GIS stands for Geographic Information System. A simple definition may read: "a computer system capable of holding and using data describing places on the earth's surface." In actuality, GIS encompasses more than just a computer system. It is the combination of computer hardware, software, personnel and procedures capable of capturing, storing, manipulating, analyzing and displaying geographically referenced data. These geographic data can be thought of as layers or cards in a deck. These layers may hold such information as roads, soils, land use, parcels, utilities or zoning. The strength of GIS lies in its ability to analyze spatial relationships between layers.

With this capability, GIS can be used to identify:

  • "What residents live within 300 feet of a proposed zoning change?"
  • "What parcels are on sensitive soils?"
  • "How many buildings are in the downtown area?"

One thing to remember is that a GIS is not a computer system for making maps, although one of its strengths is the ability to efficiently produce maps at different scales, sizes, etc. A GIS is an analytical and organizational tool to assist users in identifying spatial relationships between layers and organize land related data.