A. Frank, M. Raubal, and M. van der Vlugt, Eds. (2000) PANEL-GI Compendium - A Guide to GI and GIS. Genova, Italy. Geographical Information Systems International Group (GISIG) & European Commission.


Information about spatial situations, so-called Geographical Information (GI), is becoming more and more important for our society. Human beings live in space and human actions affect space, therefore Geographical Information is extremely important for all decisions people make. We need to understand where things are, and how to move in the world in order to fulfil our goals and predict the effects of actions to others. Travellers need Geographical Information to follow routes to their destinations, urban planners need Geographical Information for their work, and business people need Geographical Information for marketing strategies. These are just a few areas where the use of Geographical Information leads to better results.

The invention of the computer in the mid 20th century and the resulting Information Technology (IT) provide new ways to collect, manage and present information. Today it is possible to perform sophisticated analysis of geographical data through the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS). Geographical Information Systems are special cases of information systems, namely information systems where data are related to locations in space and in which processing of the data with respect to these spatial locations is possible. Computer networks give the flexibility to distribute GIS components and data between different locations, therefore making GI and GIS an important factor for different businesses.
This book aims to provide an introductory overview of GI and GIS issues. It is meant primarily for (potential) users of GI and GIS, but also for managers in private business and decision makers in the public and private sectors. It demonstrates the benefits of GI and GIS to readers who may have limited awareness of this topic.

The book concentrates on issues that a user needs to know, such as the basic technical concepts and the organisational and business aspects of GIS. Although the book tries to avoid technical details and specifics of particular systems, it nevertheless gives a short introduction into the ways in which GIS work. This knowledge should enable readers to communicate with technicians in different GIS and mainstream-IT organisations. GIS is a multidisciplinary field, both in its origins and in its user community. For that reason this book is aimed at readers from all possible backgrounds. Spatial information is everywhere.

Structure of the book

The book is organised in eight chapters, each dealing with a different aspect of the GI field. It is structured as a guide to different GI issues and each chapter was developed in such a way that the reader can look at the issues of her interest without the necessity to go through the whole book.
To facilitate reading of the individual chapters, each is preceded with the aims, objectives and learning outcomes of the chapter. This summarises the issues addressed in each chapter, and what the reader should have learned after reading it.

The first chapter of the book explains in detail why Geographical Information is so important in our daily lives. It gives definitions of the major terms this book is concerned with, namely Geographical Information (GI) and Geographical Information Systems (GIS). The chapter further examines the roots of GIS, describes why GIS is a product of different sciences and explains the general purpose of GIS. The importance of GI is demonstrated through explaining its effect on the efficiency of the economy. It is also shown that GI is a rapidly growing business but there are still many impediments to the use of GI in Europe.

Chapter 2 explains the basic concepts of Geographical Information Systems as a means of storing and retrieving attributes about space. It shows the stages of modelling reality in a GIS, from the conceptual data model to its implementation. The two different views of space are explained and typical applications shown. Furthermore, the chapter deals with the different kinds of questions one can ask a GIS. The chapter also reviews the fundamentals of electronics and computer hardware, as they are relevant to the addressed audience. This part includes operating systems, networks, and software engineering methods. Finally, the chapter deals with aspects such as geographical analysis and visualisation.

GIS is more than hardware, software and data. Chapter 3 therefore addresses the issues of organisational aspects and business aspects of GIS. How to introduce GIS in an organisation, the impacts of GIS on people and organisations and how to select the proper GIS are some of the questions dealt with. Subsequently, the chapter moves to business aspects of GIS and the relation to E-commerce, to conclude with some friendly warnings about misconceptions and pitfalls surrounding this theme.

The advent of IT imposes an adaptation of the way Geographical Information is collected and distributed - from paper-based maps to electronic access using the World Wide Web (WWW). The corresponding change in organisation is substantial and summarised under "Geographical Information Infrastructure" (GII). Chapter 4 deals with GII and indicates that Geographical Information of various types must be widely available in an effective economy. The chapter points to the general goals of a GII and shows the processes necessary to reach them. It gives as an example the US National Spatial Data Infrastructure and then describes a series of other National GII Infrastructures. Finally, it outlines efforts towards a European GII and also discusses attempts to establish a Global GII.

Chapter 5 describes the process of creating a national GII based on the Portuguese example SNIG, one of the few fully operational GII at the national level. It starts with a description of the framework that allowed SNIG to be implemented. It continues to present the main components of a GII, namely the institutional framework, the network, the metadata catalogues, the applications to manipulate GI and the possibility to implement GI commercial transactions. For each of these components, the management issues and their connection with the technical alternatives are underlined. Finally, the chapter demonstrates the need to create a framework that facilitates the access to GI at different levels so that a National GII can evolve.

Chapter 6 deals with the important issues of standardisation and interoperability from a European perspective. It presents the current situation of the process of development of GI standards and specifications, in particular the CEN, ISO and OGC activities. The chapter also deals with experiences in implementing new standards. Some examples are given. The need to promote GI standards and to educate the GI community is expressed, as is the importance for GI market actors to participate in standardisation processes. The chapter further demonstrates that GI standardisation and the development of interpretable solutions are key factors for market growth.

Chapter 7 focuses on important GIS application domains. It gives an overview of the domains and presents selected case studies in detail. The domains were chosen to give a wide spectrum of possible applications. These projects deal with domains such as land cover, forestry, soil, integrated assessment, urban zones, and agriculture. They correspond to a wide range of scale and information content, and were chosen based on a clear operational dimension.

The final chapter of the book presents expected trends for the future of GI and GIS. It reinforces the statement that geographical data are crucial for the economic development of a country, central to the protection of the environment and that geographical data contribute to a democratic society. After listing some general trends, technology push versus user demand, cost-benefit assessment, and the area of distributed GIS are discussed. Other future trends concern the areas of metadata, Open GIS, small business-oriented GIS, E-commerce and the general integration of GI into mainstream computing.

In addition to the eight chapters described above, conclusions, selected links (URLs) to GI and GIS, and a glossary are included at the end of the book.

Extended Package

There are consistently new developments in the field of GI and GIS. It is also for this reason that the content of this book is kept at a general level. Readers, who are interested in more detailed, up-to-date information, are referred to the so-called "extended package". This is published on the web (http://gisig.ima.ge.cnr.it/panel-gi/ftp/package/extpk.htm) and updated regularly.

The Extended Package intends to complement this book with any useful material such as technical documents, articles, studies, and examples in line with the PANEL GI package issue. Moreover, the Extended Package aims at fostering integration with other GI/GIS projects and the development of an engine for knowledge sharing and for the promotion of new GI initiatives.

It is organised by referencing to the structure of the PANEL-GI Compendium with an index of the available material, an abstract of each article/application and the URL to the material itself, which is made available by the partner responsible on its web site.

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