What is GIS or Geographic Information Systems?

Have you ever heard of GIS technology? And have you noticed that maps are increasingly used to explain news of all kinds? These maps can also be highly interactive. This is not a whim, as the geographical context helps to better understand reality. If we add to this the technological acceleration that we have been experiencing for years, concepts such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are gaining in value. Do you know their basics and why they are so useful?

What is GIS or a Geographic Information System?

A Geographic Information System or GIS is a computerised tool for working with geolocalised information. Thanks to GIS, we can collect, store, process, visualise and generally manage such data.

As the spatial component is a very influential aspect in many types of activities and sectors, Geographic Information Systems stand out for their great versatility and capacity to adapt to different environments.

Composition of a GIS

A GIS is defined by 5 main elements, namely:

  • Equipment or hardware: this refers to the machine(s) on which the GIS works. These can be personal computers or servers, and can work in a network or individually.
  • Software: these solutions are responsible for providing the functionalities required for the Geographic Information System to carry out its work. Good GIS software should contain, as a minimum, components for:
    • The reception and processing of input data.
    • A system that allows you to manage your database, known as a DBMS (Database Management System).
    • Tools for searching, analysing and visualising geographic information.
    • A graphical interface that facilitates usability for all types of users.
  • Geographic data: this is the fuel for GIS. They can be self-generated or purchased from third parties.
  • Human resources: no matter how digitised the geospatial information is, it must be managed by professionals duly specialised in various disciplines. From surveyors and geographers to programmers, to name but a few.
  • Working methodology: these are the procedures that structure the functioning of the GIS. It adjusts to the way each company or user works.

How does GIS technology work?

A GIS functions as a geographic information database that is responsible for the collection, storage and analysis of geographic information. All of them, as well as the conclusions drawn, can be represented graphically on maps, with different thematic layers superimposed to facilitate understanding, as well as in graphs and tables.

Roughly speaking, we can say that a Geographic Information System or GIS works according to the following stages:

  1. Study of the problem to be tackled and design of a roadmap to address it.
  2. The different data that we have deemed necessary for the project we are working on are entered into the system. These data have been previously collected, as we will see below.
  3. Updating the geographical database, by geo-referencing new data and organising it.
  4. Analysis of the data and drawing valuable conclusions from it.
  5. Generation of a product based on these conclusions. A product whose characteristics will be adjusted to the customer’s needs and requirements.
what is GIS

What is GIS for?

If we take into account that 80% of all types of information have a spatial component, we can state categorically that a GIS can be used to optimise a large part of the processes of many types of companies and public administrations.

Therefore, geography plays a key role in informed decision making, with GIS being a reliable and cost-effective tool for analysing and sharing geolocated information in private companies, governments, government institutions, non-profit organisations and the general public.

Having information that is true to reality, updated and visually clear on a map helps to detect problems, trends and opportunities, as well as to draw up the best roadmaps to provide solutions to these scenarios and/or to take advantage of the different existing situations.

How is the information needed for a Geographic Information System collected?

A Geographic Information System without quality data is of little use. This is why it must be nourished by information, the more up-to-date it is and the more value it provides. To achieve this, various methodologies can be distinguished, which are discussed below.

One of the most traditional is by scanning and digitising maps and other physical documents. However, as technology has evolved, other forms of data reception have been developed.

On the other hand, we have the possibility of introducing topographic measurements directly into the GIS, as well as data from positioning systems, such as GPS.

Given the proliferation of sensors, cameras and scanners in different environments, such as Smart Cities, Geographic Information Systems also feed on the information measured by them.

Nor should we leave behind images taken in the air and from satellites.

How is geographic information represented

In the field of GIS, data visualisation is a fundamental part. It certainly makes it much easier to understand what is being represented. It also allows for a more detailed and contextualised analysis, combining different types of information by working with overlapping layers.

In a Geographic Information System, data can be represented in 2 basic formats: vector and raster:

  • Vector format: the geometry of the entities to be represented is defined on the basis of vectors This can be in the form of points, lines or polygons.
  • Raster or grid format: the information is represented graphically by means of grids. In other words, the space is divided into cells that are assigned a unique value.

The choice of one type of data or another will depend largely on the project we are working on and the conclusions we want to draw. A priori, the raster model is simpler to apply than the vector model. Even so, it will often be the best option.

GEOGRAMA - Geographic Information Systems

Who uses GIS?

Geographic Information Systems are applicable to a multitude of environments, public and private. With them, we have a deep understanding of the world around us. Many of these data are available to the general public.

As it is impossible to refer to all the uses of GIS, here are some of the most common ones:

  • Traffic management, both planning and decision making in real time. Data such as speed history, zonal density, flows and travel times are taken into account.
  • Urban planning. It allows detailed analysis of the growth of cities, the location of different services, the characteristics of the resident population by neighbourhood, etc.
  • Management of public transport services for a better user experience.
  • Socio-demographic studies of the population.
  • Establishment of marketing actions according to location. This allows for a more accurate placement of establishments or advertising facilities, as well as getting the message across to the target audience.
  • Consultation of land registry data.
  • Studies of environmental aspects, such as those related to pollution levels.
  • Improved roadside assistance, with more accurate location of incidents.
  • Optimisation of logistics and freight transport.
  • Design and maintenance of electrical networks, as well as assistance in defining the location of renewable energy installations.

To all this list of uses of Geographic Information Systems, we must add some very current applications in the current situation. They also collaborate intensively in the development of health care-oriented tools.

A clear example of the latter was seen during the de-escalation phases. Here, thanks to precise topographical measurements using techniques such as Mobile Mapping, the dimensions of the streets and their components are known in detail.

This makes it easier to ensure that safe distances can be maintained by pedestrianisation or other measures as appropriate. In addition, we can publish these measures so that they are accessible from anywhere. A very favourable alternative for the promotion of teleworking.

On the other hand, geographic solutions have also been developed to make life easier for citizens, such as “Calculate your kilometre”, developed by Geograma in collaboration with Carto. Through it, you can check how far you could move within a one kilometre radius, according to the rules set for de-escalation.

It is clear that Geographic Information Systems are on the rise. That is why we at Geograma are constantly working to make the most of its operation. In this way, we help companies, citizens and public administrations in their daily activities, contributing our grain of sand towards the advancement of society.

Think you can get even more value from your geospatial data with a GIS? Tell us about your situation and we will offer you alternatives. We are waiting for you!