The beginner’s guide to GIS mapping

by Louisa Bainbridge
on Apr 13, 2017

This guide includes:

  1. A definition 
  2. The benefits 
  3. Example use cases


1. Definition of GIS mapping

A Geographical Information System (GIS) is a computer system that collects data in relation to geographical locations. GIS mapping uses this data and displays the information visually. These visualizations can then be used to analyse patterns and trends across a wide variety of different criteria: from demographics, to vegetation, to transport. With GIS technology, you can compare the locations of different things, to discover how they relate to each other. This allows you to make more informed decisions about your business. 


2. Benefits of GIS mapping

Store & maintain data records

Keeping a record of location data is necessary for many businesses. GIS makes this information easy to acquire, retain and retrieve.

Communicate with visuals

GIS maps explain and inform others of patterns and insights in a visually engaging way. If presenting to an audience, maps are a great way to get the point across because they can clearly identify patterns. For example, users may create a drive time map to see all locations reachable within 30 minutes drive time. 


Greater efficiency

When optimising operations is a key priority, GIS data can facilitate the reduction of running costs. For example, it can highlight delivery locations, allowing a company to streamline their drivers’ schedules by identifying which areas are nearby, saving on time and fuel consumption.

Informed decision making

GIS allows you to analyse all different kinds of data to make the best decisions with regards to location. Using different map layers, colours, styles and data set the users can get insights that may not be easy to spot in a list. For example, plotting postcodes on a map and analysing this data can identify patterns.  

Ability to identify and mitigate risk

GIS Maps can help you identify risks and opportunities offered by future developments. You can also gain a richer understanding of the factors that contribute to your existing risks, and mitigate these in a more effective way.

Increased sales

GIS can help you understand your customer or subscriber base. This will quickly give your sales and marketing team valuable data that can be used to your advantage. Displaying user data on a map helps marketers identify patterns, segment and profile the customer base.

Enhanced customer service

GIS can provide relevant information to frontline staff allowing them to improve their customer services strategy. For example, GIS maps can provide live job lists for maintenance teams so that up to date customer information can be used to prioritise urgent customer maintenance issues.

Improved allocation of resources and planning

GIS data can highlight gaps in services and allow for a richer analysis of demographics. For example, plotting ambulance call out times on a map will identify which locations take a longer time to reach, identifying the best place for a new depot. This means that resources can be allocated in the most efficient and effective way.


3. Use cases for GIS mapping

GIS for marketing


  • Plotting loyal customer locations for targeting 
  • Segmenting customers with demographic information 
  • Reviewing data to find new markets & high performing areas
  • Understanding customers’ behaviour with territory mapping - check out more here For more see Esri 

GIS for public health


  • Evaluating the distribution of health services in an area for program planning
  • Combining GIS & health data to highlight gaps in services.
  • Identifying geographic trends for health problems e.g. obesity 

GIS for geomorphology


  • Using as a preliminary tool for land management and geomorphological risk management
  • Applying to environmental research for landscape ecology, forestry & soil science
  • Creating maps to observe the general features of a landscape
  • Exploring a specific aspect of the landscape e,g hazard maps for risk-causing phenomena

For more see geomorphology

GIS for electric utilities


  • Maintaining & recording accurate electric utility records.
  • Planning and conducting inspections
  • Providing information to customers about services
  • Making staff aware of hazard locations

For more see ArcGIS

GIS for engineers


  • Planning & design
  • Visualisation & cartography
  • Spatial data management
  • Monitoring ground movement during construction
  • Environmental analysis
  • Data collection as-built surveying
  • Operations and maintenance

For more see Esri

GIS for health


  • Understanding the geographical distribution and variation of diseases
  • Identify gaps in care to improve future coverage
  • Mapping populations at risk and assisting with mitigation
  • Documenting health care needs of a community and planning resources
  • Forecast epidemics to improve prevention & control capabilities
  • Monitoring diseases and interventions over time
  • Managing patient care environments, materials, supplies and human resources
  • Routing health workers, equipment and supplies to service locations
  • Sharing health information with the public by publishing maps

For more see Science Direct

GIS for environmental applications


  • Exploring land and air quality
  • Plotting vegetation and land-use type
  • Evaluating population density
  • Assessing urban development
  • Identifying features of the landscape
  • Visualizing hydrographic data

For more see Esri

GIS for real estate


  • Using interactive maps to help explore locations and their demographics
  • Discovering desirable locations with a low population or current market value
  • Mapping how markets are changing. E.g. no. renters & buyers in an area
  • Analysing the availability of commercial properties in a particular area

Read Esri's medium post for more

GIS for biologists


  • Modelling the spatial spread of exotic species and discover potential biological species invasions
  • Understanding the fragmentation of the landscape caused by human development
  • Analysing habitat connectivity, cost, species presence and disturbance factors

Read more on GIS lounge

GIS for transportation


  • Improving regulatory compliance for public transport
  • Enhancing sustainability of the road network
  • Maximising throughput for railways
  • Monitor maritime safety and security
  • Optimise bus routes
  • Understand and manage aviation assets more effectively
  • Communicating with transport staff and the public

 Check out Esri's transportation page





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