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GIS Resources

Sector Overview

What is GIS?

A GIS is a computer system capable of capturing, storing, analyzing, and displaying geographically-referenced information; that is, data that can be tied to some specific location. Any information that has position, size, or shape is known as spatial data. Generally this refers to land-related information, such as property details, man-made structures, natural resources, the environment, land use, civil infrastructure, and demographics. The potential content, however, is almost endless. The power of GIS lies in the ability to visualize and analyze database information in a spatial environment. The results typically appear as data that may be presented as a map though this in not always the case.

While GIS and related technologies have been around for some decades, it is only with the development of more powerful computers and more intuitive interfaces that they are finally coming into the mainstream. An increasing volume of data that can be tied to geographic location is available for populating a GIS. While natural resource disciplines have historically been the principle users of these tools, they are now being applied to a wide range of areas including:

  • Emergency services
  • Facilities management
  • DOD and Intelligence issues
  • Human health and medical analysis
  • Transportation
  • Business marketing and analysis

GIS technologies are growing in use and utility. Newer tools are being integrated into the technology infrastructure of large organizations and increasingly employees from a variety of disciplines are being asked to learn about GIS and its related technologies. Entire workforces are requiring significant retraining not only in the software, but in the underlying principles of spatial data and analysis. Consistent, effective training programs do not yet exist for this segment of the marketplace.

What are Geographic Information Systems (GIS)?

GIS is an information technology that allows the display and analysis of information based upon geographic location. One could think of them as advanced mapping systems that do more than just produce maps. They provide a powerful set of tools that allow us to ask complex questions about our world. It is important to understand that GIS are not strictly software packages. A GIS is an “Information System” specially designed to handle geographic information.

Who uses GIS?

GIS is a technology that in many ways is very similar to statistics. Statistics are used by many disciplines to analyze numbers. A GIS can be used by almost any discipline that is interested in objects or events that exist or occur on or near the surface of the earth. If information can be tied to a geographic location (often referred to as spatial data) it can be analyzed in a GIS. 

How is GIS used?

GIS is used by businesses interested in analyzing market areas or where to establish new ventures, environmental scientists to determine the impact of pollutants on an area, epidemiologists to track how a disease is spreading through a population or region of a country, or military forces to determine the best route. The ways a GIS may be used are almost endless.

How is GIS changing?

With recent advances in computing power and information technologies (IT), GIS has become more available and more broadly integrated into the IT infrastructure of organizations. It is increasingly being applied as a web based tool for providing information in a geographic fashion. Examples of this can be found at websites such as www.mapquest.com for road maps and address searches or interactive mapping for the location of recent crime events in.

What does a GIS consist of?

A GIS is a type of information system that deals with data tied to a real world geographic location (spatial data). There are a number of components that collectively make up the system including hardware, software, and spatial data. One of the most important elements however are the people involved - analysts, database specialists, application developers etc. These people need to have a fundamental understanding of GIS principles, spatial data issues, and the topic or question the tool is being applied against to make the most effective and rigorous use of GIS.

Who uses GIS?

Due to the nature of human activity (spread across the surface of the earth) there is a diverse range of disciplines that use GIS to make smarter decisions. The value of GIS lays in their data fusion capabilities. Disparate datasets covering a common area can be combined geographically to discern commonality that is only spatially apparent.

The Industries web page at ESRI’s (a prominent GIS vendor) home page provides a range of excellent examples and resources for different disciplines and their use of GIS:

Their list of industries includes the following:

  • Business
    • Financial services
    • Media
    • Real Estate
    • Retail and Commercial
  • Cartography
  • Communications
    • Location-Based Services
    • Telecommunications
  • Defense and Intelligence
  • Education
  • Engineering
    • Civil Engineering
    • Surveying
  • Government
    • Economic Development
    • Elections
    • Federal
    • Homeland Security
    • Lands Records and Cadastral
    • Law Enforcement
    • Public Safety
    • State and Local
    • Sustainable Development
    • Urban and Regional Planning
  • Health and Human Services
    • Hospitals and Health Systems
    • Public Health and Human Services
  • Natural Resources
    • Agriculture
    • Archaeology
    • Environmental Management
    • Forestry
      Marine and Coastal
    • Mining and Earth Sciences
    • Petroleum
    • Pipeline
  • Transportation
    • Transportation Systems and Networks
    • Logistics and Fleet Management
  • Utilities
    • Electric and Gas
    • Water / Wastewater

Note that many of these categories have are very large with many potential subcategories as well. For example, Defense and Intelligence includes a range of specific applications such as:

  • Command and control (C2)
  • Defense mapping organizations
  • Base operations and facility management
  • Force protection and security
  • Environmental security and resource management
  • Health and hygiene
  • Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems
  • Logistics
  • Military engineering
  • Mine clearance and mapping
  • Mission Planning
  • Peacekeeping operations
  • Modeling, simulation, and training
  • Terrain analysis
  • Visualization
  • Chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high explosive (CBRNE) incident planning and response

For a longer discussion of different segments of the GIS industry click here: GIS Industry Overview

Where is GIS going?

The Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics has identified a number of high-growth industries that will place significant demands on the workforce in the near future. One of these areas is Geospatial Technologies. 

Geospatial Technologies encompass a number of technologies that tie data and information to geographic locations. Satellite imagery, digital maps, the Global Positioning System (GPS), Location Based Services, spatially enabled databases, and Internet services are elements of this industry. Advances in computer technology over recent decades have significantly improved our ability to capture, compare, and visualize these data.

Geographic Information Systems are increasingly integrated with more traditional information systems and with the IT infrastructure of corporations and government entities. The technologies supporting these developments are highly functional and increasingly conforming to open standards.

For a look at where ESRI sees their technology going visit this site: Technology Trends in GIS 

What makes this program unique?

This Master's of Professional Studies in Geographic Information Systems offered by UMBC is unique in a number of ways.

  • Explicitly developed courses
  • Designed to meet the current and future needs of the geospatial industry
  • Different from traditional GIS and technical Geography degrees
  • Focused on IT integration of GIS:  “Enterprise GIS”
Explicit Development

This master program has been explicitly developed to conform to the Geographic Information Science & Technology: Body of Knowledge developed by the AAG and UCGIS. The GIS&T BOK is the result of a tacit recognition that current avenues for learning GIS and related technologies are not serving the needs of the workforce. The BOK provides a collection of the core knowledge required to be successful in the developing geospatial industry.  All of the courses in the program are designed following the content of the BOK and to conform to curriculum guidelines it engenders. Courses are also designed to development of practical skills that conform to the Geospatial Technology Competency Models developed through the Geospatial Workforce Development Center. 

Meeting the Needs of Industry

This program has been developed following considerable consultation with local industry. A considerable effort to discover the needs of local businesses and government agencies was engaged in the early stages of development. The results of that survey informed course selection, the format for delivery, and the professional developments of the program.

This program is being built from the ground up to meet the needs that industry has identified. It is not hampered by legacy curriculum and can specifically adopt the latest guidelines in this respect. It focuses on the direction the industry is going with less reliance on individual GIS analysts solving problems and more on the development of systems where most of the functions and capabilities are developed on the systems side.

Different from other Master's of GIS or Geography

Many recent programs focused on GIS utilize their existing geography courses and instructors to tailor (actually repackage) their courses as something appropriate for GIS professionals. This results in disconnected courses without a clear relationship to GIS as a technology or even specific elements of GIS in an enterprise context. These programs are still valuable but perhaps more accurately characterized as a technical geography masters. 

The UMBC MPS of GIS reflects a paradigm shift in GIS. Until relatively recently, GIS has consistently been considered a valuable tool for analysis, especially of spatial phenomena. Analysts “build” a GIS to address and analyze a specific problem or perform an ongoing task. Such programs are not focused on the development of an Information System for leveraging the value of geographic information on an ongoing basis. Often as an integral part of an organizations business practices.

If you are interested in developing advanced technology skills with regards to GIS, this is the program from you. If you are interested in GIS from the project/program manager perspective and being involved in the development of GIS systems, this is the program for you. 

You will develop significant analytical skills and capabilities as well as rounding out your professional skills in our program but you will also have a much deeper understanding of the system from beginning to end. 

Interactive Maps

Harvard Geospatial Library
The Harvard Geospatial Library offers search tools for finding geographic data, GIS data for download, and on-line geographic data exploration tools.

MIT Digital Orthophoto Browser
This site allows the user to interactively browse the digital orthophotos of the metropolitan Boston area, zoom, pan, and download the image or digital data.

National Geographic Map Machine
This site facilitates full color mapping of world to street level geography. Users can also view and print historical and atlas maps, flags, facts, and even portions of Mars.

US Census Bureau American Fact Finder
Here users can produce basic thematic maps using 2000 US Census data. Users can also download the tabular information or map image.

General Resources

Portal Sites

Industry Publications

Data Sites

US Government Sites

Career Information

Job Outlook

The Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics has identified a number of high-growth industries that will place significant demands on the workforce in the near future. One of these areas is Geospatial Technologies.

Geospatial Technologies encompass a number of technologies that tie data and information to geographic locations. Satellite imagery, digital maps, the Global Positioning System (GPS), Location Based Services, spatially enabled databases, and Internet services are elements of this industry. Advances in computer technology over recent decades have significantly improved our ability to capture, compare, and visualize these data.

Geographic Information Systems are increasingly integrated with more traditional information systems and with the IT infrastructure of corporations and government entities. The technologies supporting these developments are highly functional and increasingly conforming to open standards.

For a look at where ESRI sees their technology going visit this site:  Technology Trends in GIS

Job Descriptions

GIS Director
  • Conduct a planning workshop to formulate an plan for GIS long-term growth and short-term operations;
  • Provide leadership and focus on the economic development aspect of GIS management;
  • Manage the agency’s GIS functions in coordination and conjunction with the GIS needs of other offices;
  • Perform on-going objective evaluation of GIS effectiveness; recommend and implement changes necessary to meet the goals;
  • Interact regularly with staff from other offices and organizations to ensure that GIS functions meet both needs and external public needs.
GIS Manager
  • Lead GIS implementation and maintenance activities including resource planning, policy and procedures development, departmental needs assessment, systems analysis, inter-governmental agreements;
  • Coordinate and supervise GIS activities and personnel (spatial analysis, data modeling, development and management of databases, metadata, digital mapping, and GIS data standards and quality assurance procedures);
  • Manage GIS data development and/or conversion projects including providing technical expertise, obtaining milestones, and meeting deadlines;
  • Provide technical expertise and assistance to meet the needs and requests of other government agencies and the general public related to the GIS system.
GIS Coordinator
  • Responsible for coordinating activities related to the development, deployment, and use of GIS;
  • Provide guidance and training to users;
  • Facilitate interdepartmental cooperation, database administration and GIS web site administration;
  • Assist in the development and administration of the GIS budget, and work closely with user departments, consultants, vendors, external users, and the general public in the coordination and utilization of GIS services.
GIS Senior Developer/Project Manager
  • Serve as the project manager for GIS development projects;
  • Lead hands-on technical role in planning for and implementing GIS data model migration;
  • Provide GIS analytical and technical expertise for the analysis, design, development, testing and implementation of GIS-based applications;
  • Provide GIS software and programming expertise;
  • Geo-spatial data administration, database design and development;
  • Execute complex geo-spatial analysis using GIS software tools and techniques;
  • Write technical user documentation for application products;
  • Troubleshoot problems associated with existing GIS applications and tools.
GIS Specialist/Sr. GIS Specialist/Sr. Programmer/Analyst
  • Generate and maintain geodatabases layers and associated attribute information;
  • Work as a high level technical expert in design, development, implementation, and testing of complex GIS applications or significant enhancements to existing GIS applications.
  • Act as highest-level technical expert, addressing issues of standards, strategy, technical requirements, and long-term administration and maintenance;
  • Implement, operate, populate, analyze and maintain GIS applications and databases. Work includes the translation of various software datasets, manipulation of intricate data and execution of complex queries, as well as, maintenance and updates of GIS databases, application of standard spatial analysis functionality, training and documentation activities;
  • Provide applications development and programming services, spatial database administration and development, computing systems administration and analytical support;
  • Design and develop efficient program logic for the enhancement of existing systems, including appropriate system documentation; preparing test cases and carrying out unit integrations to ensure that modified systems perform correctly;
  • Analyze systems documentation, program logic and manuals, including on-site review of user procedures to achieve a thorough understanding of the various systems functions;
  • Coordinate projects with peers, supervisors and management to ensure that project and departmental objectives are met.
GIS Developer
  • Support the needs of clients;
  • Provide expertise on GIS development technologies;
  • Participate in application design and programming teams;
  • Create software specifications and estimates;
  • Write and document GIS application code;
  • Maintain and update existing applications used by clients;
  • Assist GIS technical staff with general programming support;
  • Troubleshoot application problems;
  • Assist with client implementation, installation and support of GIS applications.
GIS Analyst, Senior
  • Provide geographic information services utilizing GIS systems to various departments;
  • Analyze, define, model, implement, and maintain databases;
  • Lead and/or participate as team member in large projects;
  • Lead and/or participate in geospatial data conversion projects;
  • Collect and update geospatial data documentations, including metadata.
GIS Analyst
  • Participate in all aspects of GIS analysis and application development, including design, analysis, programming, testing, documentation, training, and user support;
  • Provide GIS software and programming expertise;
  • Apply sophisticated geospatial analysis techniques;
  • GIS database design, development and maintenance;
  • Write technical and user documentation;
  • Troubleshoot problems associated with existing GIS applications and data;
  • Collaborate closely with other developers and GIS professionals;
  • Provide on-going support for GIS programs and functions requiring programming and analysis;
  • Collect, create, edit, operate, maintain, analyze, distribute, and plot simple and complex GIS/GPS data;
  • Prepare technical reports and proposals, and provide technical support to project managers.
GIS Technician
  • Perform mapping and data analysis tasks including producing graphic and tabular data;
  • Create and keep GIS coverages, digitize geographic data and input non-geographic data;
  • Collect, create, edit, operate, maintain, analyze, distribute, and plot simple GIS/GPS data.

GIS Job Sites

Professional Certification

An ongoing debate in the industry is the appropriateness of certifying GIS Professionals URISA and ASPRS both have certification processes. For more information see: http://www.asprs.org/membership/certification/ and/or http://www.gisci.org/

Professional Associations

Consortia and Research Centers

Professional Organizations




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