GIS Defined

GIS is an acronym for a Geographic Information System. The classic textbook definition for GIS is "an integrated collection of computer hardware, software, data procedures and people working together to analyze spatial relationships and model spatial processes."

What is GIS?

A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a method to visualize, manipulate, analyze and display information that is tied to a spatial location.  This involves linking database tables to geographic features, producing intelligent "layers" that can be mapped using GIS software.

A whole new world opens for visualizing and analyzing spatial relationships by overlaying database-linked map layers. Here are just a few examples:

  • Businesses can use a GIS to locate suitable locations for a new building or to find the most efficient route for delivering goods and services.
  • Scientists can use a GIS to better understand complex relationships such as where habitats are most endangered.
  • Farmers can use a GIS to maximize the efficiency of crop production.

To learn more about GIS, visit




"Maps are a kind of language, a geospatial, visual language.

                                    - Jack Dangermond, president, ESRI



"GIS . . . allows data from two very different sciences to share a common language: the easily understood image of a map. A study of disease outbreaks, say, might be in one scientific ‘language’; the distribution of a certain kind of weather pattern might be in another ‘language’. Combined on a single map, the researcher can suddenly see how weather influences disease."
                                     - Michael Rogers
                                       The practical futurist: When maps go live.
                                                 NewsweekAugust 12, 2003.



GIS Glossary

To learn more about the technical language of GIS, visit ESRI's GIS Glossary website.