What is GIS Software?

GIS, or graphic information system software, can help businesses in many ways. The label GIS applies to a large group of different type of software that can help different businesses in different ways. GIS software can be defined as any software used develop, analyze, manage, or view data from a digital map. As the industry ages, it is becoming increasingly specialized, with various software companies developing niche products to meet the specific needs of certain types of businesses.

GIS software falls under one of a few different categories. Typically, the end users will deal with what is termed Desktop GIS, which describes the software used to access and modify any GIS information the company possesses. This is also usually the point of entry for any new data. Those that are simply viewing and utilizing information would use a GIS Viewer, while those whose jobs were to analyze the data would use a GIS Analyst. To manipulate or change the data, the user would utilize a GIS Editor. Alternatively, new data may be collected using a Mobile GIS, which would see duty out in the field. End users also may access GIS data via the Internet or a corporate Intranet using what is referred to as a Web GIS Client. This may take the form of a thin client, which only enables the user to view the data, or a thick client which is much the same as a Desktop GIS application. An application that accesses this information over a corporate network may be referred to as a Server GIS as well.

Behind the scenes, companies may either maintain their own servers and databases to store and organize GIS data, utilize another company’s data, or possibly hire an external agent to manage their information. Spatial database management systems are the applications that store the data, though they also may have some functionality similar to a Desktop GIS or Web GIS Client. Web map Servers are used to distribute the data over the Internet as maps, and these may either be downloaded or viewed in a browser or other client. The Web map Server is what the Web GIS Client connects to in order to retrieve the requested data.

Also available are various specialized additions to the GIS software, termed Libraries or Extensions, that provide extra functionality that may not be necessary for every end user. In this way, businesses are not forced to pay for bloated and confusing software that does not actually do anything to serve their needs. Instead, they can opt to purchase a streamlined core product and whatever libraries they may need. Because additional features that would not be used are not even present, libraries, when used correctly, can also dramatically cut down on the time and costs of training employees to use the GIS software.

Any business that makes use of, or could make use of digital maps of any kind could benefit from the use of GIS software. Many businesses are already using something similar, but could see improved results with the use of specialized GIS software that is tailored to their company’s needs. With the use of libraries and extensions, future needs can be addressed when and if those needs arise, as opposed to a company spending money on software and training just in case those features are used in the future.