Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are an integration platform designed to capture, organise, manipulate, and analyse geographically referenced data. They are able to combine information of many kinds and from many data sources to understand the distributions and relationships of its components. GIS are generally seen as a reliable aid to management and decision-making due to their data management modularity and flexibility.
The amount of geographically referenced data is increasing fast and there is an increasing need to treat these data accordingly. Whenever problems have a spatial dimension, the adequate use of geographically referenced data is providing valuable insights for the decision-making process. The success of a given policy measure often depends on local circumstances and therefore it is of major importance to study geographic differences prior to the implementation of policies. GIS serve as a provider of valuable information, which can yield results to support the resolution of complex planning issues, land management problems or can supply both quantitative and qualitative data to complement analysis through other platforms and methodologies. GIS can generate useful maps, synthesizing various aspects of an area in reality with the objective to recognize the existence of spatial patterns about a phenomenon of interest for decision-making purposes.
Their most common applications are both the elaboration of maps and the ability to carry out a combined consultation of information. GIS can be used in engineering work, network planning, territorial management, maintenance and social impact services’ management, environmental impact assessment, inventories, automated mapping, 3D visualisations, planimetry, among others. Furthermore, GIS can be combined with other techniques such as computational simulation models to inform groups of stakeholders about the spatial consequences of their decisions.
The biggest challenge is generating and defining how to handle the data. On the one hand, the data could be acquired either from an external repository or directly collected within a specific timeframe. On the other hand, the data should be collected securely and, depending on the amount of data, it will require storage and processing equipment capable of facilitating management and integration in an efficient and stable way.
GIS analyses can be used in combination with other computational modelling techniques and whenever possible and useful for a project. Using GIS is not limited to projects with an obvious need, such as traffic flow analysis, but can also support socio-economic studies where stakeholders’ location might affect the access or use of a given service.