In our world of rapidly evolving technology, the answer to this question may not be as simple as you think. The easiest answer is that GIS is digital mapping, essentially cartography on computer. But GIS isn’t just a way to display visual features. It can also hold a great deal of information about those features. In the 1970’s GIS was only being applied to a handful of circumstances, but today it’s difficult to find an area of human life that hasn’t been affected by GIS.
Local, state, and national government agencies use GIS extensively, for such activities as maintaining utilities, monitoring transportation conditions, planning conservation, and more. Corporations employ GIS for everything from finding better trucking routes to determining locations of new stores. Analyzing changing demographics, predicting voting patterns, creating climate models, tracking disease, managing disaster relief – GIS is used to do all of these things and much more.
The combination of visual features with supporting databases is a powerful one, for it allows the end users to do more than just map – it allows them to manage, model, and analyze all the data associated with a GIS. The uses and possibilities are nearly endless.