GIS in IT

The role of GIS in IT is as varied as the organizations that use GIS.

Because there are such high upfront and ongoing costs to implementing a GIS (hardware, infrastructure, data and staff) its mostly government and large corporates that hire IT professionals.

The type of work you’ll end up doing will depend mostly on the stage of GIS implementation that the organization is at (data capture, rollout, mature). To be useful to an organization, an IT professional might need to understand some or all of the following – spatial data (maps), temporal data (change over time), spatial databases, GPS, programming, spatial data manipulation and spatial data presentation. To become indispensable to your organization you’ll also need to strive to understand basic cartographic principles as they apply to the problems that the organization is mapping.

GIS data

There is an age-old adage that goes “garbage in, garbage out”! However, the problem with GIS in that the outputs often look so convincing that its “garbage in, gospel out”! I was once involved in a court case where the foundation for the case was an incorrect map – it was very hard to dislodge! It is important to understand that high quality data is the foundation of any GIS. In terms of data support, IT might be involved in any or all of the following…

  • providing IT infrastructure for staff involved in converting paper maps to digital maps
  • manipulating datasets to make them mappable
  • managing spatial databases
  • setting up GPS systems for data collection by field staff.

GIS infrastructure

Corporate GIS systems can be complex beasts. IT professionals are often involved in ensuring smooth operating environments so that end users can be productive. This may require an understanding of system security, network infrastructures and computer hardware.

Programming

Programming is an important skill to have so that often-repeated tasks can be automated for end-users, working environments customized, and complex tasks made repeatable. The requirements can be as simple as writing scripts or as complex as writing full-blown compiled programs.

GIS in IT – the two big challenges for IT professionals new to the field…

  1. The addition of spatial operators to their programming toolkit – “and” and “or” operators must now work alongside spatial operators such as “within” and “contains”.
  2. The conceptual challenge of understanding that the relationship between tables no longer has to be “explicit” (eg. customer number)– it can be “implicit” by virtue of a spatial relationship to another table. For example, a pole owned by a power company might be “within” a new government administrative area.

Cartographic principles

All maps are not created equal, and maps created by the naïve can unintentionally tell lies. In many workplaces (especially the smaller ones), IT professionals become end-users too. In such cases they should work to understand issues relating to spatial data quality, map scale, and map presentation.

Understanding the problem domain

End-users are your clients – not the other way around! You should avoid re-defining user’s application problems in your technical terms. GIS is a tool for your clients and you’ll be most useful to them if you make the effort to understand their problem domain.

Conclusion

As you can see, GIS in IT can be technically oriented (mostly in larger workplaces) or quite varied (mostly in smaller workplaces). From experience, it can be an interesting and challenging job.

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