Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is a rapidly growing technological field that incorporates spatially related features with tabular data in order to assess real-world problems.
The key word to this technology is Information. GIS is foremost an Information System. The second key word however is Geography. This means that the data is spatial enabled. In other words, the data is in some way referenced to physical locations on the earth. GIS is an information system that combines spatial and attribute information. For example, the actual location of a school is the spatial data. Additional data such as the school name, level of education taught, and school capacity would make up the attribute data. It is the partnership of these two data types that enables GIS to be such an effective problem-solving tool.
The earliest version of GIS was computer mapping and involved simple line work to represent land features. From that starting point evolved the concept of overlaying different mapped features on top of each other to determine patterns and causes of spatial phenomenon.
At the simplest level, GIS can be thought of as a high-tech equivalent of a map. However, GIS is more than making a map. The real power in GIS is through using spatial and statistical methods to analyze attribute and geographic information.
Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. (ESRI), the world leader in GIS software says:
"A geographic information system (GIS) is a computer-based tool for mapping and analyzing things that exist and events that happen on earth. GIS technology integrates common database operations such as query and statistical analysis with the unique visualization and geographic analysis benefits offered by maps."
Because at least 70 to 80 percent of the local government’s work involves land or geographically related issues or tasks, the City of Miami Beach is investing in GIS that can support or justify land-use decisions and help to manage our services.