Geographic Information System (GIS) Solutions

A geographic information system (GIS) allows users 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 is a computer system capable of capturing, storing, analyzing, and displaying geographically referenced information; that is, data identified according to location. GIS is a technological field that incorporates geographical features with tabular data in order to map and analyze/assess real-world problems.

The key word to this technology is Geography - this means that the data (or at least some proportion of the data) is spatial, in other words, data that is in some way referenced to locations on the earth. Coupled with this data is usually tabular data known as attribute data. Attribute data generally defined as additional information about each of the spatial features. A GIS is most often associated with a map. A map, however, is only one way to 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. The power of a GIS comes from the ability to relate different information in a spatial context and to reach a conclusion about this relationship. Most of the information we have about our world contains a location reference, placing that information at some point on the globe. This data can then be related to other data utilizing the location information. For example, when rainfall information is collected, it is important to know where the rainfall is located. This is done by using a location reference system, such as longitude and latitude, and perhaps elevation. Comparing the rainfall information with other information, such as the location of marshes across the landscape, may show that certain marshes receive little rainfall. This fact may indicate that these marshes are likely to dry up, and this inference can help us make the most appropriate decisions about how humans should interact with the marsh. A GIS, therefore, can reveal important new information that leads to better decision-making.

A GIS can be viewed in three ways:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.


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