In Simplest Terms

The definition of GIS varies depending on specific applications, but generally it is described as a computer-based system with the ability to store, retrieve, modify, analyze, and represent geographic data as useful information. Click here to for a better understanding of GIS data layering.

In More Detail

A geographic information system GIS) is ca computer system that links geographically referenced information (where things are) with descriptive information (what things are like). With a flat paper map, “what you see is what you get,” but a GIS-generated map has many layers of information for many ways of thinking about a geographic space. For example, if you look at a store represented on a paper map, you see the name of the store and a point denoting where it is located. However, if you view a GIS map on your computer, you can click on the same store and see its location, name, annual revenue, customer flow, square footage, product mix, quarterly sales, and the store manager’s name. This is just one example of the data used in a GIS

A GIS allows us to view, understand, interpret, and visualize data in many ways that reveal relationships, patterns, and trends in the form of maps, globes, reports, and charts. It helps you answer questions and solve problems by looking at your data in a way that is quickly understood and easily shared. It is a true example of the phrase "a picture says a thousand words".

What is geographic data?

It's data connected to a physical location somewhere on the earth’s surface. You can acquire data from 3rd party vendors, download for free from government entities, or use your own internal data. Companies maintain databases full of geographic data they may not even be aware of such as:

  • Customers’ street addresses and postal codes
  • Sales product registration questionnaires
  • New applicant lifestyle information
  • Delivery routes and the addresses of stops along those routes

These pieces of geographic data are integral parts of your company’s data assets. Whether you maintain your store revenues, customer spending patterns, use of health care facilities, or sales force results in a data warehouse, in data marts, or in a relational database management system (RDBMS) such as Microsoft® SQL Server, you can take advantage of this geographic data to gain insight and make better business decisions.