What is a Geographic Information System?

January 17, 2024

Realising the full potential of project data is one of the biggest challenges for modern planning and development. Geospatial data can be scattered across many different systems, platforms, mapping services, and even in paper form. The continually growing complexity of this information not only makes planning difficult, but may also lead to very costly mistakes. Fortunately, there is a solution, and that is of course a Geographic Information System. 

In this article we will explain:

  • What a Geographic Information System (GIS) is and what a 3D GIS is
  • Which sectors and industries are using GIS and for what purposes
  • What Building Information Modeling is and how can it be used in GIS
  • What the benefits of using GIS are

Making smarter decisions thanks to complex data analysis

In order to avoid financially disastrous mistakes and make more informed data-based decisions, gathering information from different sources requires a systemic approach. Geographic Information Systems make the process of analysis significantly more manageable. 

The idea of GIS is to integrate data from different sources into one complex spatial and visual context to help users understand it better and maximize its analytic potential. In other words, it's a combination of the most comprehensive type of map with a tool that allows for visualizing and analyzing all of the geographically referenced data. A perfect example is our projecty for the City of Helsinki.

The amount of data implemented in one system is technically unlimited. GIS operates on multiple layers of data that can be switched on and off, depending on the task at hand. For the final user, the system can serve various purposes like city traffic management, 5G networks, or planning of power lines. For example, GIS can include information about:

  • Infrastructure
  • Surface type
  • Traffic density
  • Climate
  • Environment type
  • Satellite imagery
  • Electric lines
  • Demographics
  • Location of farms
  • Predictions of future developments
  • and anything else that can be put into geographic context

One of the essential advantages of GISs is that they can be expanded on the go depending on the requirements. Any new data and information can be adapted to the existing system, from locations of hydrants to air pollution. For example, municipalities often use them for city traffic management and reducing the number of accidents. However, it may also help to organize traffic adjustments during events like festivals or marathons.

Applications of GIS

Of course, data management and analysis can be an issue across a wide variety of fields and businesses, both state-owned and private. Therefore, Geographic Information Systems are known to solve problems in areas like: 

  • The environment for identifying possible hazards, protecting endangered species, or monitoring air and water quality
  • Management of minerals and natural resources such as oil and forests, or monitoring the impact of extraction and harvesting
  • Transport for planning and designing highways, detecting high-risk areas, traffic management, and planning plow pathways (see our project for City of Vantaa)
  • Business for estimating the costs of development and maintenance of real estate or market research
  • Core infrastructure for planning and maintaining electric and gas lines, sewerage, and water supplies
  • Emergency relief for predicting and managing the repercussions of natural disasters

And many more applications in virtually any other field that requires geographically referenced data. 

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3D GIS is a future-proof method of spatial analysis

Traditional Geographical Information Systems could only handle and visualize data in 2D, but the latest versions provide both 2D and 3D capabilities. This makes them even more versatile, beneficial, and most importantly, ready for the future. Nowadays, almost every development and city planning project is designed in 3D, and this method certainly will become a standard as we move forward. Architectural, infrastructural, and civil engineering planning is already executed almost exclusively this way, which makes 3D GIS an extremely valuable analytics and visualization tool.

To put it into perspective, one of the most popular 3D modeling tools used for architectural planning is SketchUp. Modern 3D Geographic Information Systems can seamlessly import any landscape or architectural project made in SketchUp or a CAD program and present it in the target location. This provides a much better perspective on every project, allowing planners to make smarter and more informed decisions, which can lead to significant savings in the project’s budget.

Integration of Building Information Modelling data in GIS

Another advantage of 3D GIS is the integration of Building Information Modelling data. BIM is a 3D model-based methodology used by engineers, designers, and planners for more efficient and informed architectural design, management, and construction. In addition to geometric structures, BIM projects contain information about each element's properties and the relationships between them. 3D Geographic Information Systems can directly and effortlessly import BIM data, making it presentable and ready to analyze in a broader geographical context.

What's crucial, especially for municipalities, is that using BIM methodology is mandatory for every investment that uses government funding in an ever-increasing number of countries. This regulation is already in effect in Finland, Denmark, the UK, Russia, and the United States, among others.

Besides that, investors can broadly utilize BIM to make more accurate estimations, oversee projects more effectively, and make better decisions according to data-based predictions. It allows designing real-time "what if" scenarios that show both the visual effects and estimated changes in cost. 

On an enterprise level, this methodology is already widespread. It's safe to say, though,  given the value that BIM provides, that government regulations will be enforced in ever more countries with each passing year.

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What are the benefits of using GIS?

Planning and development in the modern era shouldn't treat Geographic Information Systems merely as fancy additions, but rather as essential tools for efficient future planning. This applies not only to municipalities, but also to companies that process geospatial data in their operations. Current development in both the public and private sectors need to be based on thorough research in order to be cost-effective, and investors are aware of this.

That is why reliable GIS software is a must-have for cities that aim to draw big investors, because it’s impossible to plan efficiently without them. New development projects and Smart City solutions require analysis of many different aspects such as infrastructure, traffic, nature, and many more. GIS gathers all that information and creates a comprehensive database with a visualization tool. Thanks to that, cities can provide far more details about the area of interest with complex analysis and future projections. More importantly, they can present this information in a visual way that is easy to understand compared to a stack of spreadsheets, which may be a game-changer when it comes to attracting investors.

Here are a few common examples of GIS usage:

1. Managing, analyzing, and sharing spatial data to find the best location for a new business, infrastructure, or real estate development project.

This is the bread and butter of GIS. Given the amount of data needed for planning and development, the use of such a system is mandatory. GIS gathers information as fundamental as the demographic structure of an area and much more specific data like crime patterns, which can be crucial for real estate investors. 

2. Monitoring, analysis, and optimization of network operations.

GIS is commonly used in communications and core infrastructure for planning and monitoring gas and water supply networks or electric grids. It improves the flow of information between systems and allows field workers to live-update about any emergencies or irregularities so that they can be reacted to and fixed much quicker, for example.

3. Construction site management. 

The analytical value that Geographic Information Systems bring to the table is widely recognized by enterprises, municipalities, and investors for construction site planning and management. The system gathers multiple types of data, including soil classification for foundation, 3D and 2D building visualizations with BIM data, and any other geospatial information. By having all the relevant data in one system, designers, engineers, and investors can track progress daily and analyze efficiently in order to make better decisions and more accurate cost estimates.

4. Environmental maintenance.

In the last two decades, Geographic Information Systems have gone from being a novelty to an invaluable element of environmental maintenance. They are used to track the impacts of climate change and human activity on forest degradation, floods, landslides, the retreat of glaciers, and much more. GIS allows for precise tracking and analysis of each phenomenon for better management, protection, and restoration of the natural environment. It also allows users to identify the potential risks of natural disasters and minimize their effects before they occur.

How to implement a Geographic Information System?

The implementation process of a Geographic Information System in our case is handled entirely by our team, and we deliver a ready-to-use product in the Software as a Service (SaaS) model. At the beginning of every project, we establish the purpose and requirements of the system and what kind of data and features it needs to integrate, which vary depending on the type of client. We combine all of the necessary elements into one system and deliver a tailor-made platform.

If you're interested in implementing a GIS, make sure to check out case studies about our past projects:

Interactive Map of Helsinki

3D GIS of Gdynia - coming soon

And feel free to contact us.

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