Job Duties and Purpose
Geospatial information analysts, or GIS analysts, provide insights to companies, organizations, and the government based on the geographic representation of data. To do this, they collect data from multiple sources including: the federal government, state governments, companies, other organizations, and out in the field. Then, they aggregate that data and use its geographic components to generate maps that provide valuable insights to clients.
GIS analysts are hired to help their clients plan for the future, evaluate the effects of their past actions, solve problems, and determine why events transpire the way they do. In doing so, they can help their clients save money, become more profitable, enact social good, conserve natural resources, protect ecosystems, promote economic growth, and more.
GIS analysts are often called upon to interpret data represented on maps for clients and provide advice based on their interpretations. Because of this, they spend a large portion of their time engaging with software that processes data and generates digital maps and other visual representations. Sometimes, they are also called upon to write code to produce the images their clients need.
Often, GIS analysts must be capable cartographers. Cartography is the science or practice of creating maps. They must be knowledgeable about different kinds of maps and the purposes they serve, as well as the insights specific maps can provide. This enables GIS analysts to make informed decisions about which images would serve their clients’ needs best.
Managing the databases behind the maps they create is another job responsibility of many GIS analysts. Often, they are tasked with keeping data current, complete, and ensuring that data is incorporated efficiently into the maps they create. Sometimes, they are required to maintain the connections among databases.
All GIS analysts are exceptional communicators, adept at translating technical information into terms that people with non-technical specialities can understand. They act as liaisons between the niche worlds of geospatial sciences, data science, and software development and the worlds of government, business, agriculture, economics, education, and social reform.
In summary, GIS analysts use geospatial sciences (the where) to explain the significance of data (the why) and then propose a beneficial course of action based on that information (the what next).
The work that GIS analysts do is valuable across industries. Therefore, they work with many different types of clients including government agencies, companies, and non-profit organizations. They also work in many different fields, from agriculture to economics to policy to education to engineering.
GIS analysts can be hired full time to work with a particular organization, or they can provide consulting services through a firm. They often work with GIS developers who create the software used to perform their analytics.
No two days are the same for a GIS analyst. Some days they meet with clients to discuss their needs needs or deliver insights through maps, and other days they are in the field, working with drone pilots and remote sensing (satellite) technology to collect data.
GIS analysts must be tech savvy. They need to have a background in geography, cartography (map making), an understanding of statistics and data science, as well as a familiarity with coding, database management, and software development.
They must be able to use Esri ArcGIS and other software for data processing and digital map generation. They should also be knowledgeable about how data is collected through satellites, drones, etc., as they may be involved in those processes as well.
In addition, GIS analysts must possess strong communication skills. Translating the significance of data into terms that business, government, and other organizational leaders can understand is a critical part of their jobs.
GIS analysts need strong critical thinking skills to perform their jobs well. They must adapt to diverse environments quickly and have the ability to make connections among disparate data sets to derive innovative insights/ solutions for their clients. They should be keen pattern recognizers and creative problem solvers.
Successful GIS analysts are versatile, possess a wide range of skills, and are lifelong learners.