Components of Geographic Information System Explained

Darius Mirdamadi | 11 August 2022

geographic information system

A geographic information system (GIS), just like any other complicated system, is made up of a variety of integral components, with each being necessary to the functioning of the whole. In the case of a GIS, the five central components are: software, hardware, data, method, and people. 

Similar to the other complicated technological systems that are so necessary for our modern culture and way of life, the lifeblood of a GIS is found in the cooperation of advanced technology (the hardware and software), and the groups and individual people who operate it (the people and their methods for organising and visualising the relevant data). 

In short, a GIS is a very complicated system with many moving parts that are necessary for performing its function. While such complicated systems can be hard to understand and operate, this high level of complexity is also necessary for the complicated tasks assigned to a GIS. 

Hardware

As is true in all technological fields, hardware refers to the physical computers and machines that run the programs and elements that actually make up a GIS. Today, there are a range of systems available.

While some GIS are desktop-based, others, like ArcGIS, are transitioning to a server-based system where information is stored on the cloud. While powerful and allowing a system to be significantly updated very quickly, cloud-based options require massive server stations.

It’s vital that any hardware used be robust and have future potential – modern technology moves only in the direction of faster and more powerful, so hardware must be able to keep up with heavy software patches in order to stay relevant. 

Software

Hardware is, of course, vitally important, but a GIS is only as effective and responsive as its software allows it to be. There are two relevant kinds of software in the world of GIS – freeware, which is readily available to anyone who wants to download it, and licensed, which requires that users “buy” the program by paying a licensing fee.

While freeware is perfectly adequate for an interested amateur, anyone requiring GIS for commercial purposes will need the power and capabilities of a fully developed licensed product. 

Data

If hardware and software are the foundational engine that all GIS is built upon, then raw data is the fuel the engine needs in order to run. Geographical data is collected from the real world by a combination of satellites, drones, field workers and surveyors, and SONAR-LIDAR technology and can be acquired either directly through a GIS, or simply purchased from another, already established one. 

Almost all geospatial data comes in one of two forms: 

  • Raster data refers to an image file that comes from a camera-enabled source (e.g. satellite imagery, images captured by drones). This information is used to generate a kind of visual backdrop to create maps with latitudinal, longitudinal, and topographic data. 
  • Vector data refers to discreet address points stored in x, y coordinate formats. Vector data exists in three forms – lines, points, and areas. 

People

Data is the raw “blood” of a GIS system, the thing that the system is built to track and display. However, the use of that data is limited by how powerful the software is, which in turn is affected by the capabilities of the hardware housing all the information. None of these elements can run, however without the supervision of humans! 

A good GIS requires a wide array of people with varied skill sets to run properly. On the technical side, a GIS requires specialists in geology, statistics, and information systems to set up the basic functioning of the system. Once in full swing, specialised GIS technicians and analysts are required to monitor and analyse the data produced by the GIS. And, of course, any kind of commercial GIS enterprise requires people with business expertise and experience directing projects and groups of people. 

Methods

Lastly, you need people in order to run any kind of large complex system, but to do so in a sustainable, economically viable way. Those people need overarching plans, goals, and methodologies to ensure consistent results.

Different businesses and GISs will have different goals, or will seek to serve different markets, and thus will tend to have different operation rules and philosophies. There are different quality management models, such as Six Sigma and Kaizen, but all systems should perform regular audits to avoid inconsistencies and to ensure that overarching plans are being carried out as intended. 

Trusting an Established Name

If there’s one lesson to be taken from this article, it’s that any GIS intended for commercial use is a hugely complex operation, requiring shared goals and methodologies across all five of the components that make it up. 

If your business depends on GIS services to operate, MGISS has you covered. Whether you want to optimise your current GIS to make it more cost-efficient or are looking to establish a new GIS from the ground up, our experts are available to help you get the most out of this complicated and vital technology.

Contact us today to find out how we can help your GIS better serve your needs and the needs of your company.


About

A qualified Geologist, Darius has significant expertise and knowledge of Geospatial technology integration, having spent many years training GNSS including in the gold mines of Armenia. With experience in sales support roles, Darius also supports large GIS-centric contracts in the Highways sector, utilising GIS in increasingly innovative ways to solve problems.