Geographic information systems (GIS) are computerized systems used for the collection, storage, analysis, manipulation and presentation of complex geographical information. Previously, this would have been a combination of electronic versions of traditional paper maps and social and economic data. GIS systems are employed by most sectors of government and commerce and a geographical information systems officer may work for a wide range of employers. Roles can vary but all GIS officers are involved in the production of maps and the analysis of data. They use this to help plan, protect and deliver services or products in areas such as defense, construction, oil, gas, water, telecoms, electricity, the environment, healthcare, transport planning and operation, retail location planning and logistics, insurance and finance.

GIS technology allows many different forms of data (such as the location of rivers and roads, or information about soil or vegetation, or about people) to be overlaid on top of each other on one map. The data can be manipulated so that all the sources have the same scales, allowing complex readings to be taken from the map. This enables people to analyze patterns and better understand relationships between things and the implications of proposed developments and changes.

With such a wide range of possible roles available in the public, private and third sectors, there is even the potential to combine a career in GIS with other interests or passions. As the world becomes more mobile, the rise of applications utilizing GPS (global positioning systems), such as geotagging photographs and augmented reality, could lead to new uses for GIS and opportunities in the field.


Typical Work Activities

  • Capturing the location of ‘assets’ such as bridges, street lights, road barriers, flood defences and so on using GPS tools in the field for private companies, government agencies and local authorities.
  • Desk-based data capture (digitising) to convert paper maps to GIS datasets, for example, to record the location of telecoms cables or water pipelines from original maps.
  • Creating and maintaining the structures necessary for GIS data storage.
  • Developing the tools for loading/transferring GIS data between different systems.
  • Manipulation, analysis and presentation of geographical information by creating programs to convert GIS information from one format to another.
  • Developing internet applications to present GIS data and tools on corporate websites.
  • Using tools to join together different GIS datasets and create new information or investigate patterns, e.g. estimating the number of people potentially affected by flooding, using population growth figures and planning information to estimate increasing/decreasing demand for school capacity, or calculating the number of potential customers for a new supermarket and predicting buying patterns based on socio-economic factors.


Technical Skills

  • Strong written and oral communication skills.
  • Motivation and a pro-active attitude.
  • Ability to translate requirements into working solutions.
  • Computer skills including the use of complex databases and spreadsheets, and specific software such as ArcGIS.
  • Highly numerate and able to analyse data and statistics.
  • Presentation skills.
  • Ability to work well under pressure.


Career Development

As there is no typical route for career development, career progression depends on where you start. In geographical information systems (GIS), teams are often made up of a range of professionals including cartographers, computer programmers, data analysts, information officers/managers and project managers. If there is any such thing as a typical route for a GIS officer, it might be to progress on to project manager and then to overall GIS manager, although there are other possibilities.

With so many areas to choose from, within both the private and the public sector, successful career development depends on clarifying your own particular interests early on. You could choose to focus on one of the following areas: spatial analysis; applications development; sales and marketing; and information management within the public or commercial sectors.

It is helpful to be aware that if you progress towards GIS management, your role is likely to shift balance from specific GIS activities to more managerial duties. You may be able to move into other project management work outside GIS. Some people with a GIS background go on to set up their own consultancies. New GIS modules in computer science and geography degrees as well as in postgraduate courses present a few opportunities in academia.



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