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GIS expensive


Geographical Information Systems (GIS) adds lots of flavor and ability to any decision making systems, finding the raw information can cost anywhere from 20 grand for just the US and Canada maps (sans ArcInfo or MapInfo software).

Most IT problems simply want to represent resources in terms of which town / street number or street intersection / vector representating stretchs of roads / zipcode it is in. We are talking just 5-20 abstract objects, not elevation, population, object time, or anything else. What should we do to get this cost down to earth? Why pay 20K when you just need 5% of the information most GIS map data packages offer?

Any suggestions?

-- David Chen

David Chen
Thursday, November 14, 2002

It's possible that, like you, most companies only need a subset of the $20K data set -- but that those subsets differ, and it's not economical for the vendor to break them out separately. The logic is similar to that for buying a newspaper when you'll only read 20% of the articles. Cheaper to just print millions of identical copies than to try to individually customize and price the components. (For that matter, it's probably the same reason that you pay $300 for MS Office even if you only use 20% of the features.)

But I suspect you want a more practical way to keep the cost down. For the U.S. at least, a tremendous amount of data is available free from sources like the Census Bureau, U.S. Geological Survey, and so on. Of course, after you look at the amount of work that may be required to find that information, distill the material you want, and get it into an appropriate format, you might discover that $20K isn't so expensive after all.

John C.
Thursday, November 14, 2002

It is true that a GIS with full analysis and data management capabilities can be expensive for many companies and organizations, but over the past seven or eight years, more light weight packages have become popular for people who want to do simple geographic analysis, assuming they already have the data. Free software and data is also available from several vendors(

If you have been convinced that you need to spend big bucks to do simple GIS, then you have been given the wrong information. Talk to companies like ESRI. They will be able to sell or give you what you need.

Corey Tucker
Thursday, November 14, 2002

Have you tried Excel's DataMap feature? Newer versions (2000 and above) are called Microsoft Map - which is an OLE Object that you insert in Excel and lows you to do some nifty things with the maps: map demographics, etc.

Thursday, November 14, 2002

Check your area's government mapping agency. They might have soe free stuff.

For example, Geoscience Australia has assorted free maps

Andrew Reid
Thursday, November 14, 2002

Google it: the first result using "free gis data" is a little further down is .

IIRC Bruce Perens was leading an effort a few years ago to get some of the TIGER and other files released to the public domain.

You might also look at the docs of open source GIS systems -- birds of a feather and all that.

Chris Winters
Friday, November 15, 2002

Your question really can be broken down into 2 parts...

First off data costs vary widely.  What data do you need for your decision making system?  Basic geographic data sets (e.x., census info, states, countries, large hydrography, etc.) are available for free.  More specific data (e.x., pipelines, wells, consumer purchasing habits, etc) will cost you some money.  Look at licensing / leasing data rather than purchasing it.  Your data provider allows you to connect to their server to query the data.  You simply pay by the month.  That way you don't have to worry about infrastructure or maintainance on the data set.

As for software; ESRI is quickly becoming the 'Industry Standard' if they aren’t already.  They have a very tight relationship with Microsoft so their products are ideally suited to Windows based environments.  ESRI products are quite expensive ($1500 US/seat roughly and it goes up from there).  That said ESRI does offer free tools to do simple viewing and querying of data (ArcExplorer).  You will find most users may not need most of the functionality of a full blown GIS and therefore I product that can do some simple operations may suffice..  On a final note I would take a look at a product called MapServer (  ).  It offers a alternative to ESRI's ArcIMS product and is a very full featured & rock solid open source product.

Friday, November 15, 2002

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