Geographic Information Systems (GIS) may be able to trace its ancestral roots to the first cartographers, but the technology has evolved into a highly efficient tool that allows users to plot geographic locations and store information in an easily accessible database.

One of the most important functions of GIS is enabling the use of web and mobile-based mapping applications to provide information necessary to complete high-level analyses. GIS allows the information to be updated and viewed simultaneously so that users can make informed decisions based on up-to-the-minute information.

Previously, maps were created and emailed to clients who would make changes and send the maps back to be updated. With web-based mapping, that lag time has evaporated. Anyone with a smartphone or tablet can not only access the information even as it’s being updated, but they can also make edits in the field. Web-based mapping makes the client’s and project manager’s lives easier because the same information is available to everyone and efforts aren’t unnecessarily duplicated.

For a client, an Internet browser is the only requirement for retrieving the information − specialized software, hardware or special training is not necessary to use GIS. The information is more simplified and intuitive, lowering training costs by eliminating application purchases or updates and specific program training.

Most clients don’t request web- or mobile-based mapping because they assume the technology is only available on GIS projects. But the biggest advantage of the technology is the centralization of large quantities of data that can be managed by project team members simultaneously. Once a client realizes the ease of accessing data in real time, he will never want to be without it.

Implementation planning is integral to the success of any project that requires a significant amount of data management. For an organization to successfully implement a web-based system, those setting up the system must conduct the necessary up front implementation planning and not just jump into developing a web application. Evident advantages aside, web- and mobile-based mapping does have disadvantages, such as requiring high-speed Internet or wireless coverage to work. In the future, wireless coverage will no longer be an issue because disconnected editing will allow data to be viewed and edited offline; changes will be automatically uploaded when wireless becomes available. Also, the perception exists that the technology is expensive to set up, but technological innovations such as cloud-based GIS have significantly reduced initial costs. Finally, because the information is delivered in a simplified format, the mapping is not as robust as a traditional GIS desktop application, which would serve as the primary data management tool.

 Smoothly integrating many types of information makes GIS an important tool in the planning phases of an engineering project. While CAD remains a superior program for design, GIS offers a more efficient way of storing and tracking information needed to plan and design; GIS also excels in performing spatial analysis. GIS and CAD do overlap in some instances, though, because some projects, such as environmental, aerial photos or elevation data, require sharing data between CAD and GIS. Web services allow GIS data, such as aerials or elevation information, to be accessed directly in the CAD environment, eliminating the need for GIS data conversion.