An introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
A geographical information system (GIS) is a system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyse, manage and present all types of geographical data. Coupled with this data is usually tabular data, known as attribute data, which can be defined as additional information about each of the spatial features.
An example of this would be a factory. The actual location of the factory is the spatial data. Additional information such as the name of the factory, products manufactured, and employee numbers would be attribute data.
GIS is more than just software. People and methods are combined with geospatial software and tools to enable spatial analysis, management of large datasets, and the display of information in a map/geographical form.
The methodology can be used as a tool in both problem solving and decision-making processes, as well as for the visualisation of data in a spatial environment.Geospatial data can be analysed to determine:
- The location of features, and their relationship to other features;
- Where the most and/or least of some feature exists;
- The density of a feature in a given space;
- What is happening inside an area of interest;
- What is happening near some feature; and
- How a specific area has changed over time – and why.
The 6 most popular GIS software solutions
1. TerraSync is designed for fast and efficient field GIS data collection and maintenance. Paired with a receiver and a field computer, it is a powerful system for the collection of high quality feature and position data for GIS update and maintenance.
The software makes the field data collection workflow seamless by including intelligent features such as map-centric operation, geographical status display, and the ability to record a position offset at the field worker’s fingertips. It is easy to incorporate data capture into the data collection workflow using a handheld device with an integrated camera.
To improve the field worker experience, the user interface can be simplified, removing functionality to ensure maximum field productivity and to eliminate potential configuration errors. This enables field workers to see the overview of a data form more clearly, avoiding confusion and guiding them through only required form sections, speeding up form completion without sacrificing accuracy.
The TerraSync software provides additional benefits for field workers involved in data maintenance activities. Assets can be viewed as a simple list, or on a colour-coded map with an aerial photo or satellite image in the background for reference. Fast map background redraw makes it possible to work with larger images in TerraSync, resulting in increased productivity and creating a more dynamic field worker experience.
The software supports post-processing of data back in the office or using real-time GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) corrections to improve data quality and accuracy.
2. QGIS is an open source GIS program that provides capabilities and tools to help visualise, manage, edit and analyse data and compose printable maps. The platform is free to use and can handle multiple database functionalities and formats. The system runs on multiple operating systems, like Mac, Windows, Linux and Android. The solution includes a number of core plug-ins and features that offer common GIS capabilities.
QGIS has a friendly GUI (Graphical User Interface) which helps explore spatial data and compose maps. Functionality includes a database manager, spatial bookmarks, a QGIS browser, annotation tools, an overview panel and a map composer. The extensible plug-in libraries and architecture make it easy to adapt the tool to a user’s specific needs.
The application enables users to create, manage, edit and export data in several formats. It also makes it easy to analyse spatial data in databases, and offers sampling, vector analysis, geoprocessing and geometry tools.
3. MapInfo Pro is a desktop GIS solution used for mapping and location analysis. The application allows users to visualise, analyse, edit, interpret, understand and export data, to reveal relationships, patterns and trends. MapInfo allows users to explore spatial data within a dataset, symbolise features and create maps. The solution is used in a variety of industries such as insurance, engineering, telecoms, marketing, retail, mineral exploration, and even law enforcement.
MapInfo Pro is a database which manages information as a series of tables. Each table is either a map file or a database file. The program creates a visual display of the data in the form of a map and/or table. Once data has been referenced, it is assigned an X and a Y coordinate so that the record can be displayed as objects on a map.
Objects can be enhanced to highlight specific variations on a theme through the creation of a thematic map. The basic data is overlaid with graphical styles to display information on a more sophisticated level.
Retrieval of information is conducted via data filters and query functions. Vector analysis is a primary function of MapInfo based on X, Y coordinates, and the user can create and edit data directly using a series of commands.
Data from the system can be embedded into applications like PowerPoint and Word using copy and paste commands.
4. BRIDGE is a cloud-based platform for online-to-offline marketing, which enables retailers and brands to set up and manage store locators, local store information pages, and online listings on Google My Business and Bing.
BRIDGE Store Locator can be integrated into any website, CMS (Content Management System) or e-commerce platform, and into a company’s Facebook page. Users can create a “where to buy” widget, store locator or dealer locator, with a range of themes and customisable templates included. Customer locations can be detected automatically, and customers can search for locations using customisable filters. Customer behaviour in the store locator can be tracked and monitored to identify possible improvements to the customer journey.
BRIDGE Local Pages enables users to showcase individual store locations and capture local SEO traffic. The content and design of pages can be customised to align with company branding, while sharing relevant, store-specific information and highlighting location-specific offers and promotions. Lead generation modules, including contact forms, product reservation forms, and quote requests can also be integrated into local pages to convert visitors into customers.
The platform allows users to manage information for all locations from a single dashboard, with locations geocoded for increased accuracy, using the exact latitude and longitude for each store location.
5. Geooco is a fleet management software solution that is designed to help companies operate their vehicle fleets effectively. It is regarded as an easy to use solution which helps increase productivity by reducing speed related accidents, maintenance costs and fuel expenses. The platform uses the benefit of combining GPS satellites, Wireless, Web and Google Maps’ technology for the advantage of a business.
The GPS flee tracking helps users save up to 8 gallons of fuel in a month per vehicle. Users can track vehicles using speed checks, harsh braking alerts and idle time monitoring in order to improve driver behaviour and reduce unauthorised and out of hours vehicle usage. The tracking facility allows managers to plot the best route between jobs, to improve scheduling and optimise resource planning.
The automatic scheduled maintenance feature helps companies plan and schedule essential vehicle maintenance, reducing the need for expensive emergency repairs, improving business profitability and ROI.
6. Rosmiman is a fleet management tool which is designed to help companies manage their vehicles and perform associated logistics with the goal of improving efficiency, quality and security. It is part of a larger suite of products developed by Rosmiman. Key features include vehicle inventory, fleet management, and corrective and preventative maintenance.
The platform treats each vehicle individually and gives users the opportunity to customise operative and maintenance cost indicators to suit a company’s administrative structure and internal system of vehicle metrics.
The vehicle inventory functionality makes it easy to create data for each vehicle, and group it into a functional subsystem, allowing companies to optimise inspection, maintenance and certification policies. The corrective and preventive maintenance feature allows users to schedule and organise all maintenance activities from a single interface. It also creates and registers measurement points which help in keeping an updated maintenance history for each vehicle. This ensures all vehicles work optimally, thereby reducing fuel consumption and other related expenses to boost productivity.
Choosing the best GIS Software Solution
Whilst there are many GIS software solutions available in the market, it is important to realise that whilst some are general purpose in nature, others are more specific and designed with particular industries in mind – such as vehicle fleet management or retail. Therefore, it is important to define needs and requirements in advance and select the possible solutions that best match them.
Having shortlisted a few programs, then read online reviews, arrange for free trials and product demos and compare prices, maintenance and support options, as well as integration with existing applications and company systems.
Types of GIS Software
GIS software can be categorised into the following broad types:
- Business mapping;
- CAD (Computer-Aided Design) GIS;
- General Purpose;
- GIS complements;
- Open source; and
GIS software helps to visualise spatial and geographical data, and enables users to create easy to understand charts and graphs. It is typically used by government agencies, land use planners, health organisations, environmental scientists, and research institutions, as well as in a host of industries – retail, fleet management, telecoms ad mineral exploration, to name but a few.