Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is a computer system for capturing, storing, analyzing and displaying spatial data. It combines data from different sources and can derive new data sets by applying spatial operations.

When GIS is mentioned, most people only think about mapping. It goes beyond that.

GIS is used in many industries to assist visualization of trends and patterns to better understand relationships between objects and their surroundings and model what if scenarios; making it a very useful tool for decision making.

The following are examples of different industries using GIS in making location based decisions.

Crime

Whenever a crime is reported, details like location, type of crime(burglary, rape, homicide), whether or not there was a victim present, gender, age of the victim are entered into the GIS database. This data is overlaid with other data (e.g land use, income level, population density) in crime mapping for a given area for visualization.

GIS goes beyond pin-mapping crimes. By Analyzing incidents in aggregate with other factors (socio-economic, reports of disorderly conduct), law enforcement agencies can identify hot spots as well as patterns and trends. This helps in resource allocation.

Urban Planning

GIS is used in urban planning as both analytical as well as a modeling tool. Its ability to pull together large amounts of data gives planners detailed perspectives on land and infrastructures. It can run a variety of queries and analyses on land data together with topographical, chemical and biological factors of the area and model ‘what if’ scenarios. This process helps in evaluating feasibility of proposed projects.

Environmental Impact Analysis

Set regulations for EIA vary from jurisdiction.

GIS is used for environmental data analysis by visualizing physical features and critical environmental factors such as steepness of slopes and vegetation and their relationships. Overlaying several data layers (vegetation, soil type, geology) can be used to produce map of area of interest and determine its suitability for a given project

This expedites the EIA process.

Disaster Management and Mitigation

GIS provides location intelligence and powerful visualization and analytical capabilities to improve planning, collaboration, communication and response time.

These maps are dynamic and are updated as terrain and conditions change. The maps are made accessible to citizens as part of agencies efforts to increase education and awareness of natural disasters.

GIS ability to quickly analyze data for response coordination helps in resource optimization by guiding where it’s needed most. Maps of current and projected damage can be created and shared by leaders, first responders and citizens.

Natural Resources Management

GIS, along with other technologies like Remote Sensing provide a platform through which management agencies can monitor and analyze conditions and characteristics of natural resources and their relationship with man-made features.

Through use of spatial and temporal maps, natural resources dynamics like extent of wildlife habitat, forestry/agricultural operations and increase/decrease of water bodies can be monitored.

Wildlife Tracking/Monitoring

GIS and other computer related technologies (remote sensing, radio telemetry and Global Positioning System) play an important role in tracking and monitoring these endangered species in the remote parts of the world to assist conservation efforts.

GPS-enabled collars fitted to animals record and store location data at predetermined intervals. The data may be stored in the devices and downloaded when the devices are recovered or can be directly transmitted to a base using satellite data relay. This data is then plotted on aerial imagery background to show movement of the animals over time.

Banking

Many of these institutions use GIS to quickly analyze financial and demographic data to map out key neighbourhoods when targeting potential customers. Gone are the days where decisions to consolidate branches or open new ones were solely based on spreadsheets and figures.

For example an aggregate account holder data can be used to determine areas with high concentrations of existing customers and areas not well served.

Asset Management

GIS provides spatial representation of organizations assets which enable managers to track their assets as well as all associated work orders.

With spatial visualization it’s possible to optimize routes thus reducing costs associated with travel times. It’s also possible to create heat maps to see areas of high demand in order to effectively adjust service technicians’ work allocations and better serve customers.

Conclusion

Former GIS Analyst in Oil and Gas industry turned Copywriter.