How GIS Can Thrive in a World of Big Data

October 15, 2019

It’s no secret that the concept of Big Data has played a key role in how businesses in every industry leverage information. In GIS, the implications are especially significant. The ways in which organizations obtain and apply geographic information are expanding. The potential beneficiaries of GIS data have also stretched far beyond the realm of government agencies.

Nowadays, businesses of all sizes from every corner of the planet can use GIS information to their advantage. Combine that with , and the possibilities for GIS could be endless.


The Convergence of GIS and Big Data

The idea of Big Data has been trending for a number of years. Back in 2011, McKinsey specifically highlighted that this could be the next frontier for innovation. However, its convergence with geographic information sciences has only begun recently.

One big reason for this lag in integrating the two ideas – as many have pointed out – is linked to the cost-effectiveness of hardware used in data processing over the past years. Today, hardware and computer storage have become much cheaper where midsize companies can afford data analytics tools, and smaller organizations have access to highly scalable cloud solutions. Thus, big data platforms are readily available to everyone in GIS and many other disciplines.

The challenge now is to find people who can manage and analyze the substantial volume of information and then transform it into valuable assets.

How to Benefit from Big Data and GIS

According to Geospatial World, the GIS analytics market is set to grow from $70 billion last year to more than $88 billion in 2020. In comparison, the global software-as-a-service (SaaS) market, which is far more mature, recorded revenue of $73.6 billion last year. This shows the potential of what GIS data can bring, and many are starting to get on board.

Humanitarian Projects

The United Nations has always been preaching for a future of sustainability. Advanced technologies, including Big Data, have been major contributors to humanitarian projects and have helped countries move towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Organizations such as DigitalGlobe are now using satellite data with GIS machine learning algorithms to track activity in certain locations, helping to solve problems that range from child trafficking to disaster response.


Businesses often use analytics to understand the customers they serve and devise their marketing strategies accordingly. With more geospatial data, marketers can better monitor customer activity and response to their products, leading to more effective market segmentation strategies. For instance, brands like Under Armour are using data from fitness trackers to gain further insights into what their customers like and how they feel, so that it can better align its products with customers’ needs.

Financial Services

Traditionally, a common application of GIS among financial firms is to determine which branches to consolidate to maximize value. As geospatial technology developed over recent years, the inflow of GIS data has played a decisive role in solving numerous complex issues in the financial sector, including fraud detection and risk analysis. With big data, financial firms will be better positioned to serve their customers and bolster transparency within the industry.

What the Future Holds

The combining force of GIS and Big Data creates an exciting potential for organizations all over the world. Industry leaders like Esri and IBM are already working on new methods for geographic data analytics to add another dimension to how GIS can be integrated with Big Data.

A deluge of data will create new opportunities for research, experimentation and innovation. Many of the current adoptions of GIS are just the tip of the iceberg in the quest for advancements in geospatial data science.