"A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a set of computerized tools (including both hardware and software) for collecting, storing, retrieving, transforming, and displaying spatial data."* GIS is essentially a marriage between computerized mapping and data base management systems. Anything that can appear on a map can be encoded into a computer and then compared to anything on any other map, using longitude-latitude coordinates.
Many people think of GIS as a presentation tool. A GIS does in fact create high quality maps that communicate considerable amounts of information in an efficient and attention-getting manner. ("A picture is worth a thousand words.") For example, when used to select the optimal site for a major retail facility in a certain submarket, in a few seconds a GIS can simultaneously display on the computer monitor:
All the census tracts in the submarket, with the color of each tract reflecting the number of households and median household income;
All the arterials, with the traffic volumes listed next to each street segment;
The sites of all potential competitors, shown as dots, with the size of each dot drawn proportional to the square footage or gross sales of that competitor; and
The locations of any toxic waste sites, flood zones, earthquake faults, or other environmental constraints.
The presentation benefits of a GIS notwithstanding, the technology's greatest power is in data assembly and analysis. Using the above example, a CRE might ask a GIS to draw maps identifying all places throughout the nation where the number of households and their incomes exceed a certain threshold, the number of competitors within a five minute driving time is below a certain number, and no environmental constraints exist within a one-mile ring. Similarly, when valuing a property a CRE might:
Download from a "comps service" all the recent transactions fulfilling certain criteria;
Have the GIS automatically locate the comps on a street map, listing next to each comp certain critical information (e.g., date and cap rate of the most recent sale);
By pointing to each comp with the computer's arrow keys or mouse, display a photograph or even video of the comp; and
Statistically correlate the property-specific information to all the demographic, traffic, competitor, and environmental information displayed previously.
Real estate professionals who are currently in the lead in exploring the endless possibilities of GIS are retailers, brokers, institutional investment managers, and property tax assessors. Among the professionals who certainly ought to be using the technology, but for various reasons have been slow to realize the potential, are real estate consultants, appraisers, corporate real estate executives, mortgage underwriters, asset and property managers.
The overall benefits of GIS include:
More credible decisions, based on incorporating more comprehensive data in the analysis, visualizing the information in two or even three dimensions, and rapidly testing numerous alternatives in ways not possible with other technologies;
Enhanced presentation of the analysis results ("How you say something can be as important as what you say'); and
As a result, an increased competitive position, greater revenues, higher profits.
JAFAR IQBAL, BRE