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An operational GIS also has a series of components that combine to make the system work. These components are critical to a successful GIS.

A working GIS integrates five key components:







Hardware is the computer system on which a GIS operates. Today, GIS software runs on a wide range of hardware types, from centralized computer servers to desktop computers used in stand-alone or networked configurations.


GIS software provides the functions and tools needed to store, analyze, and display geographic information. A review of the key GIS software subsystems is provided above.


Perhaps the most important component of a GIS is the data. Geographic data and related tabular data can be collected in-house, compiled to custom specifications and requirements, or occasionally purchased from a commercial data provider. A GIS can integrate spatial data with other existing data resources, often stored in a corporate DBMS. The integration of spatial data (often proprietary to the GIS software), and tabular data stored in a DBMS is a key functionality afforded by GIS.


GIS technology is of limited value without the people who manage the system and develop plans for applying it to real world problems. GIS users range from technical specialists who design and maintain the system to those who use it to help them perform their everyday work. The identification of GIS specialists versus end users is often critical to the proper implementation of GIS technology.


A successful GIS operates according to a well-designed implementation plan and business rules, which are the models and operating practices unique to each organization.

As in all organizations dealing with sophisticated technology, new tools can only be used effectively if they are properly integrated into the entire business strategy and operation. To do this properly requires not only the necessary investments in hardware and software, but also in the retraining and/or hiring of personnel to utilize the new technology in the proper organizational context. Failure to implement your GIS without regard for a proper organizational commitment will result in an unsuccessful system ! Many of the issues concerned with organizational commitment are described in Implementation Issues and Strategies.

It is simply not sufficient for an organization to purchase a computer with some GIS software, hire some enthusiastic individuals and expect instant success.