About the technology
In its simplest form, the term "Geographic Information System," or GIS, is an acronym for a technology that offers a radically different way in which we produce and use the maps required to manage our communities and industries. Using computer programs, the technology links items displayed on a map with records in a database with the answers displayed on a map. The resulting combination, and the ability to manipulate the data in response to any number of "what if" scenarios, provides government agencies, utilities and a long list of private industries with a powerful and dynamic new tool that has opened doors in management effectiveness and organisational efficiency. A GIS creates intelligent super maps through which sophisticated planning and analysis can be performed at the touch of a button.
Governments uses this resulting geospatial information for planning and land management purposes, as well as a variety of other uses ranging from determining electoral boundaries to planning defence strategies. Utilities use geospatial info to automate vast transmission and distribution networks, and to build and service pipelines and communication networks. Cities are using geospatial technologies for applications as diverse as traffic management and emergency services planning, replacing water mains and doing a better job of matching the right equipment to each job. Thousands of private companies use geospatial information to make more informed decisions in areas ranging from site selection, to marketing demographics, to analysing competition. Once considered an end to itself (e.g., a physical map), GIS today has rapidly evolved as an integral part of the management process in a broad range of applications and sectors. For example, geospatial systems are a key element in nearly every infrastructure development project of the multi-lateral lending agencies.
"Automated Mapping and Facilities Management," or AM/FM, means exactly that: to automate the mapping process and to manage facilities represented by items on the map. In the past, when a map was needed, a crew of surveyors, draftspersons, and geographers would combine their resources and develop a map on paper. This map was created by hand, updated by hand, and reproduced by a professional printer. Today, it can be drawn on a computer screen using a Computer Aided Drafting and Design (CADD) software program. The map program is then connected to a database containing a variety of detailed information related to items on the map. When the map is needed to answer a question, it is displayed on the screen automatically. Updates are made quickly using a digitising table, a mouse and a keyboard. The entire map, or just portions of it, may be selected to be printed on a plotter. The process is similar to word processing for maps.
The key advantage to AM/FM is the ability to share maps. State and federal agencies, along with utility companies, which create their own respective maps can, for example, share maps with each other. This not only saves money, but provides the ability to create hundreds of new maps, many of which never existed before, for minimal cost.
"Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition", or SCADA, is the process by which real-time information is gathered from remote locations for processing and analysis; and the process by which equipment is controlled. SCADA is used in the electric, telecommunications, transportation, pipeline, water/wastewater, oil and gas, and infrastructure/government fields. GIS and SCADA relate by allowing for "live" maps and real-time databases that are used to manage large systems and networks. Through the integration, SCADA becomes spatially related, and AM/FM/GIS systems become real-time. For example, gas pipeline companies use SCADA, represented as a large wall model of its pipeline network in the region containing real-time information on gas flow, pipeline pressures, sections under repair, alternative pipeline routings, the location and dispatch of service crews, etc.
"Global Positioning System," or GPS, is a network of 24 satellites equipped with atomic clocks and equally accurate position measuring telemetry gear. The network was originally designed as a navigational aid for the US military, but the international civilian community has leveraged the USD10 billion investment in technology infrastructure into a market for hardware, software and services that continues to grow dramatically. Armed with inexpensive GPS receivers, for example, utility service crews can be quickly dispatched to the location of underground utilities in need of repair. And the interface of GIS and GPS has resulted in a steady stream of new applications on an ongoing basis.
Today there are tens of thousands of geospatial applications in use. Organisations throughout the world are using the technology to transform manually produced maps and associated descriptive records into powerful digital databases whose content can be used in applications as far flung as managing utility distribution networks, to monitoring pollution, to planning alternative traffic patterns, to redrawing voter districts, or tracking agricultural drought conditions. Once a tool that was affordable only to the largest organisations, geospatial systems have become a cost-effective option for even the smallest organisations.
Gas and electric utilities use it to model distribution networks, issue work orders, dispatch service crews, market to prospective customers and plan service expansions. Telecommunications companies find it invaluable as they seek a competitive edge in the management of outside plant facilities and in the marketing of long distance services. Government agencies rely on this technology to plan new land developments, determine tax valuations, manage public works networks, route emergency vehicles, analyse crime and accident patterns, manage transportation systems and study environmental issues. Private businesses use it to make strategic decisions about locating new outlets and facilities,targeting customers more effectively and determining the impact of new or potential competitors.
Approximately 70 to 80 percent of the information managed by business is somehow connected to a specific location—an address, street, intersection, or "xy" coordinate. Therefore, geospatial technology is finding its way into every corner of the business world. And, because the technology's uses are so widespread and diverse, the geospatial market is growing at an annual rate of almost 35 percent. The commercial subsection of this market is expanding at a phenomenal rate of 100 percent each year.
GITA can help you keep up with the vast changes taking place in this discipline and access the educational channels you need to learn about the impact that geospatial information can have on you and your organisation.
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