The Components of GIS Evolve

GIS Contributor


For years the Components of GIS have been the fundamental guidelines for geographers worldwide. Hardware, software, people, data, and procedures have been drilled into students in all universities and served as the basis for managers in planning and building a GIS.

While other occupations are aged, tested, and refined, the field of GIS is young and growing. In just a short time, the world has come to recognize GIS as a tool of unlimited potential. The new geographic tool has rejuvenated other professions that were once set in their ways. As a result, there has been a merger between GIS and other professions.

With any new partnership comes change. In the case of GIS, it is necessary to develop specialty knowledge in addition to the basic geographic concepts. The GIS technology is evolving as well. Users are no longer proficient in just one type of software.

Instead, GIS professionals are able to maneuver through several software packages and are fluent in at least one programming language. There is a vast amount of new data and the need for data management systems. Moreover, people who use GIS are finding new ways to portray the data and analyses to the end user.

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It is important, as the profession evolves, to redefine the most basic of its components. These components should describe or outline the foundation from which the entire field is built.

Proposed Six Components of GIS

Chart showingThe proposed components of GIS and definitions.
The proposed components of GIS and definitions.

The following are the proposed six components of GIS.

I: Core Geographic Ideas

Currently, people are one of the components of GIS. But what is it about people that make them a component? It is the knowledge that people carry that makes them important. In order to properly function as a GIS professional it is necessary to have at least a general knowledge of geography and GIS. This knowledge is the nucleus of the new components.

II: Technology

Software and hardware were thought to be separate components. Instead, they should be combined and placed in a group of technological necessities in today’s GIS. They are accompanied by system administration, database administration, programming, and GPS units.

GIS Software may include products from ESRI, MapInfo, Intergraph, AutoCAD, or GRASS. There are many other companies making GIS products as well. As GIS evolves, technicians and analysts are finding themselves using software from more than one maker. Gone are the days of being proficient in only one GIS application.

As the needs of interoperability rise and the popularity of open source software strengthens, so do the needs of GIS professionals to know programming and scripting languages. As more people use the Internet to share data, there is also a call for additional knowledge in web design programming. With the data comes the need for database administration and design using Oracle and SQL. And to bring it all together, the GIS professional must be able to perform basic hardware maintenance and have an understanding of networks and servers.

Collecting new, unique and specialized data has become an integral part of GIS. To do this, fieldwork is often required. GPS knowledge is essential in gathering new data along with surveying concepts and other forms of data collection.

This chart shows the components of current GIS and how they compared to the proposed components.
This chart shows the components of current GIS and how they compared to the proposed components.

III: Data

This component should not change. Data includes any information that is spatial or tabular that relates to geography and specialty fields. They may include parcels, crime statistics, or tornado paths. The greatest thing is that these data could be anything and everything. However, the quality and accuracy of data is important and should always be considered. Metadata, or the data about data, has proven to be very important as more data becomes available.

IV: Specialty Fields

The other half of the current component, people, is the knowledge professionals have acquired in fields other than geography. More than ever, there is a need for GIS users to be able to make specific queries and analyses that can only be conceptualized with a specialized knowledge base. With this merger of GIS and specialty fields, comes the ability to further understand the results from such queries and analyses. As a result, GIS Specialists are learning specialized and focused fields while people in specialized fields are learning to use GIS. For example, soon, it will be difficult for a professional who specialized in transportation GIS to transfer to forestry GIS without first obtaining the specialized training.

V: Procedures and Methods

This component does not need much modification with the exception that it binds GIS with the specialty fields. No longer can management focus solely on GIS, but must consider the plans, models, and organization of GIS and the specialty field. Managers need to describe new and unique ways to use the data and technology, and then present the results to the end user.

VI: GeoVisualization

A new and very important proposed component of GIS is the presentation of data to the end user. This representation of space and time can take the form of maps, graphs, charts, animations, and simulations. Visualizing aspects in 3D or using creative symbology gives users new perspectives and can enable a higher level of communication. The World Wide Web has created a forum for interactive mapping that allows for the user to request desired data without any influence from the author.

GeoVisualization in GIS is synonymous with influence, and how data is presented can impact decision making and planning. All data has a story to tell and can be manipulated in unethical ways. GeoVisualization, or communication, has become a vital component of GIS because of its ethical and influential roles.

About the Author

David Andes is the Director of GIS Services with AirPhotoUSA. Email:


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