Information systems manage the storage and flow of data within a single computer, organisation, enterprise or the internet. In a Geographic Information System (GIS) each record of data is linked to a location on the earth’s surface. Not only can a geographic information systems manage the flow of geographic data, but it can also let you work with GPS data; help you find things at a location; and allows disparate data to be integrated based on location. Nevertheless the most obvious benefit is the ability to see data presented as a picture or map.
Simple everyday examples of geographic information systems are car navigation systems; the weather map on the TV news, Google Earth and Google Maps.
Mobile GIS are geographic information systems that run on mobile computers away from an office environment. They are typically location aware, that is, they use a global positioning systems (GPS) to actively determine the current location of the computer and operator. They may perform standalone without a connection to a database or they may connect wirelessly to a central information system. Most car navigation systems are examples of mobile GIS.
Why invest in a Geographic Information System?
There are four major reasons why organisations invest in geographic information systems.
The core reason is data visualisation; everyone knows a picture tells a thousand words, so if you can see your data drawn over the top of a map, aerial photograph or satellite image then you achieve a degree of instant recognition not achieved via text reports or tables. This visualisation leads to better understanding, reduced errors and increased productivity.
The second reason is data integration. Geographic information systems do not need a common identifier (such as tax file number, a person’s name or drivers licence number) to combine records from different sources. If a record in any database in any organisation is linked to a location then it can be linked to your own geographic data. What this means is that you can get land records from local government and link them to your asset records to determine which land owners are affected by a failure in a particular asset.
The third reason is geographic analysis. The power of GIS is its ability to perform analyses based on location. This allows you to combine data with different weightings, based on social, economic and environmental factors, to determine the ideal location for new infrastructure. Proximity analysis will find, for example, all assets within 2 kilometres of a road that is due for a major upgrade or; all land holdings crossed by a particular pipeline. Network analysis will find the shortest path through a pipe or road network and can determine which assets are affected by a valve closure.
The fourth reason is map production. Geographic Information Systems support map production using data stored in a database. These means that maps are dynamic rather than static graphics files. Any of the data characteristics of geo-referenced records can be displayed on the map. A colour code can be used to indicate the annual maintenance cost of an asset or the endangered status of a flora or fauna habitat. State map production agencies and cartographic agencies have been the traditional users of GIS.