A GIS can greatly improve the organization and management of data. GIS can also link databases together by common locational data. In other words, data can be collected once and then used many times. Different departments can benefit data that has been collected elsewhere. It is this data sharing component that is at the heart of GIS. Not only does data sharing save time and money for many departments and agencies, but it also assists people and companies far away gain access to data more easily.
The old adage better information leads to better decisions is true for GIS. A GIS is not just an automated decision making system but also a tool to query and analyze data in support of the decision making process. For example, GIS can be used to help reach a decision about the location of a proposed hiking trail that has minimal environmental impact, is located in a scenic area, is close to a parking site, and has a 50 yard buffer from any other houses or roads. The information can be efficiently and clearly put together in a GIS and presented in a map. It is much easier to make decisions when you can focus on the real issues rather than trying to understand the data. And because GIS products can be produced quickly, multiple scenarios can be evaluated effectively.
If your data has location attributes (latitude/longitude, address) then GIS can map it. Making maps with GIS is much more flexible and spatially accurate than traditional manual or automated cartography methods. Paper maps can still be translated into the GIS once they have been digitized. Digitized data is often called vector data. A GIS can also put together vector data with raster data, such as aerial photos, to produce a much more informative map.
Once you get your data collected and compiled into a GIS, you can then see the results of your work! Although, the most common visual format for GIS data are maps, there are many other options you can choose as well. You can use tables, graphs, shaded relief maps, 3D maps with cross-sections, highway maps...the possibilities are endless!
GIS is currently being used by numerous local government agencies for a wide variety of projects. Here are just a few examples of what GIS applications can be used for locally:
* Law Enforcement and Crime Analysis
* Transportation Routing and Logistics
* Updating Parcel Line work
* Emergency Services
* Urban and Regional Planning
* Planning and Zoning
* Economic Development
* Building Permits and Inspection
* Resource Management
* Public Utilities
* Administer Health, Welfare, and Educational Services