16 February 2009

What is GIS?

What is GIS?

A geographic information system (GIS) integrates hardware, software, and data for capturing, managing, analyzing, and displaying all forms of geographically referenced information.

Geography Matters

Geography plays a role in nearly every decision we make. Choosing sites, targeting market segments, planning distribution networks, responding to emergencies, or redrawing country boundaries—all of these problems involve questions of geography.

GIS allows us to view, understand, question, interpret, and visualize data in many ways that reveal relationships, patterns, and trends in the form of maps, globes, reports, and charts.

A GIS helps you answer questions and solve problems by looking at your data in a way that is quickly understood and easily shared.

GIS technology can be integrated into any enterprise information system framework.

Three Views of a GIS

A GIS is most often associated with a map. A map, however, is only one way you can work with geographic data in a GIS, and only one type of product generated by a GIS. A GIS can provide a great deal more problem-solving capabilities than using a simple mapping program or adding data to an online mapping tool (creating a "mash-up").

A GIS can be viewed in three ways:

  1. The Database View: A GIS is a unique kind of database of the world—a geographic database (geodatabase). It is an "Information System for Geography." Fundamentally, a GIS is based on a structured database that describes the world in geographic terms. Learn more.

    Example of geodata showing tabular address data related to a street map.
  2. The Map View: A GIS is a set of intelligent maps and other views that show features and feature relationships on the earth's surface. Maps of the underlying geographic information can be constructed and used as "windows into the database" to support queries, analysis, and editing of the information. Learn more.

  3. The Model View: A GIS is a set of information transformation tools that derive new geographic datasets from existing datasets. These geoprocessing functions take information from existing datasets, apply analytic functions, and write results into new derived datasets. Learn more.

    Example of a model or process flow, with datasets, functions, and results.

By combining data and applying some analytic rules, you can create a model that helps answer the question you have posed. In the example below, GPS and GIS were used to accurately model the expected location and distribution of debris for the Space Shuttle Columbia, which broke up upon re-entry over eastern Texas on February 1, 2003. Learn more about this project.

Together, these three views are critical parts of an intelligent GIS and are used at varying levels in all GIS applications. Learn more about the technology.

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