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Perhaps the first question asked by anyone when discovering GIS is what are the current options available ?. This question is often asked as directly as what is the best GIS ?. Quite simply, there is no best GIS. A wide variety of GIS software offerings exist in the commercial market place. Commercial surveys often are a good starting point in the assessment of GIS software. The number of GIS software offerings is approximately 10 if one eliminates the following:

the university based research software, which tends to lack full integration and usually has narrow channels of functionality;
the CAD vendors, who like to use GIS jargon but often cannot provide full featured functionality; and
the consulting firms, that will provide or customize selected modules for a GIS but lack a complete product.

One of the problems in evaluating the functionality of GIS software is the bias one gets from using one system or another. Comparing similar functions between systems is often confusing. Like any software, ultimately some do particular tasks better than others, and also some lack functionality compared to others.

Due mostly to this diverse range of different architectures and the complex nature of spatial analysis no standard evaluation technique or method has been established to date.

Any GIS should be evaluated strictly in terms of the potential user's needs and requirements in consideration of their work procedures, production requirements, and organizational context ! The experienced GIS consultant can play a large and valuable role in the assessment process.

A current accepted approach to selecting the appropriate GIS involves establishing a benchmark utilizing real data that best represents the normal workflow and processes employed in your organization.

The identification of potential needs and requirements is essential in developing a proper benchmark with which to evaluate GIS software packages. A formalized user need analysis is absolutely critical to the successful implementation of GIS technology.

Development of the benchmark should include a consideration of other roles within your organization that may require integration with the GIS technology. A logical and systematic approach as such is consistent with existing information systems (IS) planning methodologies and will ultimately provide a mechanism for a successful evaluation process.