WHAT IS GIS? Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

The mapping and data analysis technology that’s powering business decisions, supporting government operations, and quietly changing the world.

To make sense of the immense amount of data in today's world, we can map it.

When we visualize and analyze data on a map, hidden connections and insights emerge.

GIS gives us a deeper understanding of our world, guiding decisions and actions.

GIS is a unique problem-solving technology with remarkable impact. Play the video to learn from visionary leaders and technology professionals as they describe in their own words what GIS is, how it works, and why it matters.

FORMAL DEFINITION

Geographic information system, GIS (noun)

GIS is a technology that is used to create, manage, analyze, and map all types of data.

GIS connects data to a map, integrating location data (where things are) with all types of descriptive information (what things are like there). 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 benefits include improved communication, efficiency, management, and decision-making.

What does GIS do?

While mapping is fundamental, GIS does much more.

Previous
Next

How is GIS used?

GIS is embedded in the daily operations of virtually every industry. The following are just a few of the thousands of applications.

Choosing the right location

Make better decisions about business growth or service expansion. Know where your best customers are and discover where to find more of them. When selecting the ideal place for a new retail store, distribution hub, or fire station, GIS can bring together all the information important to your decision. Consider what’s nearby, travel times, population numbers, local demographics, site suitability, and competitor locations.

Finding the best route

Make logistics operations more efficient and adaptable. Reduce costs and emissions. Keep drivers safe and customers happy. Sophisticated GIS technology can handle complex routing and logistics scenarios, such as coordinating daily routes for a large fleet of delivery vehicles or managing a global supply chain in real time.

Keeping track of things

Get a better understanding of everything you manage. Respond to issues quickly. Plan preventative maintenance so things don’t break down. Roads, water pipes, streetlights, company vehicles—these are all things GIS can help you take care of throughout their life cycles. GIS tells you where things are and what condition they’re in.

Planning for the future

Make predictions and informed decisions that benefit both people and the planet. Model possible scenarios to address complex challenges like climate resilience and sustainability. GIS analysis can identify where adding green spaces would reduce extreme heat for the most vulnerable, or where expected population growth would support a business expansion.

Responding to emergencies

Protect people and save lives before, during, and after emergencies such as hurricanes, fires, and earthquakes. GIS helps responders understand what is happening right now, and where, so they can help where it’s needed most. Emergency management teams use GIS before and after emergencies for planning and recovery.

GIS is now more important then ever

The greatest challenges we face are inseparable from their geography. With GIS technology, we can unravel complex issues such as climate change, sustainability, and social inequity—and discover where to take action.

To create the future we all want to see, we will need GIS.

GIS and Esri

Esri builds ArcGIS, the world’s most powerful GIS software. Since 1969, Esri has been a pioneer in the field, continuously evolving and supporting organizations around the world as they use GIS to solve complex problems.

History of GIS
 Esri president Jack Dangermond speaking with Jane Goodall and E.O. Wilson on stage at the Esri User Conference

Get started

Find out how GIS technology applies in your industry. Read real success stories, explore GIS products and how to use them, or learn more about careers in GIS.

Start exploring
A young woman wearing glasses and a yellow shirt is holding a tablet while standing against a backdrop of trees, looking out into the distance. Alongside are colorful maps indicating what is on her tablet.