What Is a GIS?

What Is a GIS?

Mobile positioning is only one aspect of providing location-based services. Having the location coordinates obviously is essential, but what is done with them is just as important. A Geographic Information System (GIS) is mapping software that relates the location information with other pertinent information to give it meaning and value. This is typically accomplished by providing multidimensional mapping of information such as building locations, street layouts, population densities, and a plethora of other information. A full GIS consists of hardware, software, data, and trained users who have knowledge of how to perform analysis on the information provided by the GIS.

A GIS is helpful for two primary purposes:

  • Finding a feature. This refers to supplying information on where something is or what something may be. This can include finding the closest restaurant or gas station or determining the best route to get to a certain location.

  • Finding patterns. This capability is very relevant for business analysis, and not necessarily only used from mobile devices. Businesses are often more interested in distribution of information rather than individual features. For example, when deciding on a location to hold a seminar, a salesperson may want to determine the area where the majority of his or her customers work.

Clearly, a GIS is useful for mobile applications, but it offers benefits that go well beyond what is required in a mobile environment. For example, using a GIS, users can decide what information is and is not relevant to them, and formulate their queries based on their personal criteria. Unlike a paper map, a GIS allows for in-depth analysis and problem solving that can make marketing, sales, and planning much more successful. The following are some common GIS uses:

  • Finding what is nearby. This is the most common use for mobile users. Given a specific location, The GIS finds institutions within a defined radius. This may include entertainment venues, medical facilities, restaurants, or gas stations. Users might also use the GIS to locate vendors that sell a specific item they want. This promotes m-commerce by matching buyers with sellers. The results can be provided using a map of the surrounding area or the destination addresses.

  • Routing information. This is another common use for mobile users. Once users have an idea of where they want to go, a GIS can help provide directions on how to get there. Once again, this can be provided graphically using a map or with step-by-step instructions. For mobile applications, it is often helpful to provide routing information in conjunction with search services.

  • Information alerts. Users may want to be notified when information that is relevant to them becomes available based on their location. For example, a commuter might want to know if he or she is entering a section of the highway that has traffic congestion, or a shopper might want to be notified if his or her favorite store is having a sale on a certain item.

  • Mapping densities. For business analysis, knowing population densities can be extremely useful. This allows users to find out where high concentrations of a certain population may be. Densities are typically mapped based on a standard area unit, such as hectares or square kilometers (or miles), making it easy to see distributions. Examples of density mapping may include the location of crime incidents for police to determine where additional patrolling is required, or of customers to help determine ideal field delivery routes.

  • Mapping quantities. People map quantities to find out where the most or least of a feature may be. This information could, for example, be used to determine where to locate a new business or service. For example, let's say you are interested in opening a laundromat: It would be prudent to determine how many other laundromats are in the area and what the population base is. This information could help you choose a location that would be receptive to your service. This type of mapping can also be useful for urban planning and environmental studies; for example for city planners who are trying to determine where to build more parks.

A GIS can provide information and insight to both mobile users and people at fixed locations. This information uses the location coordinates provided by one of the positioning technologies to give details that are relevant to the user at that specific moment. Many of the location-based services discussed earlier in this chapter would benefit from the information provided from a GIS.