Fishbeck is an all-in-one solutions provider with 14 regional offices and over 500 staff members in the Midwest – Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. Founded in 1965, they are one of the premier professional consulting firms in the nation. Engineering, environmental sciences, architecture, and construction management are the cornerstones of Fishbeck’s services and integrated project approach.
Fishbeck’s GIS team sits in the geospatial services department within Infrastructure Engineering. The team has 5 GIS specialists accessing and editing the ArcGIS Enterprise database along with 100+ portal users access 50+ web applications.
Fishbeck engaged ROK Technologies to architect a Cloud solution that would facilitate their core purpose: helping clients realize their visions while benefiting society. Fishbeck needed a Cloud solution that would not only help them with their mission, but also contribute to their integrated project approach.
Growing beyond our current processes and fast
With multiple offices across the country and an expanding GIS team, working from a single central file server created numerous challenges, including one-at-a-time edit access to the geodatabase. The GIS team had to create documentation and a process for who would get in, when they go in, and what they edited while in there. With over 50 ArcGIS reader users accessing GIS data, this process just was not sustainable. The Fishbeck GIS team needed a better way to manage and control who was editing what and when.
In addition to needing better internal user access management, Fishbeck also needed a better way to distribute their GIS data out to the masses in a more user-friendly way and from a centralized source. Caryn Ashbay, Senior GISP at Fishbeck explains, “there are so many applications for GIS that once you get it into people’s hands, they just want more and more. So instead of copying data across different areas on the network, everyone can just all go to the central source.”
Another problem began to surface for Fishbeck with ArcGIS Online. ArcGIS Online is great for getting simple, straightforward maps out, but maintaining and managing those maps across offices and editors is not so simple or straightforward. Jason Harris, ROK Technologies, CTO explains, “I’ve got data sitting on ArcGIS Online and I’ve got one person editing this geodatabase in this office; someone else trying to make a copy of the file database in another office; and field personnel are making edits; desktop in office people are making edits and and it quickly gets confusing on who has the “best” version of the data. Who’s got the most updated one? Do we need to merge these data edits together?” Fishbeck was republishing services constantly and that reconciling was time consuming. With hundreds of services, there had to be a more dynamic solution between the database and the services.
Caryn remembers, “I went to the user conference out in San Diego, talking to Esri people and a lot of it was over my head and I thought, we need help.”
The need for speed and expertise
Other departments within the Fishbeck organization already had cloud-based file servers, so Fishbeck’s IT department encouraged the GIS division to consider the cloud. While there was IT buy-in for moving to the cloud, the IT team didn’t fully understand the requirements and needs specific to GIS and the GIS team didn’t know what to look for when evaluating the cloud solution. As Caryn outlines, “it’s hard to take somebody who makes maps and expect them to know the IT side of running those servers.”
In many organizations, there exists a common challenge: a disconnect between the IT department and the GIS team. IT professionals often struggle to comprehend the intricacies of GIS, while GIS specialists may lack a comprehensive understanding of IT infrastructure. Fishbeck is not alone in this challenge, but they are unique in recognizing they needed outside help to address this gap and that’s where ROK Technologies stepped in.
ROK’s strength as a Managed Cloud Services Provider, lies in their deep expertise in enterprise GIS, coupled with their proficient IT team and Cloud experience. This combination allows ROK to effectively communicate the needs and requirements of GIS to the IT department. They facilitate a smooth dialogue by explaining why GIS requires specific servers and how the infrastructure will be safeguarded. ROK ensures that the IT team understands the importance of protecting GIS data, implementing robust backup systems, and ensuring data retention.
Moreover, ROK’s expertise extends to assisting the GIS professionals themselves. They empower the GIS team by providing them with the necessary knowledge and guidance to publish their services effectively. ROK recognizes that the success of a GIS project relies on the GIS specialists’ ability to navigate the intricacies of service publication. With their support and guidance, ROK equips the GIS team with the skills and understanding required to initiate and manage these services confidently.
ArcGIS Pro encouraged a change for the better
As part of the GIS team growth needs, Fishbeck was transitioning to ArcGIS Pro. ArcPro has higher hardware requirements compared to ArcGIS Online, so they need workstations that meet the necessary specifications. IT had to evaluate that everyone on the GIS team had the correct processing power, memory, graphics capabilities, and storage capacity to support the more resource-intensive operations of ArcGIS Pro. Also a dedicated GPU is also highly recommended by Esri for optimal performance, enhancing the user experience and improving graphics rendering, 3D visualization, and geoprocessing capabilities.
The question arose for Fishbeck – do we need to invest in high-end laptops for every ArcGIS Pro user, or is there a more efficient approach?
The Process: Timing is Everything
When it comes to migrating to the cloud, the process can sometimes feel overwhelming, especially for organizations with limited IT resources and IT GIS knowledge. However, Fishbeck found the transition a breeze by taking a crawl, walk, run approach. Also, by leveraging virtualized workstations, Fishbeck seamlessly moved its data and workflows to the cloud, experiencing numerous benefits along the way.
Fishbeck faced the challenge of connecting its users to data residing in the cloud. The traditional approach of acquiring high-end laptops for every ArcGIS Pro user seemed costly and unnecessary. ROK provided a game-changing solution by utilizing virtual desktop interfaces (VDI) to create powerful workspaces from existing servers. This approach enabled Fishbeck’s staff to access ArcMap and ArcGIS Pro using lightweight devices like Chromebooks, Macs, or affordable Windows laptops.
As Ms. Ashbay states, “no matter where people are, if they need to get into Enterprise geodatabase, they just jump on this virtual desktop interface. And they’re all collaborating in this one centralized workspace without the need of high-end PCs or the need of fancy VPNs.”
By leveraging virtual desktop interfaces, users can effortlessly collaborate on projects, regardless of geographical boundaries. The centralized workspace fosters collaboration and boosts productivity, as professionals can seamlessly access and work with the enterprise geodatabase from any location. This eliminates the need for physical presence in the office and streamlines teamwork across dispersed teams.
The deployment process was straightforward and efficient. Starting with just a couple of databases, Fishbeck gradually expanded its cloud presence over time. The COVID-19 pandemic expedited the transition, shifting the focus from a walk to a crawl-run approach.
Instantly the entire workforce was remote and everything was extremely slow. People couldn’t access ArcReader and ArcMap files over VPN. As Caryn explains, “for anyone outside of our headquarters where the servers are located, they would have quite a bit of lag time running long processing tools. The SQL process would take me 15 minutes, while the same process for our users at smaller satellite offices would take over an hour.”
The deployment involved setting up servers, performing upgrades, and migrating data seamlessly. The ROK team ensured a smooth process, allowing Fishbeck to quickly scale its operations to include 30 databases. With their databases now in the Cloud, Fishbeck’s GIS department was able to use Citrix VDI and stayed 100% productive during the early stages of the pandemic.
Continued growth with sustainable processes
Since migration the benefits of the Cloud have been remarkable. Fishbeck experienced improved collaboration, as different divisions within the company adopted ArcGIS Pro and leveraged the centralized cloud environment. Additionally, the implementation of ROK’s GIS connector solution enabled AutoCAD users to seamlessly access data from the portal, eliminating the need for manual shapefile exports. The company’s growth trajectory continued as it explored new collaborations, monitored server performance, expanded the portal, and created more web maps.
For AEC firms like Fishbeck and professionals like Caryn, this cloud-based solution has proven highly effective. It enables them to harness the power of ArcGIS Pro without compromising performance or incurring significant expenses. Additionally Fishbeck’s journey with ROK Technologies showcases the smooth and efficient Cloud deployment. By leveraging virtualized workstations and the expertise of ROK, Fishbeck experienced enhanced collaboration, cost savings, and streamlined workflows. The successful migration serves as an inspiration for other organizations looking to harness the power of the cloud and revolutionize their geospatial capabilities.
For those considering a similar migration, Fishbeck’s advice is to conduct thorough research and seek advice from knowledgeable peers and industry experts. Attending user conferences and engaging with Esri representatives can provide valuable insights. Learning from others’ experiences and taking the time to make informed decisions upfront will contribute to a successful cloud migration.