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Demystifying Governance for Your GIS Web Portal Q&A

In this post, Julie Roebotham and Chris Macleod follow up on their April 17, 2024 webinar called “Demystifying Governance for Your GIS Web Portal”. This post will address your burning questions about how to actually implement governance within your organization’s GIS and provide resources for further investigation.

Governance can be a complicated subject, especially when your GIS interacts with other non-GIS systems and processes within your organization. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources to help you get started, including the webinar recording itself and our team of solution architects and strategic advisors here at Esri Canada.

How would you police or enforce the rules for data management and content management?

Julie: If something’s really not being followed, I think that’s a good reason to ask why. It could be that it adds too much work to somebody’s plate, or some other reason.

Chris: You’d probably address that through a combination of enforcement and interactive discussion. To start, you can use privileges to enforce rules. So for example, if you’re concerned about things being published to the organization or to the public by your users, then just restrict those privileges—put in a checkpoint. Or, for example, if you feel that governance isn’t being followed, you can have meetings with the publishers and go over the rules with them. Maybe you need to tweak your processes. It’s a combination of enforcement and encouragement.

Julie: You might also benefit from having some kind of community of practice or an oversight committee. One of our Esri Canada strategic advisors, Cameron Wallace, also recommends considering automation, reinforcing mutual understanding and peer mentorship, and, as a last resort, reaching through the chain of authority.

When do you know you’ve got governance right? How do you know it’s working?

Chris: It’ll never be perfect, but I think it helps if you set some benchmarks. For example, if you want to keep an eye on content—let’s say stale or redundant content—set some targets and use some reporting tools or scripts every six months or annually. Keep some metrics and observe those targets after you do your oversight.

Does the size of the user base influence the performance of a particular organizational model? For example, is it possible to apply a distributed model successfully in an ArcGIS Online organization with 1,500 to 2,000 users from about 20 different business areas?

Chris: Yes, absolutely. And there are organizations that do that successfully. But that’s why you need governance. It works both in ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Enterprise; you wouldn’t give publishing privileges to all 2,000, but you would have a select group. They would require training. There should be some coordination and responsibility, because if they have privileges, then they have responsibility over what they’re publishing. We’ve seen it work in many organizations.

Julie: It does require governance—and buy-in, too. Once you get to that size, too, it becomes someone’s job to keep on top of the governance.

Chris: Where it gets a little tricky is where there’s no concept of a departmental administrator in the portal. So if you want to distribute admin privileges to business areas, it means that those people with admin privileges can see everybody else’s data. Sometimes that’s not a desirable approach. Usually the administration is centralized, but the publishing is distributed—seems to work better.

Has Esri created any governance templates / guidelines?

To start, check out the governance page on Esri’s Path to GIS Success hub. If you don’t find what you need there, the GIS Strategy stream on Esri Canada’s Resource Hub contains a wealth of information about geospatial strategy more generally, including a primer on geospatial governance by Allen Williams, Matt Lewin’s geospatial governance framework and Julie Roebotham’s post on creating a seamless user experience through administrative governance.

For something more in-depth, we’ve developed an ArcGIS governance consulting package that will help you build a solid administrative foundation for your portal.

Are there any built-in tools for monitoring content, or can this only be done through third-party apps?

Chris: Try using the API and the ArcGIS Online Assistant for a start. These are built in and will allow you to monitor content, search for content to copy to your account and more.

Julie: There are some content monitoring tools built into Portal for ArcGIS—portal administrators have access to reports and dashboards that report on users and items within the org. Esri Canada can also create more customized views of usage metrics, although these require a professional services engagement.

What’s the most important thing that a large organization structured on a centralized model should be thinking about, when it comes to governance?

Chris: If you plan to remain centralized, that means all the load is on you. You need to ensure that you can adequately support the business.

If you have ambitious plans for your organization’s GIS function but need help implementing them, Esri Canada’s Advantage Program is right for you. Or, if you specifically want to start building a governance program, our governance consulting package is a great place to start.

About the Author

Julie Roebotham is the Advantage Program Practice Manager at Esri Canada and is based in the Halifax office. In her work helping customers implement GIS technology more effectively, her philosophy is to meet people where they are: to give GIS users and non-GIS users alike the skills and confidence to use their new tools, then celebrate their success. Her specialties include change management as well as governance program development and implementation.

Profile Photo of Julie Roebotham