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What is GIS?

A Geographic Information System (GIS) is “a system for the management, analysis, and display of geographic information” (What is ArcGIS, ESRI Press, 2004). A GIS is composed of five main elements: hardware, software, data, methods, and people.  


The hardware needed is a computer that is capable of running the appropriate software and can handle large amounts of data.  


To use a GIS the appropriate software is required.  Here at the University of Maryland we use ESRI’s ArcGIS Desktop.  There are other brands of software that will work as well such as Quantum GIS, which is an open source version, and Cartographica, for Mac users.


Next, data is needed.  Data can be acquired from many sources such as the Census Bureau or USGS websites.


The methods are the procedures used to analyze your geographic data.


Finally people are a necessary component.  People gather the data and implement, maintain, and operate the system.