Geographic information systems and geographic coordinates

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A geographic information system (GIS) is an information system that is designed to work with data referenced by spatial or geographic coordinates. In other words, a GIS is both a database system with specific capabilities for spatial referenced data, as well as a set of operations for working with the data.

The keyword used in the Geographic Information Systems is geography and by basic definition is the science that studies and describes the surface of the earth and its physical, biological, political, economic, and demographic characteristics and the complex interrelations among them, (, 2010). As applicable in GIS, it is the analysis of the data acquired for decision making.

The core of GISs is data and when describing geographic data, it can be identified as spatial. An example of spatial data is a location of a hospital and the detailed information of that hospital such as: the name, amount of wards, specialties makes it an attribute data and these data are what makes up a GIS. Furthermore, spatial data are featured by references that model the coordinates of the location on earth either by geographic coordinates, map projection or legal surveys description.

Geographic information systems compared to other information systems is diverse, reasons being that it focuses on data collection/ analysis and a very useful tool for decision making of organized data. There are few technologies that support GIS and are widely used, there are as follows:

  1. Remote Sensing
  2. Photogrammetric
  3. Cartography (Manual/ Automated)
  4. Positioning technology
  5. Geodesy/Surveying/Mapping
  6. Mobile Mapping

These technologies if observed has to do with mapping and over the years, the use of traditional mapping which was painstakingly created by hand had many disadvantages and this made it even less practical in decision making; one of major disadvantages was change i.e. any slight change required the creation of a new map. In the year 1971, GIS was introduced by Prof. Roger Tomlinson, it has been gladly accepted and used extensively through petroleum exploration to Urban Planning.

There is more to what GIS can provide such as a catalog company selling children's clothes would want to find ZIP Codes not only around their store, but those ZIP Codes with many young families with relatively high income. Or, public health officials might not only want to map physicians, but also map the numbers of physicians per 1,000 people in each census tract to see which areas are adequately served, and which are not, (, April 2010).

Firstly, I will need to explain my understanding of GIS and by doing that I will discuss the components and advantages of GIS then address the issue of the use of GIS in business. For a GIS to be operated it requires these five components active, and they include:

  1. Hardware
  2. Software
  3. Data
  4. People
  5. Methods

Hardware: The simplistic term used to illustrate hardware in GIS is a technological infrastructure that supports the GIS implementation. This infrastructure could be a central workstation which is very expensive or a centralized web server which requires a minimal investment. Both infrastructures require network technology and database connectivity.

Software: Geographic information needs to be stored, analyzed and displayed and that can only be done with GIS software. In categorization of geographic information, each software or software should be able to provide the stated objectives and this can only be done in subsystems and there are four types of subsystems which are:

Data input subsystem: allows the capture, collection and transformation of spatial data into digital form. The input of this data in this subsystem can be derived from aerial photographs, hard copy maps, remotely sensed images etc.

Data storage and retrieval subsystem: organizes the data (spatial and attribute) for quick retrieval and analysis. It also permits swift and precise updates to the database. In terms of data management, it uses database management systems for attribute data and proprietary file formats to maintain spatial data.

Data manipulation and analysis subsystem: is basically noted as the heart of GIS because it allows the execution and classification of spatial and attribute procedure to generate derived information.

Data Output subsystem: allows the user generate graphical displays usually maps and reports representing derived information products.

Data: The most important component in GIS is data and there are two types of data in GIS which were already stated: spatial and attribute data and this reflects to the traditional data found on a map. The spatial data can be stored digitally in three basic model types and they are:

  1. Vector
  2. Raster
  3. Image

Each of these models has its sequences in which they are stored in the database. The vector data as implied used vertices to define a linear segment. Each vertex consists of X&Y coordinates. There are two vector data storage patterns are usually used in GIS and they are:

Topologic data structure can be easily derived because it has spatial relationship between the geographic features.

Computer aided drafting (CAD) data structure listing of elements not features to define the geographic features.

For the raster data model, the geographic area is divided in cells identified by row and column. Most spatial data are captured in vector format it is hereby necessary the data be converted to raster data structure; this is called vector raster conversion. The use of raster data model allow for complicated arithmetical modeling processes while the vector data model is constrained by the capabilities of a relational database management system.

Image data is often represented by pictorial or graphical data i.e. orthophotos, plan documents, etc. It is usually used as a graphically attribute but it must be converted to a raster or perhaps vector to be used analytically with the GIS.

People: It required for every system that people be involved to manage and develop plans to which will be applied in the real world. This also includes the users who maintain the system and use it to perform their everyday work.

Methods: For a GIS to be effective it requires a well designed plan and business rules and for every organization it will be unique.

Advantages of GIS

  1. Power of Maps
  2. Making Better Decision
  3. Planning of projects
  4. Improving organizational integration


GIS is known as high-tech equivalent of a map or otherwise called mapping software. Making maps in GIS is whole lot flexible than traditional automated mapmaking approaches. Existing hard copy maps can be digitized and translated into GIS.


As the old adage quality information leads to quality decision well in GIS, it is true. Geographic information system is not just a tool that collects, analyzes data but also a tool that map data in support of the decision making process. It assists decision makers to focus on the real issue rather than trying to understand the data. Multiple scenarios can be evaluated effectively because GIS products can be produced swiftly.


One of the many advantage of GIS is the detailed planning of project having a large spatial component whereby the problem analysis is prerequisite at the start of the project. It empowers heritage site managers, allowing them to participate more fully in the planning and co-ordinating activities of their own site, and the actions of other government departments and agencies.


GIS facilitate interdepartmental information sharing and communication because it has the ability to links datasets together by geography, by using a shared database, one department can benefit from the other. This is one of the benefits that management of an organization, this way productivity is enhanced, redundancy is reduced.


Here I will discuss the synopsis of the implementation issues and requirements. I will focus on identifying the implementation planning issues and strategies that must be addressed for a successful GIS implementation.

Current Options and Software Assessment

Justification and Expectations

Implementation Issues

Current Options and Software Assessment:

Possibly the first question asked when learning GIS is what is the best GIS? And the answer is quite simple, there are no best GIS. When evaluating the functionality of GIS software it could be bias because one gets a different feedback from using one system or another. Comparing similar functions between systems is often confusing. Like any software, ultimately some do particular tasks better than others, and also some lack functionality compared to others. Due mostly to this diverse range of different architectures and the complex nature of spatial analysis no standard evaluation technique or method has been established to date (Derrick Williams, 2004).

Any GIS should be evaluated strictly in terms of the potential user's needs and requirements in consideration of their work procedures, production requirements, and organizational context, (Winchester, 2005). A logical and systematic approach as such is consistent with existing information systems (IS) planning methodologies and will ultimately provide a mechanism for a successful evaluation process.


GIS is a long term investment that matures over time. The turnaround for results may be longer term than initially expected. The realization of positive results and benefits will be not achieved overnight.

Even though the proper assessment of an appropriate GIS product requires a good understanding of user's needs, most often systems are acquired based on less than complete and biased evaluations. Nonetheless, even with the GIS in hand a properly structured and systematic implementation plan is required for a successful operation. Generally, a GIS implementation plan must address the following technical, financial, and institutional considerations:

  • System acquisition tactics and costs;
  • Data requirements and costs;
  • Database design;
  • Initial data loading requirements and costs;
  • System installation tactics, timetable, and costs;
  • System life cycle and replacement costs;
  • Day-to-day operating procedures and costs;
  • Staffing requirements and costs;
  • User training and costs; and
  • Application development and costs

Potential GIS buyers are unaware of the necessary investment required in hardware, software, training, supplies, and staffing. The cost of establishing a successful GIS operation is substantial. However, with realistic expectations and support the development of GIS within an organization that manipulates geographic data will almost certainly prove beneficial.

The longer term implications, such as hardware/software maintenance and replacement, should also be considered. The acquisition of GIS technology should not be done without seriously considering the way in which GIS will interact with the rest of the organization.


The mere presence of an implementation plan does not guarantee success. Most organizations do not have sufficient staff to cope with the commitment and extra work required when introducing a GIS to existing operations. GIS implementation must also consider all technology transfer processes.

Common Pitfalls

Several pitfalls exist that most often contribute to the failure of a GIS implementation strategy. These are identified below:

  • Failure to identify and involve all users in an operational GIS environment consisting of operations, management, and policy levels of the organization. All three levels should be considered when identifying the needs of your users.
  • Failure to match GIS capability and needs: A wide spectrum of GIS hardware and software choices currently exist. The buyer is presented with a significant challenge making the right choice. The right choice will be the GIS that provide the needed performance no more, no less for the minimum investment. The success of a GIS implementation is particularly sensitive to the right hardware and software choices.
  • Failure to identify total costs: The GIS acquisition cost is relatively easy to identify. However, it will represent a very small fraction of the total cost of implementing a GIS. Ongoing costs are substantial and include hardware and software maintenance, staffing, system administration, initial data loading, data updating, custom programming, and consulting fees.
  • Failure to conduct a pilot study: The GIS implementation plan concerns itself with the many technical and administrative issues and their related cost impacts. Three of the most crucial issues, are database design, data loading and maintenance, and day-to-day operations. The pilot study will allow to gather detailed observations, provided it is properly designed, to allow effective estimate the operational requirements.
  • Failure to consider technology transfer: Training and support for on-going learning, for in-house staff as well as new personnel, is essential for a successful implementation. Staff at the three levels should be educated with respect to the role of the GIS in the organization. Education and knowledge of the GIS can only be obtained through on-going learning exercises. Nothing can replace the investment of hands on time with a GIS.

A critical requirement for all GIS implementations is that adequate education and training is provided for operational staff, as well as realistic priorities are defined with which to learn and apply the technology. This is where a formal training curriculum is required to ensure that time is dedicated to learning the technology properly. Adding GIS activities to a staff member's responsibilities without establishing well defined milestones and providing adequate time and training mechanisms is prone to failure. A focused and properly trained operations staff that has consistent training will result in greatly reduced turnaround times for operations, and ensure consistency in quality of product.

The primary issue with implementing GIS is to achieve the threshold point of increased productivity in the shortest possible time frame. In other words, minimize the time in which a decrease in productivity occurs. Nonetheless, the significant investment in hardware/software, data, and training necessitates that a structured approach be utilized to achieve the threshold point in the shortest possible time frame.

A GIS acquisition based on well defined user needs and priorities is more likely to succeed than without. A major pitfall of most installations with GIS technology, e.g. particularly forestry companies and government agencies, is the lack of well defined user needs on which to base the GIS acquisition and implementation.


The internal success of the home-grown GIS system during the mid-90s created a growing enthusiasm and wave of demands by the business for more. More usability, more data integration, more analysis tools and less reliance upon a small number of highly skilled technical gurus.

The shift from self-build to off-the-shelf products was a conscious one made in the 1998-9 by Shell EP. Despite ESRI being the market leader, Shells evaluation process and decision to adopt their tools was still not taken lightly. Shells drive was to establish GIS in the mainstream, to be easily available on everyones desktop. The selection of GIS had to fit Shells global IT infrastructure - Microsoft NT and Oracle databases. GIS data inter-operability through a common database and application suite was essential.

The adoption of ESRIs product suite with ArcGIS as the main product fulfilled the requirements to fit into Shells mainstream IT infrastructure when coupled with data storage in a vendor independent database such as Oracle Spatial.


Shell has focused to implement ESRI software suite married closely to underlying databases. The quest has been to standardise GIS around the globe and improve utilisation of existing data to glean new insights through GIS. Despite struggles and tensions as we learn the new IT tools and skills to drive the deployment, there have been several notable successes which best depict the achievements made.

The unique Enterprise solution utilises Microsoft .Net, out-the-box ArcGIS and minimal ArcObjects customisation. Shells data is held in one Oracle Spatial database. Third Party data is managed external to Shell and hosted via the Internet to ensure an upto-date view of industry activities, removing the need to duplicate data management (and IT) services within Shell. The end-users utilise the system and information via thin-client Citrix hosted environment for global access within Shells global IT environment.

At a local level, and occasionally regional level, Shell has made some successful ArcIMS web gis mapping projects, aimed to publish critical geographic information of relevance to key user groups. Examples include environmental biodiversity monitoring and pipeline asset management. Some early experimentation and adoption of metadata has also resulted in the development of an IntraNet Geography Network. However all these projects were aimed predominantly at GIS-competent user groups to visual and search for data, which was performed outside the portal environment.

The Geo Information Plans Ahead GIS has rapidly become a global system within Shell, with local challenges becoming global challenges. The plans ahead focus on improving further the efficiency and effectiveness with which the business can make informed decisions based upon our geo-information assets. This will require quicker and smarter use of available geo-information, tools and expertise. For the short and medium term Shell EPs GIS efforts will concentrate on:

Globally integrating geographic data and documents. Harness information held within Shells corporate memory that is currently managed in library systems and non-graphic data repositories. Global library workflow processes must be altered and document classification taxonomy supplemented by geo-coding.End users will benefit by being able to carry out Google type queries on the Intranet to quickly mine relevant data also using the geographic component in the search engine.

Reducing and hopefully eliminate the need for data conversion (and individual preparation) between CAD and GIS to display, query and manipulate spatial and attribute data. With support of Vendors further streamline two-way data interface between CAD and GIS.

Sharing of GIS data between the various sub surface applications through a common format (e.g. ArcSDE) or connector such as OpenSpirit.

Improving efficiency of data sharing and GIS data manipulation/querying through wider adoption of web based services (ArcGIS Server, ArcIMS) on a global scale.

Implementing a corporate, global Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI), using ESRIs GIS technology, standardising data models and workflows across Shell. Publish yet more geographic information through the global SAP portal front-end.

Ensuring geo reference integrity within and between the various GIS enabled applications in use in Shell EP. Use certified coordinate conversion engines and globally accepted geodetic parameter databases, for example APSG/EPSG (Americas/European Petroleum Survey Group).

Recommendation for a successful GIS

The Implementation Plan

Implementation can be seen as a six phase process. They are:

Creating an awareness GIS needs to be sold within an organization. The education of staff is very important. Depending on the way in which GIS technology is being introduced to the organization the process for creating an awareness may differ. Technical workshops are often appropriate when a top-down approach exists, while management workshops are often more relevant when a bottoms-up approach exists. Education of the new technology should focus on identifying existing problems within an organization. These often help justify a GIS acquisition. They include :

Spatial information is poorly maintained or out of date;

Spatial data is not recorded or stored in a standard way;

Spatial data may not be defined in a consistent manner, e.g. different classifications for timber information;

Data is not shared between departments within an organization;

Data retrieval and manipulation capabilities are inadequate to meet existing needs; and

New demands are made on the organization that cannot be met with existing information systems.


The definition of system requirements is usually done in a user needs analysis. A user needs analysis identifies users of a system and all information products required by those users. Often a prioritization of the information products and the data requirements of those products is also undertaken. A proper user needs analysis is crucial to the successful evaluation of GIS software alternatives.

After user needs have been identified and prioritized they must be translated into functional requirements. Ideally, the functional requirements definition will result in a set of processing functions, system capabilities, and hardware requirements, e.g. data storage, performance. Experienced GIS consultants often play a major role in this phase.


Evaluating alternative hardware and software solutions is normally conducted in several stages. Initially a number of candidate systems are identified. Information to support this process is acquired through demonstrations, vendor literature, etc. A short listing of candidates normally occurs based on a low level assessment. This followed by a high level assessment based on the functional requirements identified in the previous phase. This often results in a rating matrix or template. The assessment should take into account production priorities and their appropriate functional translation. After systems have been evaluated based on functional requirements a short list is prepared for those vendors deemed suitable. A standard benchmark, as discussed earlier, is then used to determine the system of choice.


The proper justification of the chosen system requires consideration of several factors. Typically a cost-benefit analysis is undertaken to analyze the expected costs and benefits of acquiring a system. To proceed further with acquisition the GIS should provide considerable benefits over expected costs. It is important that the identification of intangible benefits also be considered.

The justification process should also include an evaluation of other requirements. These include data base development requirements, e.g. existing data versus new data needs and associated costs; technological needs, e.g. maintenance, training, and organizational requirements, e.g. new staff, reclassification of existing job descriptions for those staff who will use the GIS.


After the system, e.g. hardware, software, and data, is acquired the start up phase begins. This phase should include pilot projects. Pilot projects are a valuable means of assessing progress and identifying problems early, before significant resources have been wasted. Also, because of the costs associated with implementing a GIS it is often appropriate to generate some results quickly to appease management. First impressions are often long remembered.


The operational phase of a GIS implementation involves the on-going maintenance, application, and development of the GIS. The issue of responsibility for the system and liability is critical. It is important that appropriate security and transaction control mechanisms be in place to support the system. A systematic approach to system management, e.g. hardware, software, and data, is essential.