A Geographic Information System (GIS) is an organized collection of computer hardware, software, geographic data, and personnel designed to efficiently capture, store, update, manipulate, analyze, and display all forms of geographically referenced information.
While a conventional database limits questions to ones like "Which properties are valued at greater than $90,000?," a GIS can be used to answer questions such as "Which properties are adjacent to my property?" The GIS user can question the database in ways that are not possible with conventional databases. The ability to perform dynamic queries allows us to both evaluate current conditions and model future scenarios.
One of the most powerful features of geographic analysis is the ability to compare different layers of information. Just as a County agency may store information in different databases, a GIS stores information in thematic layers. Mecklenburg County data can be divided into layers such as streets, hydrology, buildings, etc. Each layer is managed separately in a GIS.
A GIS can provide a unique insight into many difficult problems. Mecklenburg County has used GIS since 1992 to successfully develop solutions to a host of problems encountered by County agencies and departments. These problems range from mapping the locations of toxic facilities to creating new County Commissioner districts to analyzing the spatial distribution of welfare recipients. The benefit of a GIS is that it provides a graphical representation and an intelligent database about the inventory of geographic elements. This inherent ability of GIS to locate features spatially adds a great deal of power and flexibility to a database.