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?

6 Answers 6


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.


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."


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


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.


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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