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Everything you need to know about GIS data

Jan 2023

We break down the essential information about GIS data — what it is, where it comes from, and how it’s used.

Jan 2023

You might not know the acronym GIS off the top of your head, but these three letters are instrumental to almost every industry in the modern world. We’re talking about geographic information systems (GIS) and the data they generate.
GIS assembles data into what is essentially a trifle — it’s layers of seemingly unrelated elements that come together to create logical, quantifiable outcomes. By creating, managing, analyzing, and mapping huge datasets and then relating them to the world around us, we can glean valuable insights about spatial patterns and relationships.
We’re here to talk through everything you need to know about GIS data — where to get it, how to use it, and what it does.

What is GIS?

A GIS (geographic information system) is essentially a system that creates, manages, analyzes, and maps all types of data, and then relates it specifically to geographic information – both location and description-based.
This fusion of mapping and analysis provides rich data and insights about locations. A typical GIS includes a digital map, accompanying digital data displayed on the map, and GIS software that links the two while carrying out the mapping and data analysis.

How does GIS work?

The maps that GIS generates bring order to the chaos of multiple datasets. Instead of sifting through loads of data, the information is collated into shareable maps with geographic data layers.
GIS tools are designed to analyze and visualize this spatial data, and it happens in three steps:
  • Visualize data: The system displays geographic data
  • Combing data: Maps are created with layers of data
  • Query data: Geographic queries look for insights and information in the layered data
GIS data formats are created using different sources such as aerial imagery, field GIS data collection, GPS, and remote sensing. The integration of Nearmap with geospatial platforms like Esri ArcGIS is a prime example of how high-resolution aerial imagery works to make GIS technology more powerful and accurate. You can visualize data and projections in a real-world context as well as gain more information about the environment you’re analyzing.

What are the uses of GIS data?

GIS technology and its data are used in a wide variety of industries. The main uses of GIS data are for scientific research, resource management, and development planning. For example, a retailer might use GIS data to determine the best location for a new store based on population growth and foot traffic. Councils can monitor vegetation change in their local area, and architecture, engineering, and construction companies can plan and monitor projects.
Governments can use the data for a whole host of purposes including disaster planning and management — GIS can reveal ideal ingress and egress routes, help guide where to establish emergency shelters, and pinpoint which neighborhoods are most vulnerable.
Types of GIS data

There are two major types of GIS data — vector and raster. We explain the main differences below.


The vector format is all about firm borders and solid data. It’s any data that has a spatial component to it — if you’re using X/Y coordinates, that’s vector data. Vector data represents geographic data as points, lines or polygons.


The raster format is a grid of cells or pixels, where each cell contains an attribute value. The raster format is best for storing GIS data that varies over time, including aerial imagery and topographic data.

How many stages are there in GIS?

The process of GIS mapping can be broken down into five stages.

1. Spatial reference frameworks

This is the mapping reality and bare bones of a GIS — the actual physical locations and objects represented using a coordinate system

2. Spatial data models

The coordinates are turned into a more visual representation that’s closer to a map using a combination of vector and raster formats.

3. Spatial data acquisition systems

The GIS collects more spatial data to plug into the framework. This data comes from many sources, including aerial photographs and surveying.

4. Spatial data analysis

The GIS queries the collected data to find relevant answers to practical geospatial questions, like how big a site is or the distance between two buildings.

5. Geovisualization and information delivery

This is where the magic happens! The GIS wraps all of the previous layers up into a user-friendly and searchable digital format.

Use Nearmap to help your GIS excel

Now that you know how it works and what it can be used for, why not level up your GIS to use the best data in the business?
Learn more about how high-resolution, aerial imagery from Nearmap, when integrated into geospatial platforms such as Esri ArcGIS, can help you optimize your location-based analysis today.
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