Maps are an integral tool in helping people define, explain and navigate their way through the world, from ancient cave paintings, through the Age of Exploration and on into the 21st century. Maps evolved from two-dimensional drawings to three-dimensional shapes, to digital representations, creating somewhat of a visual language. With the advent of modern technology and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), today’s maps are altering the way we perceive our world.

During the mid-1800s, John Snow mapped cholera outbreak locations with property boundaries and water lines, applying layers to geography and illustrating how cases of cholera were centered around water pumps. As the first documented application of GIS and spatial analysis, it revolutionized the traditional concept of “location,” demonstrating that maps could be more than just navigation tools and had the power to connect geography with science, medicine and technology.

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In the 1960s, Roger Tomlinson, regarded as the father of GIS, planned the development of the Canadian Geographic System, a tool to inventory the country’s vast territory. Using environmental, land and climate conditions to determine crop capabilities, the government realized the power of data as a tool for making informed decisions. The US Census Bureau also adopted core GIS principles in the 1970 Census, using a file format to support digital data input that enabled digitization of census territories.

The evolution of technology has transformed the science and capabilities of today’s geographic systems. Backed by the power of modern computing, software, design tools and storage capacity, GIS trends are changing the world as we know it. As a system for managing and applying geographic information, GIS is rapidly advancing. Changes in data sequencing and visualization are allowing companies to leverage and integrate more data streams than ever before. These advances in real-time mapping can improve efficiency, communication and decision making across countless industries.

Traditional GIS applications might struggle to keep up with the demand to integrate more data feeds. Maps typically are created and tailored to fit specific uses. While these maps give users valuable insight into patterns in data, GIS platforms built for specific purposes offer limited insights, and creating maps to extract additional data is time consuming.

Advanced technologies like Live Earth’s real-time data visualization platform have bridged a gap allowing users to see their existing map layers combined with real-time data feeds visualized in one operational view for instant analysis. Traditionally, maps have been designed for users on an as needed basis, with new layers added as unique problems arise. This requires added developer time and only provides after-the-fact analysis. Conversely, the Live Earth platform integrates your existing data layers and all real-time data feeds, instantly helping industries analyze and respond to events as they happen. This is just one of the advancements GIS has seen in the last several years, meaning that as technology moves forward, our societal ability to read maps and use them to their fullest potential will only improve.

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Industries are seeing the changes in GIS and with them new capabilities to solve problems with technological advancements. For example, police and fire departments can use a real-time visualization platform in daily operations to immediately locate where disasters are through systems like shot detection. But combining these with alerts and real-time response work flows allow command staff to locate, gather critical response data and respond faster and more effectively all from one platform. They can then deploy and track responders to discern response times and monitor the problem, giving them the knowledge to make fast decisions if a situation escalates.

In medicine, researches can track the spread of a virus or identify a major health crisis by pinpointing the infected areas or locations, layering on environmental or climate data to determine the root cause. In the event of a food-borne illness outbreak, growers can determine the exact part of the field that resulted in the problem. When multiple data points and sources are visualized on a single platform, an enterprise can seamlessly synchronize a variety of real-time data feeds. These examples demonstrate that through advances in how data is visualized, users can improve operations, foster safer communities and respond faster in critical moments.

A look back on the history of GIS shows us how far we’ve come, and how changes in our society have dictated a shift in technology. From the way global companies make enterprise-wide decisions to how we navigate our way to work, today’s maps enable people around the world to harness the power of digital mapping tools.

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