13th November 2020

GIS and Spatial Analysis: Celebrating the History Behind Our New SmartTools

While 2020 hasn’t been characterised by a great deal of good news so far, we’re pleased to share some from our side with the introduction of the newest version of our SmartTools platform. Having specialised in GIS solutions for over 14 years, the latest iteration of our tools brings a range of new features to our flagship software suite. With 3D visualisation, collaborative functionality and a whole new range of mapping customisation capabilities, we’re confident our new innovations will provide a positive contribution to the world of GIS.

While we see our new offering as a huge step forward, it’s interesting to look back at the origins of an approach used today by thousands of professionals across a broad range of industries and use cases. One of the earliest cases of GIS techniques can be traced back to 1832 where geographer, Charles Picquet, created a map to log the Cholera outbreak across48 districts of Paris. The shadings of the districts represent the density of infection cases making it possibly one of the world’s first heatmaps.

Several examples of similar techniques can be found across the next 20 years or so as countries and governments looked to gain insight into epidemics across their populations. These activities also began to incorporate a greater level of spatial detail as accuracy became a higher priority. Of course, the key behind the GIS we know today is the ability to utilise layers as any single map can only display so much information.

In the early 20th century, a new printing process known as photozincography allowed GIS to take a key step forward due to the fact maps could now be printed in layers, meaning roads, buildings, terrain, and more could be studied independently and overlaid upon each other. Unfortunately, colouring of the maps had to take place by hand meaning there was still a great deal of manual work required to utilise the maps for in-depth analysis.  

The first form of the computerised GIS systems we know today arrived in 1963 thanks to the pioneering work of geographer, Roger Tomlinson. The Canadian government had tasked Tomlinson with the creation of a manageable inventory of its natural resources. His plan was to use computers to merge natural resource data from the provinces. Tomlinson created the design for automated computing that stored and processed these large data sets, which enabled Canada to begin its national land-use management program. This also marked the emergence of the term “GIS” we all know today.     

By the 1980s, GIS systems were becoming increasingly commercialised and crucial to a range of use cases from infrastructure management to defence. In the years following, especially with the rise of the internet and home computing, these capabilities were finding their way into the hands of more people. For many businesses today, GIS is central to a range of key activities with web-based interfaces and greater data processing empowering everything from the management of mobile networks to tracking the 2020 pandemic, bringing us full circle from the first appearance of the technique way back in 1832.

As we near 2021, we’re pleased to offer a flexible and powerful approach to GIS across government, enterprise and mobile operator use cases. With robust capabilities for integration, processing and visualisation of layers, we can supply customised GIS solutions that are cost-efficient, collaborative and able to evolve with ever-changing demands.

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