A geographic information system (GIS) is a computer system designed to capture, store, check, and display data signifying locations on Earth’s surface or any other type of data. GIS assembles this unrelated position data to give people and organizations insight into spatial patterns and relationships. GIS technology is an integral part of spatial data infrastructure, defined by the White House as “the technology, policies, standards, human resources, and related activities necessary to acquire, process, distribute, use, maintain, and preserve spatial data.” GIS can utilize any information pertaining to location; it can be in the form of latitude and longitude, address, ZIP code, or any other kind of location data.
GIS can be used to compare and contrast various types of information. They can include data about people, such as population, income, or education level, data about the landscape, such as the location of streams, varying kinds of vegetation and soil, as well as data regarding the sites of factories, farms, and schools, or storm drains, roads, and electric power lines. GIS links data to a map, connecting location data with descriptive information. This provides a foundation for mapping and analysis that is used in science and almost every industry. GIS helps users understand patterns, relationships, and geographic context. The use of GIS can result in improvements in communication, efficiency, management, and decision making.
Organizations in virtually every field and industry are employing GIS technology to create maps that communicate, perform analysis, share information, and solve complex problems. More specifically, GIS can identify problems, monitor change, manage and respond to events, perform forecasting, set priorities, and understand trends. The mapping of opioid prescription use is one example of a GIS application. Other applications of GIS include land management, watershed analysis, incident mapping, spatial measurement, transportation modeling, topographic analysis, facility management, logistics routing, and more.