Skip to main content


You are here:

Introduction to GIS

Geographic Information System (GIS) is the term applied to a system used to store and manipulate geographical or spatial data. With a huge range of applications, GIS software is used across disciplines and in increasingly innovative ways. Many companies are realizing the need to hire GIS specialists. For this reason GIS is a growing field, and a proficiency in GIS can offer lucrative career benefits.


A GIS is most often packaged as computer software which combines various tools to manipulate data and visual assets into an interactive geographic experience. Popular GIS software includes:

  • ArcGIS 
  • Grass 
  • QGIS 
  • Kalypso 

The most popular system for everyday use is Google Maps. This is a typical GIS in that the user can view satellite overlays, use search terms to query the database (e.g., “restaurant”) and filter the results using a specific search radius (e.g., within a ZIP code).


GIS software performs to its full potential when given as much data as possible. The GIS can take spatial data uploaded from a GPS or other remote tool and translate it into a digital elevation model (DEM), giving a three-dimensional representation of the landscape. Databases can be created in Microsoft Access or similar software with site descriptions, notes and coordinates. By telling the GIS which fields in the database contain the eastings and northings, it can display these points in relation to the DEM. This is useful to see how the distribution of points correlates with the natural landscape.

Raster images can also be uploaded to a GIS, enabling the user to superimpose maps onto a modern landscape. A recurring problem is that historic maps tend to have varying accuracy, and may need to be stretched to fit modern data. Some systems have the ability to convert raster data into vector, allowing better manipulation.


Used widely in the geological and hydropower industries, GIS is also used in nature conservation, archaeology and tourism. The ability to collate a large amount of data and filter results according to user queries is the core value of GIS.

Among other uses, GIS can map population density, statistics, historic change and patterns in the landscape. The applications of GIS are only limited by the user’s imagination and the data available.


Geographical analysis is a skill that is always in demand, and with leaps in technology GIS is fast becoming more affordable and attractive to businesses. With an ever-growing focus on customers’ needs, location-based services are finding it essential to track geospatial data. GIS is a complicated discipline with many specialisms, including programming, user experience, software design and marketing, making it a valuable and highly transferable skill.