What is GIS?

A geographic information system (GIS) is a computer system capable of assembling, storing, manipulating, and displaying geographically referenced information (i.e. spatial data). This system should include:

  • hardware (computers, printers, plotters, scanners, GPS units, etc.)
  • software (programs like ArcGIS, ArcView GIS 3, MapInfo, Maptitude, AutoCad Map, GeoMedia, etc.)
  • data (files that may be loaded into the software programs, such as roads, town boundaries, parcels, aerial photographs, etc.)
  • staff (analysts, technicians, etc.)

Geographic information systems belong to a family of mapping and drafting programs that includes computer-aided design (CAD) and automated mapping and facilities management (AM/FM). GIS is distinguished from CAD and AM/FM by its capacity to perform complicated analytical functions that often include combining information from different sources to derive meaningful relationships. 

The Web has a vast amount of resources relating to GIS. 

What is MassGIS?

MassGIS is the Commonwealth's Bureau of Geographic Information, within the Executive Office of Technology Services and Security (EOTSS, formerly MassIT) of the Administration and Finance Secretariat (see 'Crediting MassGIS' below). Through MassGIS, the Commonwealth has created a comprehensive, statewide database of geospatial information.  The state legislature has established MassGIS as the official state agency assigned to the collection, storage and dissemination of geographic data. In addition, the legislative mandate includes coordinating GIS activity within the Commonwealth and setting standards for geographic data to ensure universal compatibility. MassGIS has implemented several ways of coordinating GIS activity in the Commonwealth.

GIS Coordination

Within state agencies, besides formal inter-agency projects and on-going staff-level collaboration, MassGIS facilitates coordination between state agency GIS efforts through the Commonwealth GIS User Group ("CommGIS"). CommGIS meets three times a year in October, February, and June. If you are a state agency employee and want to receive email announcements concerning these meetings, please send email to Paul Nutting (paul.nutting @ state.ma.us) at MassGIS. MassGIS' Director also sits on the Statewide Mapping Advisory Committee, a group that advises the State Geologist on geologic mapping needs.

MassGIS staff collaborate with Regional Planning Agency GIS staff on many types of projects. MassGIS also tracks the status of municipal GIS development and, as needed, communicates and coordinates with municipal GIS staff. Finally, the state's Operational Services Division (OSD) works closely with MassGIS staff on GIS related procurements. MassGIS led the procurement team that resulted in the current state blanket contract for ESRI GIS software and services; with funding from the Information Technology Division (ITD, now EOTSS), MassGIS also developed and implemented the e-Gov "shared service" for on-line mapping on Commonwealth web-sites.


The evolution of geographic information systems in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is not unlike its development in other states. A lead agency, in this case the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA), perceived an opportunity to meet its goals through development of a statewide GIS. Three related feasibility studies were funded, a plan for development was negotiated with EEA's agencies, and that plan was implemented over a five year period, creating the Massachusetts Geographic Information System - MassGIS - in the late 1980s. As a result, EEA has become a leading provider of digital geographic information within the Commonwealth and among Massachusetts public agencies using geographic information technology.

In 2010, a Task Force composed of a variety of stakeholders was convened to determine the future of MassGIS. Organizational, governance, and funding issues were all studied to determine the best way to sustain MassGIS' critical mission. Given its evolution from working entirely on environmental themed projects to having a hand in Public Safety, Public Health, Education and a host of other non-environmental agencies and projects, the recommendation was made to move MassGIS from the Environmental Secretariat to the Administration and Finance Secretariat's MassIT in this report.

MassGIS promotes and guides spatial data development, supports GIS users throughout a variety of state agencies, departments and offices, sets standards, supports the Commonwealth's web mapping services, coordinates GIS activity with other state and regional agencies, and provides communities with assistance in GIS development. MassGIS distributes data from its database via free download from this web site.

For more information on MassGIS' products and services, see the web page . For a list of contacts see MassGIS Staff and Other GIS Contacts.

Crediting MassGIS

When using MassGIS data on maps or in digital applications, source credit should be stated as "Bureau of Geographic Information (MassGIS), Commonwealth of Massachusetts, EOTSS".

Last Updated 8/15/2017