GIS Technology: A World of Uses

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Storm tracking graphic

According to Esri, the company behind some of the most widely used Geographic Information System software, a GIS “lets us visualize, question, analyze, and interpret data to understand relationships, patterns, and trends” on the Earth. It goes far beyond the topographical mapping of its original application, to include real-time maps of everything from wetland rain patterns to the spread of a particular disease to underwater and outer space terrains.

A geographic information system works by mapping various data points that are fed into the system. This can include longitude, latitude, elevation, zip code, or even street-level addressing. With that data in place, the system can then add on layers of other already mapped data such as topographical features, waterways, roads, pipelines, population density, air pollution, destruction from a natural disaster, restaurant locations, or any other criteria that exists.

In addition to maps, GIS technology also allows geodatabase viewing. This consists of tables of data that can be altered as needed to deliver on different needs. Users can also get a model view of their information using software tools to pull from different datasets in order to create a multi-dimensional representation.

Organizations of all types can use geographic information systems to make better decisions, keep more accurate records, save money, and work more efficiently. Let’s look at a few examples:


GIS systems are used to manage traffic flow in real time, analyze areas for improvement, and plan for future needs. This type of data is vital to all types of transport – from highways to public transit and beyond. GIS technology is particularly vital to aviation in terms of managing flights, avoiding collisions, and gauging the impact of weather events on air transportation. You can visualize this on the simplest level when you see “flights in the air” maps on news programs.


It is estimated that up to 90 percent of a utility’s data is location bases, thus creating an ideal case for the use of GIS technology. From the perspective of water and wastewater utilities, this would include the locations of pipes, valves, pumps and meters, as well as their customers and work crews. GIS applications can be used to identify usage trends, track problem sites, schedule repairs, monitor runoff and water quality, and support modeling efforts for new and updated water systems.

Architecture, Engineering & Construction

There are a tremendous number of applications for GIS technology within the civil engineering discipline. One of the most valuable uses is for site analysis, in terms of mapping out various types of images and information. This data can include everything from aerial photos of the site to current traffic flow in the area, along with critical details on environmentally sensitive land and water features.

The addition of mobile and cloud-based GIS applications extends the use of geodata, maps, and models to workers who are out in the field or on a remote job site. This allows for real-time collaboration with home office teams, adding to the efficiency of project management of all kinds.