What is a GIS?


GIS is an acronym for Geographic Information Systems. The definition for a GIS is:

A GIS is a computer system capable of capturing, storing, analyzing, and displaying geographically referenced information; that is, data identified according to location. Practitioners also define a GIS as including the procedures, operating personnel, and spatial data that go into the system.

GIS utilizes geographically referenced data, which is brought into the GIS software as layers and displays as geographic features (points, lines and polygons) on the map.  Each layer represents a different type (theme) of data and each layer is linked to a corresponding geographic coordinate system such as Latitude/Longitude.

This means that the features that appear in each data layer knows where it is located on the earth‘s surface. When individual data layers are overlaid on one another every feature lines up with every corresponding feature from another data layer. So building foot-prints fall inside parcel boundaries, street center lines follow along parcel ROWs .etc.

GIS for a Municipality

The mission of municipal government is to provide the services necessary to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of its residents. This mission is met through the daily operations of many departments under the management of the government's administrative officer and the policy direction of the elected officials. The use of geographic information system (GIS) technology within municipal government during the past 30 years has clearly demonstrated that effective use of geospatial information is a critical element in fulfilling this mission. This is because addressing the varied combinations of factors that affect the health, safety, and other quality-of- life concerns of residents throughout the municipality is inherently based on geography or "location." Knowing and understanding the location and characteristics of the jurisdiction's population; natural and cultural resources; transportation, utilities, and other critical infrastructure; and the forces that may impact each of these are fundamental to managing the municipality's environment and the effective and efficient delivery of services to its residents.

GIS technology provides capabilities for visualizing and understanding what is going on in one or many locations by allowing the user to model resources, relationships, processes, dependencies, patterns, threats, and risks. These capabilities provide the ability to observe what is going on, measure an event or impact, analyze disparate data, develop plans, and ultimately decide on a course of action. The ability of GIS to integrate spatial and nonspatial data, as well as support analysis and process modeling, enables it to become a platform for the integration of the business processes of multiple departments, activities, and disciplines within the municipal government.

The better the information the municipality has about the public's diverse needs, the better it can manage and direct its own resources to provide value to its customers and be accountable to its citizens. In effect, the implementation of an enterprise GIS will provide the framework for the municipality to meet its diverse, yet critical, mission in a modern and integrated manner.

ESRI 2003