There’s a skill set that’s increasingly applicable throughout the working world today and can translate to greater employability for those who possess it. Businesses, nonprofits, and government entities are using geographic information systems (GIS) to glean an unprecedented level of data and saving lives, time, money, and other resources in ways previously unimaginable in the process. As National Geographic put it: “There is no limit to the kind of information that can be analyzed using GIS technology.” 

Here we’ll explore the origins of GIS, its expanding modern-day use, and how to enhance your own GIS expertise. 

The First Use of Geographic Information Systems? 

A cholera outbreak ravaged 1850s London. At the time, it was widely believed to have been an airborne disease. Dr. John Snow, “the father of epidemiology,” did not accept that theory. Snow did some detective work, mapping areas where cases were most prominent. Eventually, he traced the source to a single water pump, had its use discontinued, and ended the outbreak. Given his methodology, he could be considered a father of GIS. 

Fast forward to 1960s Canada. Geographer Roger Tomlinson was asked by the government to inventory the country’s natural resources. He met the request by developing an automated computer system design that combined, stored, and processed the desired data. The true father of GIS, Tomlinson gave the technology its name. 

In 1981—the same year the IBM PC hit stores—the GIS world was set on the trajectory that continues to this day with the release of ARC/INFO, the first commercially available GIS. Its creators saw the broad potential of GIS: tools that could and soon would be adapted for use across many fields and industries. GIS had come a long way from its highly specialized beginnings, and its use has only grown in the decades since. 

The Many Modern Uses of GIS 

Below are just a few of the business and government sectors that today firmly depend upon GIS-derived real-time data for their ongoing operations. GIS use is expected to grow as organizations weigh the downsides of operating without this critical technology. 

Natural Resources 

True to its origins with Tomlinson in the 1960s, GIS is still used in natural resources, but with far more complex and accurate instrumentation. Modern GIS technology enables public and commercial forestry groups to use maps, images, and remote sensing data on soil, habitat, and canopy to advance forest management efforts. Digital dashboards help forestry professionals work more efficiently while fostering healthier woodlands and more sustainable practices. 

Supply Chain 

If you can use GIS to inventory Mother Nature’s efforts, you can certainly inventory deodorant, running shoes, vehicles, or any other tangible product. Today, GIS is used to find ideal locations for warehouses and distribution centers as well as the most efficient routes from those facilities to retailers. It can also assess current and historical customer buying patterns to determine where more inventory is or will be needed. For many companies, it’s an all-in-one supply chain management solution


Weather events and patterns can have costly consequences. GIS technology helps meteorologists and officials forecast weather issues and identify high-risk areas using data on population, elevation, and other factors. It can also be used to determine ideal evacuation routes and shelter locations, and it proves invaluable in organizing relief efforts and helping officials locate resources, infrastructure, medical facilities, and the like.  

Energy Utilities  

Once natural gas deposits are found, how can those assets be managed safely and efficiently? This is just one of the crucial energy industry questions that GIS can answer. GIS tools can show precisely where a pipeline should be located for efficient delivery and minimal environmental impact, making the responsible distribution of energy resources possible.  

Real Estate  

Housing prices and mortgage rates have unquestionably spiked in recent years, and housing inventory in the U.S. is low at present. Choosing sites for building new homes depends on factors including areas where current demand is highest and strong population growth is anticipated. GIS provides localized data that helps developers make informed decisions about planning residential communities, retail spaces, and more. 


Perhaps the broadest use of GIS is seen in government, where there are myriad agencies for which the technology is essential.  

Law Enforcement 

GIS is helping police deliver better preparedness and response results, from establishing safe approach and escape routes during school incidents to pinpointing officer locations during public events. Police radios are subject to interference and can compromise officer positions in sensitive situations. 


How do elections officials ensure adequate polling stations, conduct successful voter registration efforts, offer timely results reporting, and manage other aspects of the election cycle? You guessed it: GIS. If its data, whether demographic or geographic, it can be harnessed and applied via GIS. 


The federal government relies on statistics to determine the number of elected officials and resources any locality needs. Our decennial census has traditionally required census takers to go door to door to manually count homes and collect information about their occupants. At one time, this data was collated on punch cards. In 2020, the first solely digital, GIS-driven census—the most accurate national census yet—took place. Aerial and satellite images enabled analysts to quickly identify new homes by comparing recent images to older ones. Other applications allowed them to view demographic information by clicking on a screen, reducing the amount of legwork required. 

Apply Your Own New GIS Skills to Just About Any Field 

As you’ve seen, GIS is applicable to many fields. Building new skills—or adding to your existing skill set—can be a career booster. Four 8-week courses are all that stand between you and an online GIS and Geospatial Certificate from The University of Texas Permian Basin. In as little as one year, you can reinforce your expertise in the latest GIS and GPS applications, cartography, mapping, and more. And our 100% online asynchronous format will enable you to complete all coursework at your convenience from practically any location. You must have a bachelor’s degree to participate in this graduate program. See full requirements here. 

Discover what a GIS and geospatial certificate can do for your career. Apply today!