What is GIS (Geographic Information System)?

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Geographic information system (GIS) definition

GIS stands for geographic information system and refers to the processing of information related to space and time (i.e., spatiotemporal) here on Earth. It is commonly used on maps to show the relative location of objects, either as a snapshot or over time.

A GIS software solution is designed to record, collect, manipulate, analyze and interpret all types of spatial or geographical data.

Standards for processing GIS data are developed by an open consortium known as the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC). In addition to public domain GIS solutions, several commercial vendors provide GIS software to businesses, including ESRI and CARIS. Other companies offer geospatial software development kits (SDKs) that allow developers to build mapping solutions that can utilize GIS data.

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How does GIS work?

GIS uses data collected from sources such as satellite imagery, GPS, and other databases. This data includes spatial data, such as coordinates, and attribute data that describes more details of the spatial data. This includes characteristics such as points of interest, temperature, or population information.

Together this data can be manipulated and analyzed to gain more valuable insight. GIS software helps to visualize a space in a way that provides detailed information about it. This can be useful for urban planning, logistics, transportation, and public health.

For example, one application, detailed in a study published in BMC Public Health, is the use of GIS to help understand health issues resulting from natural disasters. Satellite data and detailed topography work together with information about the population, helping to create a more accurate simulation.

What is GIS used for?

GIS solutions help to represent spatial data from a GPS or other remote sensing device in easy to understand visual formats, often as data layers over topographic maps or satellite imagery.

GIS solutions are often used to map detailed city plans, plot utilities such as power and water lines, or track changes in population density and land uses over time.

The geographic data in a GIS solution helps organizations and individuals plan for new buildings, roads and services as conditions change in the real world.

What is the difference between GIS and GPS?

GIS is often confused with GPS. Though it operates in the same stratosphere, GIS is designed to analyze and store the types of data collected through GPS and other devices.

GIS applications work to store historical spatial location data and can then interface with near real-time GPS information to provide location-relevant feedback. A great example of this would be when setting up geofences (i.e., a record of a series of latitude and longitude points to determine a virtual perimeter) to alert fleet managers if a vehicle is moved offsite without their approval.

Who uses GIS mapping?

GIS data can be used within a telematics solution to provide additional insight when managing a mobile workforce, such as near real-time weather (considered raster data), or the location of built assets such as pipelines, substations or cabling (vector data).

Geospatial data can help fleet managers plan daily operations of their fleet, as well as assist with decision making around future changes to the business, like population modeling and land use. LIDAR information (i.e., fine grain spatial analysis data) will also likely come into play in fleet management in the future as it becomes a part of self-driving vehicle systems.

Frequently asked questions about GIS (Geographic Information Systems)

What is GIS software?

GIS software is a type of software that helps users analyze and visualize geographic and spatial data. This software provides users with an intuitive way to manipulate this data, for example, to browse maps and explore geographical locations in detail. GIS software can work together with devices like fleet dash cams to help with overall GPS asset tracking strategy.

There are different types of GIS software, and their features and functionality all serve to help different types of users. Some of the most basic GIS software simply offers visual data that can be used for navigation and reference, while more advanced software provides tools for users to process this data in different ways, such as geoprocessing and spatial analysis.

How do I buy GIS software?

Buying GIS software begins with identifying your needs. Different software is designed with different users in mind, so an application meant for simple map visualization may not be sufficient for more advanced uses that require more robust data analysis features. It can help to research different options available on the market and determine if their features will satisfy your requirements.

Many GIS applications include trial periods, so you can test the software out and give it a proper evaluation. After that, it’s important to consider whether the software will have a single user, or if multiple licenses will be required. Check to see if the software is compatible with your devices to ensure it will run smoothly.

Is GIS software simple to use?

Because there are different types of GIS software intended for different purposes and user bases, the ease of use can vary by application. Many consumer-facing GIS applications are focused on accessibility, so the user interfaces tend to be easier and more intuitive. This user-friendly software generally offers wider appeal and functionality meant to handle the most common user queries.

Complex desktop GIS software meant for professional use offers sophisticated features. This type of GIS software often allows users to perform actions that may be beyond what a standard user would need. This includes different tools for processing and analyzing GIS data. Some software is even open source, allowing advanced users to further configure it and add features more suited to their needs.

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