These days, maps can do more than show you where things are located. They can show you documents and information that relate to the things on the map.

This is a revolutionary reordering of the information world.  Geolocation – or the ability to correlate data with a geographic location –- makes the internet more valuable in new ways. “What’s clear is that location is not about any singular service; rather, it’s a new layer of the Web,” wrote Pete Cashmore, founder and CEO of Mashable, in CNN.

Improvements in geographic information systems (GIS) software have encouraged an increasing number of organizations worldwide -– particularly state and local governments – to define information in a geographical form, make it available to customers, and to integrate it with other data. Data from assessors, planning and zoning departments, fish and game offices, law enforcement organizations, and geologists, just to name a few, is now available in mapped form for anyone to use. Select a location, zoom in to a particular address, and you can see all the engineering, planning, zoning, and law enforcement documents associated with that particular corner of the world.

GIS software also allows users to conduct higher-level analysis that was all but impossible before. “Not only does GIS visualize the information using maps, it can analyze the data for management to see the big picture of how the data are related,” writes Krairop Luanguthai, general manager of ESRI, one of the major providers of GIS software, in Thailand. “By showing this data in the map, it reveals a relationship that cannot be achieved using traditional charts or graphs.”

A study from Pike Research last year found that spending on GIS services, software and tools will increase steadily over the next five years, reaching $3.7 billion in 2017. And according to Dr. Stephen McElroy, GIS program chair at American Sentinel University, K-12 educators now believe that geospatial competencies should be included among the core proficiencies of reading, writing and arithmetic.

What’s also brought interest in the whole area is the ubiquity of smartphones, where people are looking for information around them and, conversely, businesses are looking to contact people who are near them or are planning to be. From a general standpoint, then, especially when it comes to mobility, “maps” aren’t “maps” anymore. They are about real-time access to information about everything around you, which is why the field is now often called “geolocation” to encompass this larger scope.

All of this interest means that people are taking advantage of GIS and other geolocation features to use data visualization, linked with associated existing documents, to help them make decisions, especially in geographically associated industries such as utilities and hydrology.

For example, the Colorado Water Conservation Board integrated Laserfiche and GIS to create the Instream Flow Decision Support System and the Flood Decision Support System. The Instream Flow Decision Support System enables internal users to legally protect and monitor water rights in Colorado and make sure that there is enough water in the streams for the natural environment, while the Flood Decision Support System enables residents to look up documents related to floods in Colorado.

Similarly, the City of Aspen/Pitken County, Colo., has mapped documents related to some of its 15,500 land parcels and 8.400 property addresses.

If a picture can be worth a thousand words, think of how much more valuable a map can be.

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