What Is GIS?
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GIS— geographic information systems for better decisions through modeling and mapping our world


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at ESRI press

Mapping geography is one of humanity’s most ancient arts, but today it is on the cutting edge of information analysis. Technologically enabled maps created by GIS help people from many lands and occupations make better decisions for their communities. Whether business, government, education, or science, from the largest enterprise to the single worker, GIS offers boundless possibilities.

GIS is computer software that links geographic information (where things are) with descriptive information (what things are like). With a flat paper map “what you see is what you get,” but a GIS-generated map has many layers of information for many ways of thinking about a geographic space. For example, if you look at a store represented on a paper map, you see the name of the store and a point noting where it is located. However, if you view a GIS map on your computer, you can click on the same store and see its location, name, annual revenue, customer flow, square footage, product mix, quarterly sales, and the store manager’s name. You can even see a photo of the storefront and receive a virtual tour of the facility.

Many companies have a database management system in which day-to-day information is stored. If information has location attached to it, that information can be mapped. Using GIS, a business can unlock this spatial data and provide the perspective for the analysis needed to succeed. From the everyday business database GIS can represent:

• Customer profiles by location, demography, and purchasing power

• Sales success by product, site, and sales representative

• Site locations of stores, factories, and warehouses

• Asset location (e.g., utility poles, pipes, and cables)

• Resource locations of staff, products, and equipment

• Delivery routes by land, sea, and air

GIS can integrate georeferenced imagery as data layers or themes and link them to other data sets to produce geospatial representations of data. These geographical pictures not only depict topographical boundaries, but they also offer special insight to planners across disciplines such as health, agriculture, city management, natural resources, telecommunications, and transportation. Whatever people can imagine that needs mapping, GIS can help.

GIS also helps users anticipate future outcomes by depicting regression analysis for forecasting future events and processes. These studies may include drought repercussions on wildlife, dam influences on urban and agrarian economies, the spread of communicable disease, and the impacts of population growth on a township’s economic development. The ability of GIS to manage, correlate, predict, model, and share geographic information makes GIS an essential analytical tool.