Build and manage a GIS program

Successfully implementing and maintaining enterprise-class systems with GIS requires a programmatic approach. Rather than treating design and deployment as a project with a defined start and end date, a program focuses on defining and maintaining standards or processes and delivering coordinated value to the organization on an ongoing basis. There are five core facets of establishing and maintaining a successful GIS Program:

  • Business
  • Governance
  • Systems
  • Engagement
  • Capacity

To be successful, your GIS Program needs to adequately address each area, in a way and at a level of depth dictated by your business needs.

This section will provide further guidance on how to approach these areas and topics in pursuit of a successful program. For more information on successful GIS programs, see Esri’s The Path to Geospatial Excellence website.


A GIS program’s strategy should define how the organization will use GIS to achieve its goals and provide clear direction on how to make progress toward a desired future state. A business-oriented plan should accompany the strategy, aligning people, process, and technology that implements the strategy by addressing unmet business needs. Initially, organizations should prioritize projects and capabilities that can be delivered relatively easily and quickly and will deliver high business value. Over time, organizations can prioritize high-value opportunities that are harder to accomplish or require prerequisite activities. Both the strategy and plan need to be created and monitored with input from leadership across the organization - getting perspectives from the business as well as IT.  


A strong position on content and data governance provides your organization with a methodical, organized approach to evaluating opportunities to support the business against risk and available resources with key stakeholders. In this way, governance defines and controls how your organization’s GIS resources are allocated, designed, accessed, and used. See the content and data governance page for additional information.

From a people perspective, this includes addressing the required roles, skills, and responsibilities staff should have, as well as change management. For technology, this includes providing guidelines for how the system components and the underlying infrastructure should be designed and configured with regard to security, reliability, and performance, as well as system integration. Data governance should address data policies required to ensure reliable and appropriate access to accurate, authoritative data. 


Perhaps unsurprisingly, a GIS program needs to account for technology and data required to enable solutions and capabilities. This includes ensuring the necessary technology and data resources are available (products, licenses, users, data format, and so on) to the people who need them to do their jobs. Further, it requires consideration of the architecture and design of the technology and data to help ensure it meets business needs and user expectations. Make sure to apply technology and data best practices as appropriate for your needs. Use the Architecture pillars for reference. Equally important to good technology vision is alignment to organizational technology trends, guidance, policies, or investments. By aligning to existing projects, programs or use of software, your GIS program will have a higher chance of success.


Successful GIS programs require consistent stakeholder involvement across the organization. This includes communicating out to stakeholders, so they understand the value GIS currently delivers to the business, as well as working with them to identify opportunities to achieve greater ROI. Another focus of stakeholder engagement is to enable improved and streamlined collaboration across the organization. Finally, stakeholder engagement must include change management practices to guide individuals through the three phases of change. 


Appropriate skill sets are needed to design, implement, maintain, and use an enterprise geospatial system. Common required skills include GIS use and administration, architecture design, database administration, system administration and monitoring, application development, troubleshooting, and project management. When establishing a programmatic approach to GIS, take stock of the skills you have available today along with what skills need to be developed to address any unmet or emerging needs. Continuous workforce development helps to reduce long-term costs, streamline operations, improve staff retention, and achieve better results. When there are needs for supplemental staff and/or skills to accomplish urgent or short-term needs, consider outsourcing options such as Esri Professional Services and Esri’s expansive Business Partner network.