What is GIS?

Geographic information is information that describes the locations of features on the Earth's surface. A geographic information system (GIS) is any system which displays geographic features with related tabular data to allow a user to organise, map and analyse data in a geographic or spatial way. A GIS therefore allows us to understand and interpret features in the real world in a way that would not be possible with tabular data alone. Typically, a GIS can analyse spatial data and visualise results in the form of maps, reports and charts.

Key components of GIS

Although GIS has become heavily associated with software, a successful system must have the right combination of software, hardware, data and skilled people to be successful.

GIS software can be delivered as desktop installation, from a free data viewer through to a high-end piece of software that will perform complex 3D modelling and spatial analysis. Most vendor specific GIS software suites are scalable allowing additional functionality to be added later. The nature of geographical information often means that large datasets are required and therefore appropriate hardware is required to support this processing.

Geographical data is core to a GIS system. Though data maybe created within a GIS, it is likely that third party datasets will be required to aid analysis and visualisation. There are two main types of GIS data. Vector data is spatial data represented as points, lines and areas which have associated tabular or ‘attribute’ data. Raster data is cell based data such as aerial imagery.

Essential to the GIS process is well-trained, knowledgeable and motivated people. GIS specialists will have gained knowledge through education, career path and training courses. Anyone who has experience of using tabular data and have an understanding of geography can be introduced to GIS through a process of consultancy, training and support.

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