Geographic Information Systems
(GIS) is a computer-based tool used in a variety of industries
to map and analyze where things exist and events happen on
earth. GIS technology integrates common database operations
such as query and statistical analysis with the unique
visualization and geographic analysis benefits offered by
maps. These abilities distinguish GIS from other information
systems and make it valuable for use in a wide range of
applications for explaining events, predicting outcomes, and
GIS is a valuable tool for performing
information analysis, automated mapping and data integration.
There are many components necessary to make a GIS function
properly, including an organized collection of computer
hardware, software, geographic data, and personnel designed to
efficiently capture, store, update, manipulate, analyze, and
display all forms of geographically referenced information.
The common denominator in GIS is geography, or spatial
distribution and location (e.g., coordinates of an irrigation
well, an address of a house). Geographic information also
includes information about those features such as the capacity
of the irrigation well and the value of the house. It is
precisely this ability to link spatial location with
descriptive or attribute data that makes a GIS so powerful.
Essentially, any set of data that has a
spatial extent and is referenced with a geographic identifier-
such as an address, parcel ID, or latitude/longitude- can be
utilized in a GIS to answer questions and solve problems. A
GIS typically addresses questions and problems related to
location proximity, conditions, trends and patterns.
Additionally, a GIS can be used to
perform analytical operations to support decision-making
processes, such as site suitability analyses for future
landfills or soil erosion potential within a specific region.
A GIS can also answer "what if...?" questions based on
different scenarios and situations. A GIS can be used to
automate existing operations (e.g., map production and
maintenance), as well as provide enhanced capability to
analyze geographic information for decision-making purposes.
One of the most powerful features of a
GIS is its ability to simultaneously use multiple discrete
spatial data sets to answer questions that were previously
impossible to answer using conventional mapping methods. By
inputting spatial information into a GIS, we can query data
based on its location in the real world.When we link our
spatially referenced data to an existing database and query
based on a geographic identifier and attribute, we add another
dimension to our query, giving us results impossible to
acheive from a database alone.
When used as a result of proper planning
and attention to detail, a GIS allows the end user to make
better decisions quicker, and provides planners, engineers and
technicians with the ability to make sense out of data that
may otherwise be overlooked. A GIS combines the best of map
making with the best of database management, resulting in a
powerful combination of visual and computational analysis.