By combining various general office software tools such as word processors, spreadsheets, database applications end users have often managed to solve complex problems without calling in the IT department. Over time these office software tools have become more user friendly so that creating customised applications has become easier.
Databases such as Access have also become more user friendly and other similar programs have enabled users to create solutions which can link databases to other applications. The use of databases within the office environment is now common place and has for the most part replaced the card index systems which preceded software solutions in managing data.
Databases are also the key to understanding all types of different data. By linking queries of data to spreadsheets and then creating charts it is possible to get a better understanding of what the data is trying to tell us. Again linking several databases enables users to better understand how processes need to be handled. Prior to the humble personal computer trying to make sense of thousands of different pieces of information would have required many hours of tedious work or the application of a mainframe computer. Now we have the power within our grasp to analyse all manner of data and quickly display it with a variety of charting options.
Linking databases to a GIS system is yet another way of interpreting data. Sometimes data displayed within a map can give a better understanding of a problem to your audience that just displaying a standard chart would not achieve. However, unlike word processors, spreadsheets and databases GIS systems are not yet as widely utilised as they could be within a general business environment. There are possibly several reasons for this. GIS is still seen by many organisations as a specialist solution and not a general business tool. GIS is sometimes perceived to be more difficult to learn than word processors and similar programs. GIS is also perceived to be an expensive option when compared to other more general office solutions. So all these hurdles lead to GIS systems often being the domain of the specialist rather than another tool available to everyone within the office environment. There are several solutions to this dilemma. One would be for the main suppliers of GIS systems to make their software financially attractive for even the smallest of organisations. However that would not appear to be an option at the present time.
Some organisations have solved their business software application requirements, when cost has been a barrier to progress, by turning to open source solutions. This has helped many disparate organisations to reduce the ongoing costs of software solutions sometimes involving many thousands of users. In these organisations their main costs have been in training and customisation. They would of course of had these costs with a proprietary solution plus the considerable additional cost of the software and upgrades as they became available.
Within the GIS arena there are a number of open source solutions which can be integrated with other more generalised office software solutions such as word processors and spreadsheets. One solution which is currently gaining more users is Quantum GIS. This GIS software solution offers most of the functionality of more well known proprietary solutions and is just as easy to use and customise.
Quantum GIS can also load data from most GIS systems and therefore could be used to either replace or complement other GIS systems within an organisation. Like MapInfo and ArcGIS many training options for Quantum GIS are available. You can learn to use the software through users guides, on-line videos and instructor led training. Whatever method you prefer you will find that implementing GIS within your organisation will be a worthwhile process.