Geographic Information Science can bring together large amounts of geospatial data to help professionals make strategic decisions. Widespread GIS technology has led to a growing number of examples of GIS in business. Some of the best GIS projects may be those that utilize technology to improve community infrastructure and public health, but these complex information systems can also be used to save time, money and energy for companies and their facilities.
Innovative professionals in virtually any industry can take advantage of GIS technology. Here are six popular examples of industries that use GIS:
1. Supply chain management
Over recent years, the processes for bringing products and services to the public have evolved immensely due to changing customer preferences and the rapid growth of ecommerce. Today, the ability to track shipments and inventory can make the supply chain more efficient, saving money for businesses that use GIS.
One example is the delivery of produce to supermarkets around the world. Agricultural products are picked on small farms and then distributed to grocers in many locations, often crossing state and national boundaries. The produce must arrive in top condition, ripe but not spoiled.
GIS technology can tell agricultural and supply chain professionals when fruits or vegetables left the field, what routes they travelled and their quality upon arrival. If produce shows up at the supermarket looking unappetizing, workers can retrace the items’ path to identify problem areas and improve the odds that future deliveries will arrive in better condition.
Insurance companies rely on accurate predictions to determine risk. A wide range of factors come into play, but in nearly all insurance sectors, location is a strong indicator of risk. Certain regions are more prone to earthquakes, hurricanes, floods or other natural disasters, and social factors – like a propensity toward crime – tend to cluster in specific areas as well.
With improved predictions, insurance companies can set coverage rates more appropriately. GIS software allows professional to map risk levels based on information such as:
- Historic records, which could highlight the likelihood of an occurrence like a hurricane
- Demographics, which might give insight into whether people are likely to be involved in a car accident
- Local geography, which could indicate the possibility of an event such as a landslide
3. Forestry and Timber
Forestry is a complex field that analyzes conditions in wooded areas to determine how to best utilize land, preserve ecosystems or efficiently plan harvests. When poor forest management results in over-utilization, GIS aids in re-establishing plant species. Afforestation and tree species regeneration programs are most effective if foresters accurately determine what land plots will allow tree species to thrive. GIS technologies can map out important details like annual rainfall, minimum and maximum temperatures, the length and severity of the dry season and more.
GIS systems also collect data that is relevant to the preservation of ecosystems, like the species found in an area and how populations are changing over time. Recording accurate, up-to-date information helps forest preservation professionals identify positive or negative patterns.
Foresters are beginning to use GIS to support responsible timber harvesting. Tracking data like soil type and condition, roads, forest type and more can all support a cost-benefit analysis. By monitoring losses due to pests, foresters promote economically sound harvesting practices.
4. Urban planning
Planning a city takes more strategy than simply identifying vacant lots and constructing buildings in them. The placement of business, governmental, public and residential structures impacts the quality of life of citizens who live there.
As modern cities grow, planners have less space to work with when they need to add a building or a road or replace aging infrastructure. Developers also must account for the impact they may have on animal and plant life. To responsibly accommodate a community’s citizens while minimizing harm to existing historic structures or natural spaces, urban planners rely heavily on GIS technology.
Planners can also review spatial information to determine the most efficient way to introduce alternative energy resources to a city. GIS mapping may help identify the best places to build out wind or solar farms, or install renewable energy infrastructure on a smaller scale, like in underutilized parking lots.
Banks choose their branch locations very carefully, considering factors like the potential customer base and local crime rates. As the landscape of banking changes due to increased usage of online services and trends in consumers’ preferences, financial institutions must make strategic decisions. In some cases, institutions need to close or consolidate branches to boost profitability. The tricky part is knowing which branches to close, especially when some are still performing well.
Before adopting GIS software, decision makers often viewed branch locations on a physical map taped to a wall, stuck with pins or marked with Sharpies. GIS software makes it much easier for banks to identify locations with lower utilization rates, higher loan default rates or nearby competitors.
GIS can also be used to map out demographics and see which areas may be most in need of specific products. For example, someplace with high rates of car ownership may have a greater need for auto insurance.
6. Health and Human Services
The field of public health focuses on patterns of disease within communities, directing prevention efforts and efficiently addressing problems as they emerge. Medical professionals have long been aware that location can impact patients’ well-being, and modern GIS technology can help health organizations analyze significant trends. Health and human services organizations use software to map cases of a disease, identifying high-risk areas or common origination points.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention utilize GIS technology to manage a wide array of public health issues. For example, a map detailing heart disease death rates from 2011-2013 shows high risk in the Southern U.S. and the state of Nevada. Meanwhile, residents of Minnesota, the Pacific Northwest and Colorado are at much lower risk. With this information, public health professionals might take steps like deploying awareness campaigns about heart disease prevention in the areas where they are most needed.