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GIS in use

All organisations have information locked away in various databases - GIS can help uncover the full value of this information.

Approximately 80% of all information held in databases anywhere in the world contains some kind of geographic element. For example, records in a database can be tied to a particular location on the ground, such as an address, building, property or road junction. There are many trends and relationships hidden in this geographic data, but it is only by using a GIS that these are revealed.

Many different organisations use GIS as a central part of their activities, and the range of applications in use is extraordinary.

For example:

  • utilities - leak management, service planning network planning;
  • central government - census, environmental planning, health service catchment areas
  • local government - refuse collection, street lighting, council tax collection
  • emergency services - crime locations, route finding
  • military - battlefield simulations
  • retail - travel time catchment areas, store site location
  • financial - insurance flood risk, property values; and
  • target marketing - demographic profiles

Flood risk

Using 3D height data and map data for river features it is possible to build a computer model of changing water levels; this can be used for predicting flood patterns and identifying areas in danger. By combining this model with address data, the likelihood of individual properties being flooded can be assessed. This is not just of environmental concern but of great value to insurance companies.

Emergency services

By using the GIS as a computerised map, controllers of police vehicles and ambulances can instantly call up a detailed map of the area around an incident. By tracking the vehicles in real time and using route-finding GIS functions, the controller can identify the best vehicle to attend and give directions for the fastest way to the incident. They can even store historical information and look for incident patterns and black spots.

Estate agents

A GIS makes an excellent system for providing information to potential house buyers about the houses for sale in a particular area. By allowing selection based on price, number of rooms, type of house and so on the display can instantly show the range of properties fitting the requirements of the customer The system can then go on to provide information about the local amenities such as schools, shops and recreation facilities.

Nature conservation

GIS can be used to record locations as part of a nature conservation project. The value of the GIS is in providing instant access to information about the geographical spread of sightings or plantings so patterns can be detected. It also allows for a user-friendly way for individuals to input information into the system.


Supermarket chains use GIS to help site new stores and to plan their distribution networks. By comparing how many people live within 15-minutes drive time of a particular location with the number of supermarkets already trading in that area, the GIS can identify suitable locations with an optimised catchment area. Supermarket chains also use socio-economic data to create profiles of the people in their catchment areas to help them understand which other parts of the country are likely to be successful growth areas.

3D environmental impact analysis

By building a 3D model of a landscape it is possible to simulate the construction of a new feature which may have an impact on the natural beauty of an area. For example, planning a wind farm. By using accurate map data for the area, a realistic model can be created and viewed from all angles. This will help identify the location that the new wind farm will have the least impact upon.

Airport-noise pollution

Restrictions on the permissible levels of aircraft noise affect all busy airports. GIS can help monitor not only the noise itself but also complaints from nearby residents. The spread of sound from the airport can be mapped against the nearby built-up areas to identify how many houses are going to be affected by high noise levels. By logging the addresses of people who complain about noise, the airport can monitor the effectiveness of their noise control measures and whether or not the airlines are obeying guidelines.

Our case studies show how GIS is being used

See how GIS is being used

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Our geographic information is being used successfully across businesses and the public sector in Britain to help deliver better services at lower cost.

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