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What is GIS?

Introducing geographic information systems, and how you can learn more about GIS techniques and technology

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, QGIS, MapInfo, Maptitude, AutoCad Map 3D, GeoMedia, etc.)
  • data (files that represent real-world features (such as roads, town boundaries, parcels, aerial photographs, etc.) may be loaded into the software programs)
  • 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 including database information about mapped features and its capacity to perform complicated analytical functions that often include combining information from different sources to derive meaningful relationships.

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Learn more about GIS

Many colleges and universities and private companies across the commonwealth provide courses to help you learn GIS.

Check out our listing of GIS education resources.

Also search the web to learn much more about GIS.

View GIS Day videos from November 15, 2023 featuring Director Cy Smith

To commemorate GIS day in 2023, MassGIS created a series of 5 videos that were published to social media. The purpose of the videos was to introduce the MassGIS Director, illuminate the importance of the hidden infrastructure of Geographic Information Systems, and to highlight some current and future uses of GIS.

MassGIS Director Cy Smith introduces himself and explains how GIS connects data to features on a map. He uses the example of migrating salt marshes due to see level rise to expose patterns and trends that can be analyzed.

MassGIS Director Cy Smith talks about GIS as location data that is hidden infrastructure, how the Commonwealth has invested heavily in the data, and how it needs funding to be maintained.

MassGIS Director Cy Smith talks about how GIS is being used to solve problems and keep Massachusetts residents informed about current issues.

MassGIS Director Cy Smith talks about the ubiquity of GIS technology throughout all sectors.

MassGIS Director Cy Smith talks about how elevation data can help with flood modeling and drinking water protection. He mentions how GIS is used in Public Health to identify geographic trends. Also, he discusses human migration patterns to help predict impacts on social services.

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