Home Articles Introduction to GIS technology and its applications

Introduction to GIS technology and its applications


Dr Baqer Al-Ramadan
Assistant professor, City and regional department,
college of environmental design, king fahd university of petroleum and minerals,
dhahran, Kingdom of saudi arabia
[email protected]

The technology of GIS, which has evolved since late 1980’s, provides an efficient and computer-driven method of managing, manipulating, analyzing, and displaying huge volume of multi-layered geographic information. This paper starts with a background of this technology and its development history. The paper concludes with a set of recommendations for a successful implementation of this technology

Geographic Information Systems, or GIS for short, is “a system of hardware and software that supports the capture, management, manipulation, analysis, and display of Geographic Information.” Geographic Information is basically data that specify the exact location of geographic features, manmade or natural, as well as, their descriptive attributes. Geographic features could be, for example, manholes (point feature), roads (linear a feature), or land parcels (area feature). Associated descriptive attributes of such features could be: type of the manhole, the width of road, and the area of land parcel, respectively. Thus, Geographic Information consists of two data components: 1) Locational data that specify the exact location of the concerned feature(s), and 2) Descriptive attributes that describe them. In GIS, location of features can be specified through any spatial reference system such as the Cartesian x and y coordinate system or the global latitude and longitude system. In addition, GIS puts no limit on the number of geographic features and the number of descriptive fields that denote any geographic feature in its database.

GIS establishes and maintains an automated one to one link between any given feature location and its descriptive attributes. Though “GIS” title is the mostly used acronym to label this technology, nonetheless other alternative titles are also used to denote this technology. The most common titles that are found in GIS literature are Land Information Systems (LIS), Spatial Information Systems, Spatial Handling Information Systems, Geographically Referenced Information Systems, and Multipurpose Geographic Data System. Though the titles are different, however they all carry the same concept in terms of automating geographic information and linking them with their descriptive attributes.

Benefits of GIS
GIS has many benefits:

  • Integrating Geographic Information for display/analysis within framework of single consistent system
  • Allowing manipulation and display of geographical knowledge in new and exciting ways
  • Automating Geographic Information and transferring them from paper to digital format
  • Linking location and attributes of feature(s) within the framework of one system
  • Providing ability to manipulate and analyze Geographic Information in ways that are not possible manually
  • Automation of map making, production, and updating
  • Providing a unified database that can be accessed by more than one department or agency
  • Storing Geographic Information in continuous layers (Fig. 1)
  • Unifying scattered islands of information into a unified island of information (Fig. 2&3)


Fig. 1: GIS representation of real world in coinciding and continuous layers


Fig. 2: Scattered islands of locational data (layers of maps) and their descriptive attributes before implementing GIS


Fig. 3: A unified island of locational data (layers of maps) and their descriptive attributes after implementing GIS
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