Note: The Figures and/or Tables mentioned in this chapter do not appear on the web.
There are perhaps 100 other books on geographic information systems (GIS) now on the world market. To the best of our knowledge, there is no other one like ours. One reason for that is that most treat GIS as a largely technical issue. This is reflected in the skills of existing GIS staff and the junior and middle level jobs they occupy. But our philosophy differs more profoundly than simply believing that there is too much emphasis on the technology. We see GIS as providing a gateway to science and problem-solving. Our philosophy is summarized below.
The basic operations of GIS provide secure and established foundations for analysis, although the technology is still evolving rapidly (especially in relation to the Internet, its likely successors, and spin-offs). Better technology will remain a necessary condition for achievement of cheaper, faster GIS and better interoperability -- but it is far from a sufficient condition for successful application of such systems.
GIS is fundamentally an applications-led technology, yet science underpins successful applications. Effective use of such systems is impossible if they are simply seen as black boxes producing magic. Understanding the imprecision and uncertainty of our representations of the world, and the consequences of our operations on them, is essential for everything except the most trivial use of GIS. Empirical analysis of the real world can be a messy and analytically inconvenient business and so the science ofreal-world application is the difficult kind - it can rarely refer to apparently universal truths, such as the laws of gravity. Rather it is one founded on a search for understanding and predictive power in a world where human factors interact with those relating to the physical environment. Social science and natural science are part of what we embrace. In addition, ethics and esthetics -- the basis of the most effective graphic displays -- can also play an important role.
Geographic information is central to the practicality of GIS. If it does not exist, it is expensive to collect, edit, or update. If it does exist, it cuts costs and time -- assuming it is fit for purpose, or good enough for the particular task in hand. It underpins the rapid growth of trading in geographic information (g-commerce). It provides possibilities not only for local business but also for entering new markets or for forging new relationships with other organizations. But it is a foolish individual who sees it only as a commodity like baked beans or shaving foam. Its value relies upon its coverage and on the strengths of its representation of diversity, on its truth within a constrained definition of that word, and on its availability.
Few of us are hermits. The way in which geographic information is created and it and GIS are exploited affects us as citizens, as owners of enterprises, and as employees. It has increasingly been argued that GIS is only a part -- albeit a part growing in importance and size -- of the Information, Communications, and Technology (ICT) industry. That is a limited perception, typical of the ICT supply-side industry which tends to see itself as the sole progenitor of change in the world (wrongly). It is actually much more sensible to take a balanced demand-and supply-side perspective: GIS and geographic information can and do underpin many operations of many organizations, but how GIS works in detail differs between different cultures. The fact that few Japanese streets have names creates a very different navigation problem there compared with North America. Such underpinning is true whether the organizations are in the private or public sectors. Seen from this perspective, management of GIS f