A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a computer based tool that has been designed to capture, manipulate, analyze and store spatial data obtained from earth. GIS employs the common database functions such querying and data analysis and combines this with the operations that relate to visualization and analysis that is provided for by maps. By being able to combine these two very important environments, GIS has effectively distinguished itself from all the other Information Systems and has been a preferred system for use by companies and governments to obtain valuable information that include predicting uncertain outcomes, planning of unknown events and creation of strategies based on predictable outcomes. There are also other evolving technology like drones, remote sensing, LIDAR and more which are directly linked to GIS.
In order to have a properly working GIS, there are five key elements that must be integrated.
The hardware is the first and most important element of GIS. This is basically the computer in which the Geographic Information System operates. Technological advancement has ensured that today’s GIS can run on any hardware type. This can be a desktop computer that is configured to a network or one that works as a standalone workstation. The hardware could also be a centralized computer server that is connected to other computers and acts as a distributer of communication to other connected computers.
Another key element of a GIS is the software. The software comprises of tools that enable the hardware to store, manage, analyze and present GIS data in a manner that can be understood by users. There are four main components of software that include tools for the input and manipulation of geographic information. This can be in form of a specific software package that has the capability to store and analyze the geographic information. The second software component is the database management system that is designed to store all the data related to the geographical information. The database also offers features such as querying that can define a data structure and present it in a desired format. Another component is the geographical user interface that allows users to access the information in a format that can be easily understood by the user.
Data is basically the most important element if a GIS. Without the data, the GIS is irrelevant. The geographical data can be obtained from several sources including internal sources within the organization or from external sources through purchasing. GIS is designed to use spatial data and integrate it with other data sources from any other database to come up with meaningful data that can then be used to make predictions or for strategic purposes. The software element of GIS comes in handy during the data analysis since the presentation of the spatial data is what makes the information usable.
People form the greatest part of a GIS system and without people the information is either irrelevant or unusable. The people in a GIS environment are spread across various platforms. There are people who collect the data and make it available for manipulation. Then there are technicians who operate the hardware and the software to ensure the data entered is meaningful and the information given out is relevant. At the end of the system are the end users who rely on the information provided by the GIS to make strategic decisions and make predictions to solve an existing or future problem.
Methods in GIS are the prescribed rules and plans that are followed by a particular organization to ensure the system remains relevant and its integrity maintained. Different organizations may have different methods of doing things and rules of operating the GIS. Methods require strict adherence if the GIS is to operate efficiently and with utmost integrity.
Geographic analysis and mapping are not a totally new subject but GIS has an edge over these other methods in the way that it performs the tasks. It is not only efficient with minimal errors but it is also fast and the information provided by a GIS is relevant to all and sundry.