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Location Glossary Trends

You have a complete GIS system in your pocket and may not even know it!

A geographic information system (GIS) is any system that helps visualize, analyze and understand spatial data.

Without consciously recognizing it, we ask ourselves lots of location-related questions each day that could be solved by GIS. Questions like, “What’s the optimal route to get from home to the office?” or “How far am I from the closest bus stop?”

The mapping application on your smartphone could be called your very own “personal geographic information system.” For most of us, this is all the computing and analyzing power we need on an everyday basis to make location-based decisions, like which driving route or bus to take.

However for businesses and governments, which produce and collect vast amounts of spatial data, there are enterprise level GIS systems that are robust enough to help answer even more complex geographic questions like:

  • Where should we put the next subway station?
  • How can I optimize my package delivery routes?
  • What would be the best evacuation route in the case of an emergency?
  • What would be the impact of building a new supermarket on our other stores and competition?
  • Is this building in a flood zone and what premium should we charge for property insurance?
  • Can we identify which homes will be affected by maintenance work to the electricity network at this location?



GIS enables organizations to analyze their spatial data and recognize relationships, patterns and trends so they can make better business decisions. Spatial data is both geographic information, e.g. the location of a building on the physical earth, as well as other attributes like building height, building footprint or the date it was built. Other types of spatial data include GPS coordinates, road networks, traffic information, speed limits, counties, postal codes, census boundaries and sales territories.

Rich, accurate and detailed map content, like that from HERE, provides the foundation map layer of a geographic information system upon which other data layers can be overlaid and referenced.  In addition to the map data, key spatial processes are required to enable location based decision making. These services include geocoding, routing, and 3D modeling, which all can play a role in GIS analysis scenarios.

GIS used by businesses often include several different components, such as a database to store information and software to analyze spatial data.  These systems can be integrated into other enterprise platforms enabling organizations to spatially analyze many different aspects of their business.

Here’s a few visual examples of how businesses can use GIS.

Drive Time Analysis

This example shows the entire area reachable in a specified drive time from a given location. Deep blue represents a five minute drive, medium blue represents a 10 minute drive, and light blue is a 15 minute drive. This type of assessment is beneficial to grocery stores or other retailers looking to open a new location. It helps them understand where potential customers would be coming from and if the store would be in a convenient location.


Waypoint Sequencing

In this visualization, we see how GIS is used to calculate the best route that minimizes drive time to reach multiple stops. This type of analysis is used to calculate package delivery routes or for a salespeople who need to plan multiple customer visits.


Whether it’s helping a small business plan a new store location, a national park to manage roads for forest fire containment zones, or the analysis of animal habitats, GIS is an established methodology of assessing spatial data. In today’s “big data” world, it is an increasingly powerful tool for organizations of all sizes.

image credit (featured image): ESRI

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