Geographic Information System (GIS) Part- II

  • GIS is a technological field that incorporates geographical features with tabular data in order to map, analyze, and assess real-world problems.
  • The keyword for this technology is Geography – this means that some portion of the data is spatial. 

A Short History of GIS

  • One of the most famous early examples of spatial analysis can be traced back to London in the year 1854 when Dr. John Snow was able to predict the occurrence of a cholera outbreak 
  • Thanks to the study that Snow released, officials from the government were able to determine the cause of the disease; which was contaminated water from one of the major pumps. 
  • The map that Snow came up with was very interesting in that it had the capability of analyzing the phenomena relating to their geographical positions and this was the first time the world was witnessing this.
  • Photo zincography was developed in the earlier years of the 1900s and this enabled the maps to be divided into various layers as required. 
  • In the initial stages, the process of drawing these maps was lengthy since it involved freehand but this changed later on with the introduction of the computer.
  • The first GIS was created by Dr. Roger Tomlinson and then introduced in the early 1960s in Canada. 
  • During its inception, this system was mainly meant for collecting, storing and then analyzing the capability & potential which the land in the rural areas had.
  • Prior to this, mapping by the use of computers was being used for such cases but this is a method that had numerous limitations associated with it. 
  • By the end of the 80s period, the use of GIS had already become popular in other related fields which is why it led to a spur in the growth of the industrial sector. 
  • Recently, designers came up with open source software for GIS so that brilliant technology can be enhanced in a much simpler manner while being made available to all.

Components of GIS

  • The next step in understanding GIS is to look at each area and how they work together. 
  • These components are:
  • Hardware
  • Software
  • Data
  • People
  1. Hardware
  • Hardware comprises the equipment needed to support the many activities needed for geospatial analysis ranging from data collection to data analysis. 
  • For desktop GIS, the central piece of equipment is the workstation, which runs the GIS software and is the attachment point for ancillary equipment. 
  • The use of handheld field technology and mobile GIS is also becoming an important data collection tool in GIS. 
  • With the advent of web mapping, web servers have also become an important piece of equipment.
  1. Software
  • Different types of software are important.
  • Such software is essential for creating, editing and analyzing spatial and attributes data; therefore these packages contain a myriad of geospatial functions inherent to them. 
  • Extensions or add-ons are software that extends the capabilities of the GIS software package. 
  • There is also web GIS software that helps serve data and interactive maps through Internet browsers.
  1. Data
  • Data is the core of any GIS. 
  • There are two primary types of data that are used in GIS: vector and raster data
  • A geodatabase is a database that is in some way referenced to locations on the earth. 
  • Geodatabases are grouped into two different types:
  • vector and raster. 
  • Vector data is spatial data represented as points, lines and polygons.  
  • Raster data is cell-based data such as aerial imagery and digital elevation models.  
  • Coupled with this data is usually data known as attribute data.  
  • Attribute data generally defined as additional information about each spatial feature housed in tabular format.


  • Since its origin in the 1960s, GIS has been used in an ever-increasing range of applications, corroborating the widespread importance of location and aided by the continuing reduction in the barriers to adopting geospatial technology.
  • The perhaps hundreds of different uses of GIS can be classified in several ways:

1. Goal: 

  • the purpose of an application can be broadly classified as either scientific research or resource management
  • The purpose of research, defined as broadly as possible, is to discover new knowledge; this may be performed by someone who considers herself a scientist but may also be done by anyone who is trying to learn why the world appears to work the way it does. 
  • Management (sometimes called operational applications), also defined as broadly as possible, is the application of knowledge to make practical decisions on how to employ the resources one has control over to achieve one's goals. 
  • These resources could be time, capital, labour, equipment, land, mineral deposits, wildlife, and so on 

2. Decision level:

  •  Management applications have been further classified as strategic, tactical, operational, a common classification in business management.
  • Strategic tasks are long-term, visionary decisions about what goals one should have, such as whether a business should expand or not. 
  • Tactical tasks are medium-term decisions about how to achieve strategic goals, such as a national forest creating a grazing management plan. 
  • Operational decisions are concerned with the day-to-day tasks, such as a person finding the shortest route to a pizza restaurant.

3. Topic: 

4. Institution:

  •  GIS has been implemented in a variety of different kinds of institutions: government, business, non-profit organizations, as well as personal uses.
  • The latter has become increasingly prominent with the rise of location-enabled smartphones.

5. Lifespan: 

  • GIS implementations may be focused on a project or an enterprise.
  • Project GIS is focused on accomplishing a single task: 
  • data is gathered, analysis is performed, and results are produced separately from any other projects the person may perform, and the implementation is essentially transitory. 

6. Integration

  • Traditionally, most GIS applications were standalone, using specialized GIS software, specialized hardware, specialized data, and specialized professionals. 
  • Although these remain common to the present day, integrated applications have greatly increased, as geospatial technology was merged into broader enterprise applications, sharing IT infrastructure, databases, and software, often using enterprise integration platforms such as SAP

Implications of GIS in society:

  • With the popularization of GIS in decision making, scholars have begun to scrutinize the social and political implications of GIS.
  • GIS can also be misused to distort reality for individual and political gain
  1. In education
  • At the end of the 20th century, GIS began to be recognized as tools that could be used in the classroom
  • The benefits of GIS in education seem focused on developing spatial thinking, but there is not enough bibliography or statistical data to show the concrete scope of the use of GIS in education around the world, although the expansion has been faster in those countries where the curriculum mentions them.
  • GIS seem to provide many advantages in teaching geography because they allow for analyses based on real geographic data and also help raise many research questions from teachers and students in classrooms, as well as they contribute to improvement in learning by developing spatial and geographical thinking and, in many cases, student motivation.
  1. In local government
  • GIS is proven as an organization-wide, enterprise and enduring technology that continues to change how local government operates
  • Government agencies have adopted GIS technology as a method to better manage the following areas of a government organization:
  1. Economic Development departments use interactive GIS mapping tools, aggregated with other data along with a database of available commercial sites and buildings in order to attract investment and support existing business. 
  2. Public Safety operations such as Emergency Operations Centres, Fire Prevention, Police and Sheriff mobile technology and dispatch, and mapping weather risks.
  3. Parks and Recreation departments and their functions in asset inventory, land conservation, land management, and cemetery management.
  4. Public Works and Utilities, tracking water and stormwater drainage, electrical assets, engineering projects, and public transportation assets and trends.
  5. Fiber Network Management for interdepartmental network assets
  6. School analytical and demographic data, asset management, and improvement/expansion planning
  7. Public Administration for election data, property records, and zoning/management.

The topic covered in the blog pertains to UPSC papers on GS 1 Urban Planning and Essay type questions. Don’t forget to subscribe so that you never miss out on such important and interesting topics. Check out our previous blogs on various topics here.

Blog Post written by:
Anurag Trivedi
UPSC Mentor