Job in geographic information systems (GIS)

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Simon Hall is a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) consultant for the Government Office for London. Working closely with the Institute of Crime Science, Simon specialises in the analysis of crime across the capital.

What is geographic information systems – GIS?

Essentially it is computerised mapping. It's a way of storing, displaying, analysing and managing geographic information. This means the information can be used for very specific functions and allows you to reveal patterns within your data, making it a lot easier to get your message across, or perform certain tasks.

What sort of data do you use?

It could be the features that make up the physical structure of the land such as mountains, or buildings, or it could be data about people and the environment. Anything from accident black spots on a certain road, to the number of trees in a given park, or even the number of households that read a certain newspaper along a particular street can be mapped. All this information can be layered over a traditional map to build up a much more detailed picture.

Who uses GIS?

Lots of businesses are using it to determine delivery routes, while utility companies use it to map their cables and networks, allowing them to accurately pinpoint a problem when it occurs.

Local authorities are using GIS as a way of mapping and monitoring their public rights of way or assessing school catchments areas. Other companies can use it just to find out what's happening near to their land.

GIS is also used to update the police's command and control systems, adding on new buildings, new estates or new roads as they are built. This means the emergency services can reach the scene of an accident as quickly as possible.

Do you specialise in anything?

I'm now heading up a team to analyse crime across London. Another part of my role is to try and raise people's awareness of the benefits of GIS and show the real business benefits it can bring.

What equipment do you use?

Nowadays, GIS is just a simple desktop application using a computer and some specialised software.

What particular skills do you need?

You need an analytical mind, and before every project you need to sit back and work out how you are going to tackle it. Once everything is plotted you need to be able to interpret what the information is telling you. A good grounding in mathematics and map reading skills are important.

Is there much travelling?

Basically this is an office-based job although it does involve visiting partners and other groups involved with the project, which can mean travelling all over the UK. I enjoy this but other people opt to spend all day plotting information on a computer. My normal working day is from 9am to 5pm.

Do you work alone or as part of a team?

Wherever I've worked I've always been involved with a team. It's great to have other people to bounce ideas off. In consultancies you'll work more on your own, but you will always have close liaison with the client.

What is good and bad about your job in geographic information systems?

I train people how to use GIS and that can be satisfying. On the down side, it can be frustrating trying to convince some people that GIS really is a better way of doing things.

And the future?

GIS will continue to grow, with things like location-based services, which will allow you to access maps on your mobile phone. I'm interested in the crime side of things and although I've actually taken a pay cut to move from the private back into the public sector, I think it will be worth it for the experience.

Simon's route to his job in geographic information systems

  • Geography degree with supplementary courses in GIS.
  • MSc in GIS.
  • First GIS job mapping canals and associated features for British Waterways.
  • Two years updating and managing the geographical information used by Surrey Police Force.
  • Joined GIS consultancy.
  • Moved to Government Office for London.

Simon's geographic information systems tips

  • Try and get some training or a specific GIS qualification - it could give you a head start.
  • Think about which area of industry you want to apply your GIS skills – it helps if you have an interest in that particular area. There are so many options from local government to insurance companies, businesses to the police.

GIS related jobs

  • Town planner
  • Chartered surveyor
  • Technical surveyor
  • Cartographic technician
  • Operational researcher

Salary working in geographic information systems

  • In the private sector, analysts with a degree start on about £25,000, in the public sector £20,000.
  • A GIS manager in a local authority will earn between £25,000-£40,000, while a senior consultant in the private sector can earn up to £45,000.

Job in Geographic Information

  • If you are applying for a GIS job you need either a specific GIS degree or relevant postgraduate qualification.
  • Useful initial degrees are geography, physics, engineering, computer science, economics, statistics or business studies.
  • Ordnance Survey, the national mapping agency, offers a variety of job opportunities such as sales, customer services and IT for non-graduates with a geography and science background.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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