Location matters! GIS: more than just maps

Written by

18 November 2020

More than ever, geospatial knowledge is critical to get the insights you need from your data. Although maps are an important data source in GIS, and a way to visualize the results, GIS is about so much more. It is about understanding the dynamic relationships between big volumes of data. It is about being able to geographically track the process of your data measurements in the real world, and in real time. It is about algorithms, data, and models. It is about developing a new way of thinking – a “geospatial way of thinking”. In other words, GIS can help you understand why location matters for your specific business, ultimately helping you to manage your business more efficiently.



Uncovering relationships in your data and gaining insights


Rooted in the science of geography, a Geographic Information System (GIS) integrates many types of data. By using maps and 3D scenes, a GIS analyzes spatial location and organizes layers of information into visualizations. A GIS can use any type of information that includes a location component, allowing its users to compare locations of different objects and discover underlaying relationships and connections. For example, by using a GIS, a single map could be created including, on the one hand, sites that are causing pollution (such as factories), and, on the other hand, sites that are sensitive to this pollution (such as lands and rivers). Such a map would be helpful in terms of determining the risk factor of water supplies.

In addition, GIS technology sometimes allows its users to access more detailed information about specific areas on a map. If so, users can get more information about a specific location by just pointing to a single spot on the digital map – the additional information stored in the GIS about that location will then be displayed. This allows, for example, GIS uses to discover how many residents are there in a particular area, what are the facilities available in the area like restaurants, shops, schools etc.



Finding new data sources


Although maps can be great way to output spatial data, they may not be the best input. One of the most common quality issues related to spatial data is the accuracy of locational georeferencing. This is because maps, which are an important data source, represent reality at specific scales – the smaller the scale, the less accurate the location information, and the fewer features that can be represented. To overcome this issue, and thus improve data accuracy, alternative data sources are increasingly being used as input data for GIS. GPS, for example, can provide more accurate geographic referencing, while digital imagery represents a more objective (less interpreted) view on reality. While it is clear that wireless services are going to contribute to location knowledge in many communities, the way in which these communities will use that information, and whether they are already using GIS, will vary.



Developing a "geospatial" way of thinking


Although maps are an important source of data, and a way to visualize results, they are not an organizing principle of geospatial work. Geographic principles need to be applied to algorithms, which can happen in different types of models – whether it concerns analyzing societal behavior or performing a risk analysis, geospatial knowledge is often critical to get a good and clear understanding of the problem. Our way of thinking in terms of data representation is changing, putting “geospatial thinking” at the forefront in our point of view. Algorithms, data, models, etc. should easily be added to any analysis, even without using a GIS-centric system

We used to think in terms of layers of information, stacked and integrated, to form a map. Now, our perspective has changed towards a more “modelling reality” point of view, meaning that we focus more on the relationships between data, which are interrelated and dynamic. With time, and in order to fully integrate GIS into mainstream business applications, we will need to move away from the “map paradigm” that has been the basis of GIS for many years – automating maps has been the primary way in which spatial data have been handled traditionally in GIS. However, new tools are allowing to gather data with more precise locations. In addition, wireless technologies, the Global Positioning System (GPS), and the ability to handle big volumes of data allow to geographically track the process of whatever data that is being measured, whether it concerns stream flows or issued building permits, in the real world and in real time.



Discovering why location matters


Spatial data have been managed by companies for an awfully long time. Even long before GIS, spatial data where managed for intents and purposes like determining where to drill for oil or monitoring environmental change. It is crucial to understand that most things are spatially referenced – everything happens somewhere. Understanding how this “location component” matters in the conduct of your specific business will help you manage your business more efficiently.

As a leader in Spatial Intelligence, Avineon can assist you in that journey. We have been working with Esri for more than 20 years, offering a full suite of geospatial products and services to our clients in numerous industries, including electric, gas, water, and telecommunication utilities, as well as local, state, and federal government agencies. Our geospatial solutions, consist of data services (like data improvement and maintenance, data modelling, and database management), imagery services (like feature recognition, large-scale and satellite mapping, and land use land cover database production), 3D services (like 3D city modelling, photogrammetric services, photo interpretation, and Lidar classification), and a variety of technical specialties (like specification development, software development, project management, and training).