What Can You Do With GIS?

Caitlin Dempsey


As well has having significant application in the worlds of business and commerce and natural resources the largest pool of use for GIS is within the government, transportation and utilities sectors.  For government to provide services, it is important that they have adequate analysis of data in order to target scarce resources most effectively.

GIS 101
Basic Uses of GISGIS GlossaryTypes of GIS DataTypes of Error in GISWhat is Metadata?

Some key industry uses for GIS include;

  • Electoral services – recording and registering voters is a fundamental aspect of the one man one vote democratic process.  As well as organising the logistics of the democratic process GIS applications can be used to identify key areas where voter registrations seem to be underperforming.  Analysis also supports the political press in the stimulation of debate which maintains interest in the democratic process.
  • Government – government at the national, regional or local level makes significant use of GIS applications to plan services.  Increasingly the ability to update a profile rapidly offers government a chance to engage with local people in the planning process.  Computer models can be designed and taken into the community as part of consultation processes to give stakeholders an opportunity to see specifically how their thoughts and ideas may impact a given plan. Mapping applications can be used to engage with the population and to improve policy making through greater degrees of transparency.
  • Economic development – economic development is increasingly influenced by government policy.  GIS applications provide a detailed analysis of all the social, economic and topographical features that affect the economy of a given area.  They can then be used accurately to model how a local economy would be affected by policy implementations of differing types.
  • Urban and regional planning – urban and regional planning can benefit from GIS applications because they allow for greater transparency and stakeholder involvement in the planning process.  Spatial data are at the core of all planning processes and local, regional and national indicators can all be plotted to see the extent of their influence on local planning requirements.
  • Public works – public works departments plan transportation link and utility provisions across urban and rural areas.  Current provision can be modelled using GIS applications that can then be used to predict future requirements given population churn and growth.
  • Schools – GIS tools are important in the education sector for both planning purposes and as tools for delivering education itself.  Detailed analysis of population profiles can be recorded in geospatial GIS applications that can then model what education provision is currently, against what it will be in the future at given times.  In this way, educators will be able to not only locate new provision appropriately but they will also be able to judge more effectively what services are needed in those facilities.  GIS applications are also important tools for schools, colleges and universities to use to help students understand a wide variety of concepts relating to urban and non-urban life.
  • Public Health – public health services rely heavily on the outputs provided by GIS applications.  Socio-economic data can be modelled by a GIS app to profile health needs across local and regional communities.  This is an effective tool in determining how you locate health centres and exactly what services those health centres provide.
  • Surveying – the surveying function of any local government team is critical to the maintenance of roads, utilities and many public services.  A GIS application will allow the use of standard geospatial layers to ensure that local planning and execution of maintenance activities is effective.  Current software trends allow reporting from GIS applications to multiple data formats for use in the field.
  • Emergency and Disaster Management – these services are, by their very nature, more unique to a given location.  A GIS application will allow the addition of layers of physical data, perhaps about forestation and wind prevalence in order to predict the risk of forest fires or wind and tide to predict the occurrence of flooding, and with the data layered into an application can model what if scenarios to propose disaster avoidance mechanisms and to add real time data as a way of managing an unfolding disaster.
  • Law Enforcement – Modern societies require an effective law enforcement function and GIS technolg can make sure that decisions about the deployment of resources at a street level are made most effectively.  Techniques like hot spot analysis help law enforcement officials make informed decisions about where to allocate police assets in order to reduce crimes.  More: Crime mapping and analysis.
  • Gas – the gas industry is dependent upon GIS applications to manage the millions of miles of pipeline used to deliver gas to the consumer.  It is effectively used to manage risk profiles for pipelines and by doing so enables more rapid response to pipeline problems when they do occur.
  • Electricity – the electricity supply industry has two sections, generation and distribution and GIS applications effectively support both sides of the industry.  The generation side uses GIS apps to manage and predict short term supply requirements that enable demand to be constantly matched to supply.  The logistical side of ensuring infrastructure is managed effectively allows for planned maintenance to be scheduled and for potential trouble spots to be identified.
  • Roads and highways – the planning of new roads and the maintenance schedules of existing roads are both areas where GIS applications are used.  Designing new road networks requires a topographical analysis of the landscape as well as predicted movement patterns across local and regional levels.  GIS can also be used carry out considered impact analysis as part of the decision making process for developing new roads.

GIS applications have a mainstream presence now, across many industry types.

Further GIS 101 reading:

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.