In 2004, Newsweek’s Steven Levy wrote, “Digital mapping is about to change our world by documenting the real world, then integrating that information into our computers, phones and lifestyles. Roll over, Mason and Dixon: spurred by space photography, global satellite positioning, mobile phones, search engines and new ways of marking information for the World Wide Web, the ancient art of cartography is now on the cutting edge.”
How right Levy was — and yet how little did he foresee the ways in which geographic information systems (GIS) would impact our day-to-day lives. What is GIS and its uses? Well, GIS technology is simple enough to understand, being basically an integration of geographical data with specific tabular information (i.e., facts and figures stored in sorted rows and columns). But the uses of GIS are more than almost anyone imagines, and the importance of GIS is hard to overstate. In this post, we’ll discuss six surprising ways in which GIS software and technology are being used in utility solutions and other fields.
Telecom and Network Services
One of the impressive functions of GIS is how the usefulness of its geographical information can shift depending on the tabular material mapped on top of it. Just consider the examples of GIS that we see in telecom and network services. On its surface, these industries sound simple enough, merely needing to provide customers with access to cellular, landline, or internet connectivity. In practice, though, these industries face numerous obstacles, and applications of GIS can help solve them.
Consider that network facilitators and telecom providers must manage:
- Network capacity
- Emergency outages
- Surges in demand
- Scarce personnel resources
By employing GIS, decision makers can combine geographic data with:
- Real-time capacity utilization
- Customer density
- Forecasted demand
- Network outages or damaged infrastructure
This kind of up-to-the-minute information helps management address the above concerns, as well as facilitating decisions related to maintenance, sales, planning for future expansions, and addressing customer concerns.
Accident Analysis and Hot Spot Analysis
Talk to locals in any specific geographical location, and they’ll let you know about all of the problematic local transportation areas, the sections of street that tend to clog up around rush hour and the dangerous stretches where your probability of getting into a wreck skyrockets. In many cases, such information is hard to quantify — but not if you’re using GIS.
Consider a 2016 study published in Biomedical Research Journal that identified “high accident rate locations suggested using an ArcGIS Software and safety deficient areas on the highways. As the remedial measures are implemented in those accidental locations … the incidents of accident may be reduced.” Sometimes, GIS can even help determine the kinds of accidents that will happen. A 2017 study in Journal of Traffic and Transportation Engineering reported that decision makers in Mashhad, Iran, could identify hot spots and the specific kinds of accidents likely to happen there, such as fatal accidents, accidents that cause injuries, and accidents that lead to property damage.
Finally, GIS accident analysis can involve more than just vehicular traffic. Other implementations include cross referencing boating accidents with specific water structures such as dams.
When Hurricane Harvey struck in 2017, it caused billions of dollars in flood-related damages, much of it concentrated in and around the Houston metropolitan area. That disaster highlighted the importance of savvy urban planning, and local officials have learned that certain types of GIS implementation can make their jobs easier while bettering the lives of their constituents.
GIS plays two primary roles in urban planning: It models and analyzes. Practically speaking, this means that planners can get a good idea of what currently exists and run various forecasts on what could be. Parameters that get factored in can include:
- Specific geographical features
- Population densities
- City limits
- School districts
- Voting precincts
- Zoning classifications
- Economic data
- Location of historical sites
- Utility delivery
By associating this data with geographical information, planners can determine where an area is today and what it might look like given certain user-driven stipulations. That translates into cities and towns that stay safer during natural disasters, have to deal with less traffic congestion, more efficiently use energy, and grow in intelligent ways.
Assets Management and Maintenance
Things break in the real world, and sometimes simply determining which assets need maintenance can consume nearly as much time and effort as actually servicing them. That’s where the flexibility of GIS can help. Because GIS implements tabular data (i.e., coming from a table), you can associate your geographical information with just about anything — including the very assets that are part of your maintenance schedule.
Do you need to track the condition of various kinds of pipes and pumps? Install appropriate pressure and temperature systems then feed the data into your GIS? Want to ensure that the parking meters installed in a busy downtown area remain in working order? Task collectors will report basic particulars and feed the results into your GIS software. Other assets that GIS can manage include:
- Street lights
- Street signs
- Trash cans
- Manhole covers
- Bike racks
- Fire hydrants
- Parks and park equipment
- Storm drains
- Warehouses and other free-standing structures
- Electric poles
Indeed, virtually any kind of asset that you can quantify can also be integrated into a GIS-powered management system.
Planning and Community Development
In addition to helping plan for smart expansion and disaster mitigation, GIS can play an important role in community development. It uses many of the same metrics and tools we listed in the “Urban Planning” section. However, planning and community developers employ spatial modeling and analysis by adding in additional factors such as:
- Property values
- Demographic information
- Taxation information
- Public opinion regarding quality of life
- Visitors to public institutions such as libraries, courthouses, DMVs, etc.
- Consumers’ spending habits
By folding these parameters in with those used in urban planning, public servants can better understand what the public wants and how to best realize it in the current geographical environment. Also, the powerful forecasting built into our GIS software allows users to construct multiple planning scenarios, comparing each to the other and comparing the end results. Determine whether schools, hospitals, bridges, dams, and waste treatment plants will impede or promote stated goals in their proposed locations.
Environmental Impact Analysis
Whether you seek to preserve wetlands, document deforestation, effectively implement green space, track oil spills, or monitor waterways, GIS plays an important role in analyzing the environmental impact of various human and natural actions. It’s easy to see how cross-referencing different kinds of data with accurate geographical images can help individuals better understand environmental change, and GIS is so helpful that scientists and other experts increasingly rely on it.
Indeed, a paper presented at the 2017 International Conference on Renewable Energy and Environment stated, “Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a course of action which provides information to various stakeholders such as planners and relevant authorities about the planned development and its subsequent effects of the environment and the immediate ambiances. … Using GIS not only improves the overall EIA and mitigation process, but also provides valuable mapping strategies, including holistic environmental system approach.”
While this might feel like a lengthy documentation of GIS’ uses, it actually only scratches the surface. GIS is at work in the following sectors:
- Mapping & Navigation (providing smartphone integration and location-specific tagging in photography)
- Transportation Planning (visualizing the condition of roads and related structures)
- Agricultural Applications (tracking crop yields and managing water)
- Disaster Management and Mitigation (providing preparedness and remediation)
- Natural Resources Management (mapping vegetation and soil)
- Banking (analyzing market segmentation)
- Geology (determining development sites and detecting coal-mine fires)
GIS also plays an important role in utilities. Milsoft Utility Solutions offers software that provides integrated and accurate snapshots of your service grid. We will help you plan, manage and operate with the economy, reliability, efficiency and customer service levels your customers can be proud of. Contact us today.