinking for businesses and organizations, partners with companies, communities, and academic organizations to promote cooperation in furthering scientific understanding of place and location for organization and business success. It also houses the Institute for Spatial Economic Analysis (ISEA), which offers science and research-based spatial analysis and forecasts of economic phenomena, focusing on employment, housing, retail, logistics, industry analysis, and economic risk assessment.

Global spatial patterns of loans issued by the micro lending firm by a University of Redlands School of Business student.

3. James Madison University: Global Supply Chain Management Minor

Dr. William Ritchie, CSX 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 entirely online a supply chain course entitled Introduction to Supply Chain Management. This course asked the students to investigate such spatial problems as the COVID-19 impact on hospital certification visits and staffing shortages in distribution centers as well as remote sensing and maritime vessel tracking using ArcGIS Online tools and spatial data. Professor Ritchie conducted pre-and-post student surveys and analyzed mean differences to determine learning outcomes. He found statistically significant increases (p < .05) in many statements related to the students’ ability to apply spatial analysis to supply chain problems as well as greater perceived utility of mapping as a relevant workplace toolset.

Professor at JMU
Dr. Ritchie instructing at James Madison University

4. Georgia Tech University: Leaders in GIScience MBA Program

Georgia Tech University, long a leader in its Masters in GIScience program, also has been using location technology in its MBA program. Recently, four Georgia Tech MBA students took first place in Texas Christian University (TCU) Neely Center for Supply Chain Innovation’s Graduate Supply Chain Case Competition. The case competition, provided 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 was tasked with expanding distribution networks to meet customer demand for Chick-fil-A products. Teams were also provided with GIS software from Esri.

Winners of TCU 2020 Supply Chain Comp
Image Source (

5. Arizona State University: Applied Business Data Analytics Certificate

Dr. Asish Satpathy and Dr. Andres Diaz created a course entitled CIS 394: Location Analytics for Business to serve as an initial offering in the WP Carey School of Business, in which 16,000 students are enrolled. The location approach proved so valuable that it included in an 18-credit hour applied business data analytics certificate. The certificate provides rigorous exposure to predictive analytics and modeling, big data techniques, and visualization, providing insight into advanced uses of the computer-based tools. Critical thinking is an important skill and mindset that is required to establish and evaluate evidence-based benchmarks for making good decisions leading to high-quality outcomes.

ASU student locating a potential business location using smart map search functionality in Business Analyst Online.

These five programs are providing foundations and skills not only for their students, but graduates from these programs will be positively impacting their workplaces with spatial thinking and GIS skills. You can bring location analytics to your business school using the resources we’ve compiled below. If your institution has an Education Institution Agreement or Academic Department License, you already have access to Business Analyst, Insights, ArcGIS Online and Story Maps as well as consumer spending, lifestyle segmentation, and business listing data through the Living Atlas of the World.

Ready to add location analytics to your program?

See the Location Analytics in Business Education: Resources for Teaching and Research page to learn:

Refer to the blog Curricular Resources and Messaging for Teaching Location Analytics in Business for:

About the author

Joseph Kerski is a geographer with a focus on the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in education. Joseph gave a TED Talk on “The Whys of Where”. He holds 3 degrees in geography and has served as geographer in 4 sectors of society, including government (21 years at NOAA, US Census Bureau, USGS), academia (Penn State, Sinte Gleska University, University of Denver, others), private industry (as Education Manager for Esri for 14 years), and nonprofit organizations (as President of the National Council for Geographic Education, and others). Joseph authored over 75 chapters and articles on GIS, education, and related topics, and visits 30 universities annually. He conducts professional development for educators, writes curricular resources, and speaks in international venues. He has created 5,000 videos, 750 lessons, 1,000 blog essays, a monthly podcast, and authored 8 books, including Spatial Thinking in Environmental Contexts, Interpreting Our World, Essentials of the Environment, Spatial Mathematics, Tribal GIS, International Perspectives on Teaching and Learning, and the GIS Guide to Public Domain Data. He writes for columns such as GeoInspirations for Directions Magazine, Esri GeoNet, and Spatial Reserves. But as a lifelong learner, he feels as though he’s just getting started and thus actively seeks mentors, partnerships, and collaborators.


Next Article

Can We Help Stop the Homeless Death Rate?

Read this article