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Geographic Information Systems 593
Geographic Information Systems 593

Geographic Information Systems 593

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  • Pages: 7 (3401 words)
  • Published: October 3, 2018
  • Type: Case Study
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The Application of Computer Technology

On the walls of caves near Lascaux, France, Cro-Magnon hunters drew pictures of the animals they hunted 35,000 years ago. Associated with the animal drawings is a map; track lines and tallies are thought to depict migration routes. These early records followed the two-element structure of modern geographic information systems: a graphic file linked to an attribute database.

The map has been in existence in much the same form for thousands of years. In the traditional form it suffers from a number of problems. Firstly, maps are static and therefore difficult and expensive to keep up to date. This leads to a second problem, in that because they are static they lose flexibility, for example, maps exist as discrete sheets and inevitably your area of interest lies on the corner of four adjacent sheets. In addition maps are often very complex and may require an expert to extract the particular data which are of interest.

Geographical Information Systems (GIS) can be regarded as the enhanced, high-tech equivalent to maps. An individual computer generated map contains information that is used in different ways by different individuals and organizations. It represents the means of locating ourselves in relation to the world around us. Maps are used in diverse applications; from locating telephone wires and gas mains under our streets, to displaying the extent of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.

From a management point of view, accurate and relevant information provides the key to effective decision making. In today's modern societies, decisions should be made quickly and based on reliable data and sound processes even though there are many differing viewpoints to consider and a large amount of


information to process. Nowadays, the impact of decisions is ever greater, often because they involve conflicts between society and individuals, or between development and preservation. Due to this, information should therefore be readily available to decision-makers.

Without doubt, during the past few years, the drastic increase in access to computers has altered our planning practices. Planners that specialize in the application of computer technology to planning and planning-related issues are concerned with ameliorating the crucial process of decision-making by providing up-to-date information and new methods for looking and analyzing physical, social, and economic data. In turn, Geographic Information Systems and other similar new technologies are constantly and constructively changing the way we view our physical environment, allowing planners to simultaneously study the physical, social, and economic composition of geographic areas based on such hi-tech maps.

The objective of this essay is to study and demonstrate the benefits offered by Geographic Information Systems, as a cost-effective managerial tool, to strategic planning and management within all industries. Before commencing, the following section provides a brief overview of the basic concepts and functions of a GIS.

Concepts & Functions of Geographic Information Systems

Even though numerous attempts have been made to determine the exact definition of a GIS, seldom to theorists directly relate it to the strategic issue of planning and management. Nevertheless, the following is a rather successful attempt of creating a full, well balanced and precise definition:

"A system of hardware, software, and procedures designed to support the capture, management

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manipulation, analysis, modeling and display of spatially-referenced data for solving complex planning and management problems." (NCGIA lecture by David Cowen, 1989).

A primary benefit of a GIS is that it integrates, in a generic manner, data and information that may be scattered throughout an organization, in different departments and on different documents. But it is the ability to integrate common database operations such as query and statistical analysis with the unique visualization and geographic analysis benefits offered by maps which distinguishes GIS from other information systems and makes it valuable to a wide range of public and private enterprises for explaining events, predicting outcomes, and planning strategies.

More importantly, GIS offers decision-makers at various levels the capability of integrated and coordinated planning, efficient coordination of construction, and development of preventative and routine maintenance programs on the basis of reliable data and long-range plans.

At senior management levels, GIS serves as an indispensable aid to policy definition and control of high priority and critical regions, and assists in decision making with respect to planning and development on different time horizons, and in the immediate, intermediate and long-range.

Generally speaking, a Geographic Information System links spatial information (CAD) to alphanumeric information (database) - to produce a geographically referenced database. GIS software allows the user to collect, edit, analyze, and display this information, which are stored in the following three ways:

  1.  Points: location of electric and telephone poles, fire hydrants, traffic lights?
  2.  Lines: data defined topologically in a network or linear, such as water pipelines, road centerlines, communication networks?.
  3.  Polygons: closed areas, each with its own distinct characteristics such as parcellation, land use, surface cover, structures?

A Geographic Information System can be divided into two basic types of data: graphic and non-graphic. Graphic data, which are digital descriptions of map features, are used by the GIS to generate a map or cartographic 'picture' on a display device, on paper or through other media. On the other hand, nongraphic or textual data are representations of the characteristics, qualities, or relationships of map features and geographic locations.

The following diagram illustrates the relationships of graphic elements to nongraphic data, which allows the creation of graphic software, a GIS, that integrates visual material with its appropriate data:

(Antenucci et al., Geographic Information Systems; A Guide to the Technology, USA, 1991, P.87)

In order to operate, the GIS depends on the integration of three aspects of computer technology, which are presented in the diagram below:

The database management is composed of graphic and nongraphic data, whereas the graphic capabilities involve routines that manipulate, display, and plot graphic representations of the data, and spatial analysis tools deal with algorithms and techniques that allow spatial analysis.

A GIS provides the facility to extract the different sets of information from a map (roads, settlements, vegetation, etc.) and use these as required. This provides great flexibility, allowing a paper map to be quickly produced which exactly meets the needs of the user. However, GIS goes further, because the data are stored on a computer, analysis and modeling become possible. One might, for instance, point at two buildings, ask the computer to describe each from an attached database (much more information than

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