This is hypothetical so don't ask for details:

I've heard of this GIS thing with computers and maps and stuff and it sounds like it might apply to this project I'm working on. Could you explain what it is in enough detail for me to decide if it's worth me spending time/money looking in to?

In short, I'm asking for a (long) elevator pitch on what GIS offers.

While the answers so far have said a few things that GIS does, nobody has given a picture of what GIS is that differentiates it, that makes it more than just a minor specialty in IT (like C++ or Python).

As a starting point, is the following wrong and if so how?

GIS uses computers to deal with and analyse multiple data sets that are interconnected/related by location information.

GIS can help answer questions like:

  • What is common to these locations?
  • Where do these conditions exist?

closed as too broad by PolyGeo Sep 27 '16 at 21:15

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • You should give us more details on the project, GIS has a wide range of applications. Give more focus on what you are looking for. – Furlong Nov 12 '10 at 15:46
  • @Furlong: This is hypothetical so there aren't any more details. – BCS Nov 12 '10 at 16:44
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    -1, Subjective question. GIS offers different pitches in different fields. So what field the project that you are working on are would give different answers to the question. Are we selling this to the CIO or the marketing department or the IT department. Is it a project to reduce employees (automate manual labor) or to gain competitive edge (making better decisions)? – MathiasWestin Nov 13 '10 at 13:23
  • Similar question here: gis.stackexchange.com/questions/1073/… – MathiasWestin Nov 13 '10 at 13:24
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    I wouldn't even open my mouth in an elevator let alone try and sell something if I didn't have a specific idea of what Bob is interested in and what I had to answer that interest. Doing so would be a sure fire way of demonstrating I have room only for my own interests in mind, a.k.a pushy salesman syndrome. You want to make sale, show you understand something about the problems your potential clients have. – matt wilkie Nov 16 '10 at 18:50

I would not compare GIS to a programming language.

A programming language is a tool that can be used to define your business process. "Perform these steps in this order, making some decisions as you go."

GIS is more abstract; rather than being a tool to define a process, it's an entire branch of tools and methods that manipulate data that have location.

If your business puts value on location, be it where your customers are, or moving items around in the world, then GIS can increase that value by generating more information about your data.

If you're going to compare it to something, compare it to data mining or algorithms - methods of improvement instead of just methods.

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    I think that's a good approach. – underdark Nov 13 '10 at 9:08
  • So GIS is a set of tools (and the skills to use them). I'd been trying to understand it as the reverse (tools to support skills). – BCS Nov 15 '10 at 14:58

From the ESRI website: http://www.esri.com/getting-started/executives/index.html

"GIS provides critical tools for success and efficiency. As an executive, you are presented with a high volume of complex data every day. GIS helps you

  • Organize your information and knowledge.
  • Make informed decisions.
  • Improve communication.
  • Increase efficiency.
  • Share your knowledge with others

GIS provides unparalleled tools to understand, question, interpret, and visualize data. Simply put, GIS technology gives executives cutting-edge technology to make more-informed decisions."

"GIS is a transforming technology allowing businesses to view and analyze data from a geographic perspective.

GIS integrates business strategy and organizes necessary information for your business needs as an executive. It can also utilize different systems to save valuable resources, visualize your organization's assets, and streamline workflow processes.

See how GIS can deliver business value across your organization."

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    replace GIS with X and "geographic perspective" with Y and that's more or less what every IT system every sold claims to do. What makes GIS different from them? – BCS Nov 12 '10 at 20:41
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    If you take the "geographic" out of "Geographic Information System", you simply end up with "some IT system". – underdark Nov 12 '10 at 21:16
  • @underdark: Why is the following statement a bad idea?: "Oh, it's just another program my IT guy can learn to do his job. In that case, I guess I don't need to hire you." – BCS Nov 13 '10 at 0:41
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    @bcs: if you have the need and your IT guy is willing and you are willing to invest the time required for your IT guy to become proficient...it's not a bad idea. I hired a bartender once as a GIS tech, and he's since made a nice career as a GIS professional. – Jay Cummins Nov 13 '10 at 3:30
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    @bcs: Sure your IT guy can learn it if he has the time and is interested. You just shouldn't expect good/quick results in the first year(s) ;) ... There is quite a lot to learn, but same is true for many other IT fields. If you don't expect that your IT guy learns how to use GIS tools in his free time, it will still be cheaper and definitely faster to hire me. Teaching your own IT guy is only an option if you have an "extra" IT guy who can spend time on the topic. – underdark Nov 13 '10 at 9:15

Although I think this is an OT question:

GIS is a tool just like any tools that will reduce your processes, enhance your overview of the problem, situation, and help you deal with the future. GIS is the tool to have for any business period.

The tool highly depends on good geographical data. It's one thing to have/own the software, but without proper data, the tool is useless

GIS could be used to explain existing situation, analyze (mathematically, geographically, and statistically) existing data and using the proper models and data, help you forecast future trends

  • The first three paragraphs give me no information (and GIS is clearly not useful to all businesses: e.g. how would it be useful to a company that develops data compressions ASIC designs?). If I'm not sure I need it and don't understand it, I'm not spending money on it: a.k.a. you just lost the (hypothetical) contract. – BCS Nov 12 '10 at 16:51
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    The question never mentioned anything about ASIC designs, and it's hard to gage the scope of the question. We really need to know what type of business you're doing, GIS is similar to Excel in terms that you get out of it as much as you put into it. The short answer is yes, it's useful, but until we know more specifics, we can't give you more specifics – dassouki Nov 12 '10 at 17:08
  • I chose the ASIC example as a counter example to your claim that GIS is useful to everyone. – BCS Nov 12 '10 at 20:38
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    IT's useful to ASIC designers in terms of the supply chain of parts and products linked to the demand and clinetel location – dassouki Nov 12 '10 at 22:32
  • For the specific people I'm thinking of, the supply chain question is "What distributer do we sell thought?". Ditto for the other question. – BCS Nov 13 '10 at 0:34

A Geographic Information System extends the abilities of an SQL database to include the spatial connections between different objects. As such, it is extremely useful for helping you to deploy your physical assets to areas that your company can serve. But it is indeed little more than an IT specialty that includes rules that are custom-made for handling geographic data.

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    I think "extends the abilities of an SQL database to include the spatial connections" is a far too limited description of what a GIS is. – underdark Nov 14 '10 at 10:32
  • @underdark: is it more correct than "GIS is IT."? If so than it is a better than average answer (so far). +1 – BCS Nov 15 '10 at 14:56
  • @underdark, I eagerly await your broader definition. – jvangeld Nov 16 '10 at 1:49
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    Wikipedia's definition is quite ok: "GIS is the merging of cartography, statistical analysis, and database technology." I'd maybe also add web technologies. – underdark Nov 16 '10 at 7:45

GISs are suites of software tools, which attempt to provide an answer to the question:

"How can we use technology to gain a better understanding of geospatially referenced data".

My definition is broad, but the possible applications for GISs are equally as wide-ranging.

In terms of a business context - a GIS can provide a way to take data and extract more value from it.

  • Quite often a GIS will translate geospatial data, to make the process of understanding a dataset easier, or more efficient;

    this process might involve finding suitable ways suitable ways to visualise the data (e.g. graphical display of GPS data used to track a fleet of taxis).

  • Sometimes geospatial data will be compared with other data sets to understand the data in new ways (e.g. understanding spread of contagious diseases vs. average family income).

  • In other cases the dataset will be used to help the user achieve specific tasks (e.g. route-finder)


Any data you have that has an address, or a zip code (not sure of the international term), a lat lon, a legal description, a state name, etc, etc. Can be reference and displayed on a map.

Most wow and sizzle in GIS comes from what is termed as "zoom/click". In other words "If it is on a map and you can manuever that map to get information {for YOUR need} that is GIS of the zoom/click variety" these are also called applications (applying mapping to your job/interest).

The hidden or not so public side of GIS is analysis. Many, Many questions can be answeered not in just the tabular method but with graphic, yes geo-graphic context. It can aid in understanding more about the questions asked and the results of the question.

GIS is everywhere, everywhere is GIS :-)

One of my favorite books is called "The Power of Maps"

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