More than simply providing cartographical information for navigational systems, the data collected by geographic information systems (GIS) can be applied in a variety of ways to provide decision support, marketing insight, and many other business and government applications.
Irvine Aitcheson, managing executive of Business Connexion's GIS Competency, says GIS has the potential to improve private and public sector decision-making and to advance the understanding of place in the social sciences.
He explains that GIS is a computer-based technology composed of hardware, software and data that is used to capture, display and analyse spatial information. "GIS technology is widely used around the world to create cost-effective and accurate solutions in an expanding range of applications," he says.
These applications are diverse and varied ranging from land use planning to tax assessment. Other applications include environmental analysis, management of natural resources, transportation and logistics planning, and emergency and dispatch services.
Aitcheson notes that the public sector is increasingly adopting GIS to improve performance and decision-making, while the business community simultaneously leverages public-sector-created geographic data. "The growth in applications for GIS is significant - there are many layers to the information that Business Connexion owns as a GIS specialist, which can be leveraged in multiple ways. For example, spatial data provides insight into living standards, which can be applied to deploy field workers appropriately. Transport companies can plan routes effectively. Geologists can more accurately search for minerals," he says.
He believes the applications of spatial data are limited only by the imagination of those using it. "The data we own is incredibly detailed, and can be applied in many ways. For example, we worked with a bank to identify ideal locations for ATMs and new branches. We also developed the new GIS system for the City of Johannesburg and are in the process of finalising the latest release of the Handymap handheld navigation system," says Aitcheson, citing some uses of such information.
Internationally, governments are among the biggest users of GIS technology. In the United States, the information is leveraged to reduce crime, enhance public safety, manage growth, improve accountability and protect the environment.
"The real potential of GIS is only beginning to be harnessed. This is a growing technology that runs far deeper than simple navigation systems. GIS can deliver profound insights for governments and businesses," says Aitcheson.
The sources of the information owned by Business Connexion are diverse and varied. The company continually gathers data from myriad sources to augment its database, which is leveraged to the benefit of its clients.
Giving a word of caution, Aitcheson says organisations looking to benefit from GIS information should ensure that they deal with a reputable data provider that actually owns the information it is supplying. "There have been cases where products have been developed using information provided, but ownership of that information has not been vested in the supplier. The consequences of this can be dire," he concludes.