GIS Toolkit

A guide to planning, designing, implementing, and managing your GIS

The decision to invest in a GIS is a major one for any organization; therefore good project planning and management are essential to produce a useful and effective GIS.

1.      Determine the Purpose of the GIS

Answering some questions about the project will give a sense of guidance and purpose to the task about to be undertaken.  Clearly defined goals provide a means of measuring success, so it is important to state these at the start of the project (Korte, 1997). Questions to consider:

  • What are the goals of your GIS?
  • What do you want to do with the GIS?
  • What are the results you want to get?
  • What are the questions you want our GIS to answer?

(Carver, Cornelius, Heywood, 1998).


2.      Create a Conceptual and Physical Data Model

A data model is a term for the process of identifying all the design elements used in the construction of a GIS  (Carver, Cornelius, Heywood, 1998).

A conceptual model uses diagrams to show a list of actions that the system must be able to perform and identifies inputs, such as data sources, and outputs such as maps.  One example of a conceptual model is a flow diagram. [See Fig 1]

Figure 1: Flow Diagram (SIC, 2002)

A physical model includes additional detail that describes how to model the spatial entities, their associated attributes, and the relationships between entities in the computer.  Examples are the raster and vector models discussed further in the GIS section  (Carver, Cornelius, Heywood, 1998).


3.      Needs Assessment/Requirements Analysis

A needs assessment assembles information about the potential uses of the proposed system.  It should include the opinions, needs, and requirements of all people involved in the project.  This can be accomplished through interviews or surveys.  The result should include a list of data, processes, and products that should be accommodated in the final system (Chrisman, 1997).

The requirements analysis creates a specification for the system.  If the organization is currently using geographic data, the collection, analysis, storage, presentation, and distribution of it should be reviewed (Chrisman, 1997), (Korte, 1997).

4.      Selecting GIS Software/Hardware

When the search for possible software and hardware vendors begins, specific specifications should be incorporated within the organization standard request for bid (RFB) and request for proposal (RFP) formats.  According to The GIS Book, these should clearly state how the bids and proposals will be evaluated, the contract terms and conditions, the criteria for award of the contract, the project schedule, insurance requirements, penalties, the formats in which bids and proposals must be presented, and any other instructions to the offers (Korte, 1997).

Once several companies have matched your minimum requirements, the evaluations of the bids/proposals must be accomplished.  Some questions to consider are:


  • What functions does the software offer?
  • Will the functions meet the requirements of the organization?
  • Can it be customized?
  • What training and user support is available?
  • Which operating system will be required?
  • Will the system meet my needs in the areas of input, manipulation, analysis, and presentation? (Carver, Cornelius, Heywood, 1998)


  • What hardware is necessary for the application?
  • How many computers are needed?
  • What storage capacity, memory, speed, etc, must the computers have?
  • What graphic display devices are needed?
  • What peripherals are needed (printers, plotters, digitizers, scanners, etc)
  • What is the cost?
  • How long should it last? (Carver, Cornelius, Heywood, 1998).

Often companies that meet minimum selection criteria will perform a capabilities demonstration.


5.      Database Design

The database design should be a detailed specification defining what objects exist, their relationships, and how their geometry and attributes interrelate within the software.  The following items should be considered when developing the specification:

  • How the graphic files will be structured
  • How non graphic attributes will be structured
  • How file directories will be organized
  • How files will be named
  • How the project area will be subdivided geographically
  • How the GIS products will be presented
  • What security restrictions will be imposed on file access (Korte, 1997).

If this step is done efficiently, large amounts of time and money can be saved.  It is much less expensive to build the database correctly the first time than it is to edit the data later.


6.      Prototype Development

Designing a prototype involves constructing the GIS database for a small, representative portion of the project area.  The purpose would be to test detailed database design and estimate costs for data conversion.  It is the last opportunity to approve, cancel, or delay the GIS project before major expenditures are made (Korte, 1997).


7.      Additional Things to Consider

  • Training – Staff that will use, operate, and maintain the GIS will need to be trained in its use and operation

Some of the positions that will be needed are:

  • GIS Manager
  • Database Manager
  • Cartographer
  • Systems Manager
  • Programmer

8.      Project Management Tools

There are several methods to organizing and planning your GIS project.  Some tools that might be useful are:

  • GANTT Charts – There are time management tools that establish when are where, over the life of the project, a particular task will take place (Carver, Cornelius, Heywood, 1998). [See Fig. 2]

Figure 2: GANTT Chart (SIC, 2002)

  • PERT (program evaluation review techniques) – These are graphical tools for managing a project by showing how a task depends on the completion of others before it can be undertaken.  One of the main values of a PERT chart is that it shows which tasks can be undertaken in parallel (Carver, Cornelius, Heywood, 1998).

Carver, Steve and Sarah Cornelius and Ian Heywood.  An Introduction to

Geographical Information Systems.  Prentice Hall, New Jersey. 1998.

Chrisman, Nicholas. Exploring Geographic Information Systems. John Wiles and

Sons Inc, New York. 1999.

Korte, George B. The GIS Book. Onward Press, New Mexico. 1997.


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