What is it that makes Geographical Information Systems (GIS) so powerful? Why are there so many organizations asking their GIS divisions to join them at the table for meetings?
If you’re reading this, then you probably already know the answer. Though I am going to highlight it for those that may not be sure of the answers to these questions yet. First, let’s talk about some of the hurdles that GIS has had to overcome over the last few decades.
Honestly, GIS has not been easily understood by companies for many years. People would ask, “What is GIS for?” and you would hear simple answers like “mapping” or “geography”. Of course, it didn’t help that the name posed its own questions like, “What does geography have to do with information systems?” I say we solve this right now. Let’s just speak of GIS in basic terms to help everyone understand, what is GIS?
GIS provides a visual representation of complex spatial data.
That’s it. Simple yet direct and it really narrows down everything you need to know about what a GIS department can do. GIS is used to tell a story, transforming spatial data into visual guides so that others can understand the importance of exactly what is being communicated.
I have been learning all about cartography lately. Much like people didn’t understand GIS, I too didn’t understand that cartography was more than making maps. Cartography is the art and science of using a map to tell a story or answer a question about specific data. This sounds similar to simplifying GIS down to providing a visual representation of complex spatial data. It’s no surprise, considering GIS involves maps, that both deal with communicating information.
Now that we’ve investigated some misconceptions about GIS and I’ve taken you on a tour into cartography, let’s use this knowledge to answer the questions we started out with!
The power of GIS is why we are seeing business leaders rely more on their GIS teams for decision-making than ever before. GIS is about taking complex data sets and transforming them into understandable and usable information for companies to digest. We can even use GIS to cross-examine multiple data sets from other departments or historical data that’s been collected over years. This means that GIS creates a basis for companies to use when they need to determine the importance of complex spatial data for decision making.
Some might wonder, how is GIS different than what other departments do? It’s all about the data. Not all data is as readable as say a balance sheet, a product line card, or a list of product specs. Instead you could be working with historical spatial data like sales trends of a specific age-range, and growth of a city over the last 10 years. As an example, we can use GIS to correlate this complex spatial data and create a useful map that a company would need for predicting future store locations.
An important take away is that GIS is another method for interpreting your data. Companies request and build custom GIS solutions to understand these complex spatial data sets. It is part of the reason why GIS is growing so fast in the technology sector. More and more people are trying to understand their historical or big data sets and are finding that GIS is the answer. Take the time to speak with your own GIS department. If you don’t have one, then feel free to reach out to us. There is a good chance we have a custom GIS solution that would greatly benefit you or your business!