How Does GIS Work?

You’ve probably heard of GIS (geographical information systems), and you more than likely use GIS-based technology every day without realizing it (Google Maps, for example).

In essence, GIS technology merges spatial science and collaborative tools for enhanced understanding. It connects data to a map and combines all kinds of descriptive data (what things are like in a specific location) with data about that location (where things are).  

If you’re wondering exactly how GIS works, we’ll cover that in this comprehensive guide. We’ll also look at how GIS is used in commercial real estate and how you can start harnessing its powers to get ahead of your competition (and make your work life easier).

What is GIS?

GIS are computer technologies designed to manage, visualize, analyze, and interpret data related to geographic locations.

This type of data, commonly referred to as spatial or geospatial data, helps to determine the position of various features on the earth's surface. Examples of spatial data include roads, national borders, and addresses, which can all be mapped to specific locations.

GIS data is primarily stored in two formats: raster and vector. Raster formats consist of grids made up of pixels or cells and are well-suited for storing data with continuous variation, such as aerial photographs, elevation maps, or satellite images.

Vector formats, on the other hand, use nodes (points) and lines to create polygons, which can store additional descriptive information about the data. These formats are ideal for representing data with distinct boundaries, like school districts or streets.

Advantages and General Usage of GIS Technology

The 6 benefits of GIS Technology
The 6 benefits of GIS Technology

GIS is utilized by countless organizations across the globe to generate maps that enable effective communication, analysis, information exchange, and problem-solving. GIS technology is often employed to examine the relationship between natural features and human activities.

For instance, GIS maps can depict the proximity of buildings, such as residences and offices, to natural elements like flood-prone areas.

With GIS, a diverse range of information can be compared and contrasted, including population data such as numbers, density, income, or education levels. GIS can also display the number of doctors in a neighborhood relative to its population size, for example.

Additionally, GIS can offer insights into an area's topography, including the location of streams, the types of vegetation and soil present, and even infrastructure details like storm drains, roads, and power lines. It can also provide information on businesses, farms, and educational facilities.

Such information is crucial when planning a development project, such as high-density or multi-family housing or a shopping complex, as it helps to ensure that the development aligns with the surrounding environment and infrastructure.

How GIS is Used in Commercial Real Estate

GIS is employed in commercial real estate to manage, organize, and visualize pertinent information about a specific location. It enables the analysis of trends and facilitates high-level decision-making.

Success in commercial real estate hinges on the ability to make swift, informed decisions, outpacing competitors. Rapid market understanding and information gathering are crucial for prompt decision-making.

Integrating the analytical capabilities of GIS with visual mapping tools often reveals trends, patterns, and opportunities that may not be apparent from examining data tables alone, potentially providing investors with a competitive advantage.

In commercial real estate, GIS has specific applications, such as identifying properties and obtaining land sale data. While “location, location, location!” may be a cliché, it remains a critical factor in real estate.

GIS allows users to search for property attributes, such as vacant land or specific price ranges, property valuations, or sizes; learn more about the neighborhood; and visualize essential data like zoning, flood zones, wetlands, municipal boundaries, points of interest, and traffic counts.

Spatial analysis – the process of examining what is happening at a specific location at a specific point in time – enables commercial real estate buyers to refine their search parameters and identify properties that better meet their requirements.

GIS-generated, bird's-eye-view maps provide potential buyers and investors with layered information, such as nearby shopping, entertainment options, and transportation links.

For commercial real estate agents and prospective buyers who are often away from their computers, GIS software needs to be portable – and many real estate GIS analytics platforms have accompanying mobile apps.

By accessing data on the go, users can address any questions that may arise during property viewings in real-time.

How to Access GIS Information

GIS applications rely on both software and hardware, so you'll first need the appropriate equipment—a computer or smartphone equipped with the necessary GIS apps, and a reliable internet connection.

GIS applications can utilize data from various sources, including spreadsheets, digital or photographic images, and geographic data.

GIS technology allows for the integration of these different types of information onto a single map, regardless of their original format or source. Location serves as the primary index variable that GIS employs to link these seemingly unrelated data points.

Many government and non-profit organizations strive for transparency in the information they collect, making a sizable portion of their data readily available online. Utilizing free, open-source data can save you time and money; you just need to know where to look.

Most local governments and counties provide public access to their open-source datasets. While it's impossible to list them all, to find a specific local dataset, check if your county offers free GIS data downloads.

The fastest way to locate this information is by searching for the relevant city or county name alongside ‘GIS’ on Google.

GIS analytics tools like AlphaMap, ArcGIS, Esri, geothinQ, Maptive, and QGIS are also excellent resources for accessing GIS data for commercial real estate users.

Final Thoughts on How GIS Works

The commercial real estate landscape is rapidly evolving due to technological advancements. Embracing smart technology will play a crucial role in the future success of industries such as restaurants, real estate, and retail.

GIS is one of these innovative technologies that can provide a competitive edge.

Commercial real estate professionals must swiftly identify profitable locations, match tenants with suitable properties, stay informed about market fluctuations and shifting consumer trends, and outpace competitors in today's highly competitive market.

Knowing how GIS works can save you time and, more importantly, help you to get accurate information when utilizing GIS analytics systems.

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