What is a GIS?

A Geographic Information System (GIS) is really exciting software which you may have used without realising it; Google Maps is a GIS. Behind (almost) every map is GIS software.

To understand what GIS is, just look at her little brother CAD (Computer Aided Design) software. It’s the type of software package that architects use. This type of software can create plan view drawings of a certain site. Or even a site in 3D (see Google SketchUp).

GIS is bigger.
Much bigger.

GIS can help the user find multiple locations across the globe and narrow down to a fixed location and examine it in detail, based on a range of criteria. The user can look at a map of anywhere (provided you have a good dataset) and examine it in great detail. Not only can the user look at the map, but they can use drawing tools directly on to the map, marking objects such as points (dots), lines (polylines) and areas (polygons).


Map showing GIS at work

1. Ordnance Survey Open Data with contours, water flow and woodland.
The boundary is in red. Co-ordinates match OS Explorer Maps.

Map showing GIS at work

2. Printed out as black and white for Ecologist to take with them on site visit.

Map showing how GIS works

3. The maps were digitised into GIS, which then supplies a table (like Excel) behind.
Both outputs can then be used for reports, land management, planning permission.

Attributes table showing how GIS works

4. Example of spreadsheet, with hedgerow lengths, field areas, lengths of
watercourses, species data (quantity) etc.

What can GIS do for me?

This is the best bit, not only can the user look at the map and make decisions on what the map looks like, but running behind is a spreadsheet. Just like Excel.

As a change is made on the map, so the spreadsheet changes. As a change is made in the spreadsheet, so the map changes.

This is the power of GIS. It helps the user extract information in the best format. Want a picture of your complex dataset? No problem! Want to compare one map to another? Download the dataset, use the figures to compare one map to the other, easy!

Want to do more like measuring hedgerows and fields? That is what GIS is good at.

Have some postcodes and want to see where they cluster? GIS can do that too.

As a cartographic design consultancy, we work with whichever GIS software platform provides the best solution to the problem and can advise on the best data collection method.

Give Caroline a call on 01326 337072, if you would like to find out more about what GIS can do for you.