A Guide to Unlocking the Power of GIS Data

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In today's data-driven world, businesses are increasingly relying on various kinds of information to make informed decisions. One such critical resource is Geographic Information System (GIS) data, a form of location data. But what exactly is GIS data, and how can it impact your business? Whether you're in charge of researching acquisitions in real estate, the head of market research in a retail organization, or a data scientist, understanding GIS data can unlock a wealth of opportunities. This comprehensive guide aims to explain what GIS data is, the types of businesses that benefit from it, and how you can leverage this specialized data for intelligent business decisions.

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What is GIS Data?

GIS, or Geographic Information System, is not just about maps. It's a framework that collects, stores, manages, and analyzes geographical data. GIS data, therefore, consists of information that has been captured and processed through this system. Essentially, GIS data is any data that has a geographical component. It can refer to anything from the layout of a small plot of land to vast landscapes and even climatic variations across continents. 

Types of GIS Data

Broadly, GIS data can be classified into two main categories:

1. Vector Data: 

This type of data represents objects on the Earth's surface as geometrical shapes. For example, boundaries of a city could be represented as polygons, roads as lines, and office buildings as points.

gis data
2. Raster Data: 

Unlike vector data, raster data represents the Earth's surface as a grid, with each cell in the grid containing a value that represents a particular characteristic, such as temperature or elevation.

Components of GIS Data

GIS data is generally made up of three primary components:


These are the data that describe characteristics of the geographical features, such as names, temperatures, or any numerical value.


This is the spatial component represented as either points, lines, or polygons in vector data, and as cells in raster data.


Metadata provides information about the data itself, such as the source, when it was last updated, and what units are being used.

Types of Businesses Using GIS Data

Geographic Information System data

The application of GIS data is vast and diverse, touching almost every industry one can think of. Here are some types of businesses that are heavily utilizing GIS data:

Real Estate

Location is the cornerstone of real estate. GIS data helps in property valuation, site selection, and demographic analysis, among other tasks to enhance the quantity and quality of location analytics sources.


Retail businesses can optimize their supply chain, enhance retail analytics, conduct market research, and even decide where to open new stores based on GIS data analyses.

Public Health

GIS data assists in tracking disease outbreaks, assessing public health infrastructure, and planning healthcare services.

Logistics and Transportation

For optimizing routes, tracking shipments, and managing a fleet, GIS data offers unparalleled advantages in logistics and transportation.

Government Agencies

GIS data aids in urban planning, disaster management, and even electoral processes, making it a versatile tool for government agencies.

By integrating GIS data into their operations, businesses in these industries not only gain a competitive edge but also improve their efficiency and effectiveness in the market. 

In future sections we will show how your business can use this powerful tool to make more intelligent decisions.

How Businesses Can Use GIS Data for Intelligent Decision-Making

The scope of GIS data extends far beyond merely mapping geographical areas. Companies can integrate GIS into their decision-making processes in a myriad of ways. Here are some key applications:

Site Selection
gis data sources

Choosing the right location for a new store, warehouse, or manufacturing plant can be a make-or-break decision for a business. GIS data can provide invaluable insights into demographic trends, foot traffic, and local infrastructure—helping companies to select the most favorable sites.

Customer Segmentation

Understanding the customer is essential for any business. GIS data allows businesses to segment their customer base geographically and demographically, enabling more targeted marketing and product distribution strategies. Businesses can understand the work and home locations of their visitors, and what other brands those visitors are going to.

Supply Chain Optimization

Logistics and transportation can be significant cost centers for businesses. GIS data can help optimize supply routes, identify bottlenecks in the supply chain, and forecast demand more accurately, ultimately saving time and resources.

Risk Assessment

For industries like real estate and insurance, risk assessment is a critical component of decision-making. GIS can assist in identifying potential risk zones and how foot traffic and migration trends are changing in different markets, leading to more informed decisions.

Market Trend Analysis

Understanding market trends geographically can provide businesses a competitive edge. GIS data can show where a brand is in high demand, where competitors are gaining ground, or where new markets may be emerging.

Tools for Collecting and Analyzing GIS Data

analyzing gis data

The advancements in GIS technology have provided businesses with a plethora of tools for collecting and analyzing geographic data. Here are some notable ones:

GIS Software Platforms


Unacast uses GIS and location data to provide location analytics software. Businesses can understand foot traffic trends, trade areas, consumer shopping behavior, migration patterns, and more.


Developed by Esri, it is one of the most comprehensive GIS software, offering a wide range of tools for mapping and spatial reasoning.


An open-source alternative to ArcGIS, suitable for those who are looking for a budget-friendly option.


Known for its user-friendly interface, it is another robust platform for GIS data collection and analysis.

Data Sources

Unacast Location Data:

Unacast provides aggregated datasets for foot traffic, trade areas, cross-visitation, and migration.

Satellite Imaging: 

Aerial images provide detailed data that can be converted into GIS formats.

Field Surveys: 

Surveyors capture data points on location, which can then be integrated into GIS systems.

Public Databases: 

Governments and international organizations often provide free access to a wealth of geographic data.

Steps for GIS Data Analysis

1. Data Collection: 

Gather data from various sources like satellite images, GPS data, surveys, and other databases.

2. Data Cleaning: 

Remove inconsistencies and inaccuracies from the collected data.

3. Data Integration & Machine Learning: 

Combine different datasets into a unified format and utilize machine learning to model behavior.

4. Spatial Analysis: 

Use GIS tools to analyze the spatial relationships between different data points.

5. Visualization: 

Create maps or other visual representations to interpret the data more easily.

6. Interpretation and Decision Making: 

Use the analyzed data to guide business decisions.

In summary, GIS data is not just a tool for mapmaking; it's a versatile utility that can greatly enhance your business's decision-making capabilities. From choosing the optimal location for a new branch to predicting market trends, the applications are nearly limitless.

Unacast has 8 years of experience turning raw data into valuable insights for clients. To learn more about our platform or datasets, book a meeting with us.

Future Trends in GIS Data

future of gis data

As technology continues to evolve, so too will the capabilities and applications of GIS data. Here are some trends that are set to redefine how businesses use GIS in the near future:

Machine Learning and AI in GIS

Machine learning algorithms and AI can analyze vast amounts of GIS data more quickly and accurately than traditional methods. This enables better predictive modeling and real-time decision-making, which are invaluable for sectors like retail, real estate, and healthcare. Learn more about how Unacast is using generative AI to make this data easily digestible for teams.

Real-time GIS Data

With the advancement in IoT (Internet of Things) devices, real-time data collection and analysis have become feasible. Businesses can monitor everything from traffic patterns to environmental changes in real-time, allowing for more dynamic and immediate decision-making.

Open-source GIS Solutions

The growth of open-source GIS tools like QGIS provides more businesses access to geographic information systems without the high costs traditionally associated with them. This democratizes the ability for smaller businesses to also leverage GIS data.

Integration with Other Data Types and Platforms

The future will likely see GIS data being integrated with other forms of data and analytics platforms. This will offer businesses a more holistic view of their operations and markets, facilitating more nuanced and comprehensive decision-making strategies.


The world is more interconnected than ever, and the complexities this brings demand more advanced tools for understanding it. GIS data is one such tool, offering invaluable insights that extend far beyond cartography. From site selection and customer segmentation to supply chain optimization and risk assessment, GIS data provides businesses in various sectors with a robust foundation for intelligent decision-making. 

As the technology continues to evolve, incorporating machine learning, real-time data, and more, its applications in the business world are bound to expand even further. Regardless of the industry you're in, understanding and leveraging GIS data can offer you a substantial edge in today's competitive market.

In the age of information, ignoring the geographical aspect of your data could mean missing out on essential insights. So, whether you're in retail, real estate, or financial services, now is the time to explore the world of GIS data and consider how it could benefit your operations.

Frequently Asked Questions about GIS Data:

What is an example of GIS data?

GIS data is ubiquitous and can be found in various forms, catering to different sectors and needs. One example is GPS (Global Positioning System) data, which records the latitude, longitude, and sometimes altitude of a specific location at a given time. This data is used for navigation, understanding foot traffic patterns, and geolocation-based services. When integrated into GIS, it can create detailed maps and help analyze movement patterns.

Attributes like elevation, rainfall data, and land use are carefully analyzed to predict which areas are most susceptible to flooding under different conditions. This information is critical for urban planning, setting insurance premiums, and even for emergency preparedness plans. The value of such GIS data becomes apparent when it aids in creating effective flood mitigation strategies, potentially saving lives and reducing property damage. So, GIS data in this context serves a purpose that extends beyond just geographical mapping—it becomes a tool for risk management and public safety.

How is GIS used to collect data?

The collection of GIS data is a multi-faceted process, utilizing a range of technologies and methodologies. Here are some common ways:

1. Satellite Imaging: 

Modern satellites are capable of capturing highly detailed images of the Earth's surface. These images can provide a wealth of GIS data, from vegetation cover to urban development.

2. Field Surveys: 

Surveyors equipped with GPS devices collect data points directly from the field. This method is especially useful for collecting hyper-local data, like the specific layout of a construction site or the condition of particular roads.

3. Data Souces: 

Various online sources and databases can provide a wealth of GIS data. This includes census data, GPS data, geographical surveys, and even social media activity.

4. Remote Sensing: 

Instruments mounted on aircraft or drones can capture data in inaccessible areas or places where high-resolution data is needed.

5. Public and Private Databases: 

Governments, research institutions, and private organizations often maintain databases that can be valuable sources of GIS data.

Each of these methods has its advantages and disadvantages, and often, a combination of several is used to collect comprehensive GIS data for specific projects.

What are the two main types of GIS data?

GIS data is generally categorized into two main types: Vector and Raster data. 

1. Vector Data: 

This type of GIS data represents geographical features as points, lines, and polygons. Points could represent things like lamp posts or manholes, lines could signify roads or rivers, and polygons could indicate areas like parks, lakes, or city boundaries. Vector data is especially useful for representing discrete features—those that have clearly defined boundaries.

2. Raster Data: 

Raster data, on the other hand, is better suited for representing continuous features without clear boundaries, like temperature variations across a region or elevation levels. In raster data, the geographical area is divided into a grid, and each cell within the grid contains a specific value representing a particular attribute.

Both types have their advantages and are often used in conjunction to provide a more comprehensive view. Vector data is generally more flexible and offers a higher level of detail, while raster data is better for capturing more generalized, continuous information.

What is GIS data analysis?

GIS data analysis is the process by which raw geographic data is transformed into actionable insights. It involves various steps like data collection, cleaning, integration, and finally, spatial analysis to understand the relationships between different geographical features and attributes.

Different types of analyses can be performed based on what questions are being asked. For instance, spatial analysis can help identify patterns and relationships in the data, like determining areas of high crime or predicting the spread of a wildfire. Buffer analysis can show what lies within a certain distance of a feature, useful in applications like determining a store's catchment area. 

Statistical methods can also be employed to interpret the data and provide quantitative assessments, like calculating the average land value in a certain area or the percentage change in traffic flow over time. Advanced techniques such as machine learning algorithms can further refine this analysis, making predictions based on the data.

So, GIS data analysis is not just about understanding the 'where' but also about understanding the 'why' and 'how' of geographical phenomena, making it an invaluable tool for intelligent decision-making in businesses across sectors.

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