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What are geographic information systems (GIS)?

Wade Anderson, Former SVP of SMB - Aug 7, 2019 11:00:00 AM

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For decades, organizations have been using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to analyze spatial data using 3D visualizations and maps. These systems help us explain trends and patterns in our world that have a spatial component to them.

For example, atmospheric scientists might use GIS to see how climate change is affecting our planet. Civil engineers can analyze traffic patterns in fast-growing cities and epidemiologists can study how diseases spread throughout certain regions.

Overall, there are countless ways that we can use GIS to engage with data at a deeper level and uncover insights that would otherwise go unnoticed.

In this article, we explain how Geographic Information Systems work and describe why they are useful for so many different kinds of organizations.

How do geographic information systems work?

GIS allows users to layer geographic data on top of digital maps and other 3D landscapes.

GIS maps can span very narrow geographic regions or cover multiple continents. Many GIS platforms offer large portfolios of base map styles that users can choose when they first begin a project.

Below are several examples of base map styles:

  • Terrain base map: depicts terrain features, including mountains, rivers, and vegetation
  • Road base map: depicts roads of any type, including major highways and city streets
  • Ocean base map: depicts hydrographic information, such as seamounts and plateaus

Choosing the right base map is critical for GIS analyses

When combined with spatial data, GIS maps become incredibly useful for a variety of applications. Users can add many different types of data layers on top of their base maps and manage which features are displayed at any given time.

Below are a few examples of commonly used data layers:

  • Imagery data: up-to-date, high-resolution imagery of world environments
  • Boundary data: area boundaries, including country, state, and county lines
  • Demographic data: socio-economic information, including household income and size

Modern GIS platforms are flexible and powerful, enabling organizations to use them towards very different end goals.

For example, meteorologists may want to create maps of weather patterns that do not include any visible man-made structures (e.g. roads, buildings, etc.). In this case, they would likely choose a terrain base map and apply a meteorological data layer on top.

Public health agencies may want to create visualizations that include roads and buildings in order to understand how illnesses may be spreading throughout an area. They could find an imagery base map of their target city and add an epidemiological data layer that showed where disease instances occurred.

Users can add many data layers to their base maps in order to see how different spatial variables may be related.

Why use GIS?

GIS offers several advantages over traditional business intelligence platforms.

Being able to visualize spatial data gives organizations a clearer perspective on how we may be impacted by the world around us. For instance, a table showing annual rainfall for various cities with their latitude and longitudinal coordinates wouldn’t be nearly as effective as seeing those cities on a map that showed their relative locations to other geographic features.

GIS users can also see how trends change over time. With GIS, it is easy to create multiple visualizations of a data set that can be combined to tell a compelling story about how spatial data is evolving. This enables users to create high-quality forecasting models that can then be used in future decision-making.

Sophisticated GIS platforms also allow users to run analyses on their data in order to quantify patterns and make mathematical conclusions. Analysts can easily build interactive charts and create calculations based on imported data layers.

For these reasons, GIS is especially valuable for fiber network operators.

Combining GIS with powerful fiber network management software

OSPInsight allows fiber network managers to integrate their existing GIS with network data. Our platform is GIS-enabled, meaning network engineers can easily integrate their fiber data with an existing GIS platform.

To learn more about how you can optimize fiber network management with OSPInsight and GIS, contact our team today.