The lowdown on Geographic information system software

What is it? Geographic information system software captures spatial data and lets users display it graphically, such as by creating or overlaying maps.

When do you need it? Government offices and agencies are increasingly finding uses for GIS, for everything from depicting sewer lines at the municipal level to putting census data into map form.

How do you decide on the best software? When shopping for GIS software, analysts and product managers all recommend that you first take heed of the quality and accessibility of your agency's geospatial data. It's where the real value of any GIS is. Spell out in your vendor requirements which OpenGIS specifications they must follow; generic OpenGIS claims are meaningless otherwise. Watch out for 'brochureware' features that are missing, or not fully implemented, in products. Check scalability limits to avoid slick-looking programs that can't grow beyond a few users. The rule of thumb: Try before you buy.

Must-know info? Wireless capabilities are being added to GIS software, but you'll likely need broadband wireless service before they're really effective.

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