A Geographic Information System, or GIS, is an organized collection of computer hardware, software, geographic data, and personnel designed to efficiently capture, store, update, manipulate, analyze, and display all forms of geographically referenced information.
Or, in simple terms: A computer system capable of holding and using data describing places on the earth's surface.
Differences Between GIS and Other Systems
computer programs, such as spreadsheets, statistics packages, or
drafting packages can handle simple geographic or spatial data, but this
does not necessarily make them a GIS. A true GIS links spatial data
with geographic information about a particular feature on the map. For
example, the centerline that represents a road on a map doesn't tell you
much about the road except its location. To find out the road's width
or pavement type, you must query the database.
information stored in the database, you could create a display
symbolizing the roads according to the type of information that needs to
The Database Concept
short, a GIS doesn't hold maps or pictures - it holds a database. The
database concept is central to a GIS and is the main difference between a
GIS and drafting or computer mapping systems, which can only produce a
good graphic output. All contemporary geographic information systems
incorporate a database management system.
A GIS gives you the
ability to associate information with a feature on a map and to create
new relationships that can determine the suitability of various sites
for development, evaluate environmental impact, identify the best
location for a new facility, and so on.