The first true operational Geographic Information Systems (GIS) was developed in 1960 in Ottawa by the Canadian Department of Forestry and Rural Development. Developed by Dr. Roger Tomlinson, considered the father of the technology, it was called the Canada Geographic Information System (CGIS) and was used to store, analyze, and manipulate data collected for the Canada Land Inventory, an effort to determine the land capability for rural Canada by mapping information about soils, agriculture, recreation, wildlife, waterfowl, forestry and land use.

By the end of the century, the rapid growth in various systems had been consolidated and standardized on relatively few platforms. In addition, users were exploring the use of the Internet to view GIS data. Today, free open-source GIS packages run on various operating systems that can be customized to perform specific tasks. And geospatial data and GIS mapping platforms are being made available via the Internet.

Businesses like UPS and GeoMicro have been on the forefront of Web-enabled Geographic Information System. GeoMicro founders, who were part of the Esri core software development team, saw that all GIS products that were being developed were for desktop deployment. They did not have the scalability, nor the reliability necessary for 24/7 Web-based deployment. When GeoMicro AltaMap was first released in early 2000, it made it possible for many local and federal government organizations to serve up gigabytes of GIS data to Web users all over the world. The U.S. Navy, for example, readily adopted GeoMicro AltaMap when they saw their map serving rate went from 1 map every 10 seconds to 10 maps per second! When needed a high-performance map server to generate 14 million user-centric maps per day, they turned to GeoMicro. Using its AltaMap GIS platform software, GeoMicro customized a map production system that took 2 gigabytes of live weather data per hour, and turned it into animated weather maps in 16 different styles. GeoMicro was also a pioneer in traffic information applications. In fact, the first real-time traffic application that was deployed on the Nextel, Sprint and Verizon networks in 2004, was powered by GeoMicro servers.

Anyone seeking to glimpse the future of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) platform software should look no further than the folks in the brown uniforms driving the brown package cars. Since 2008, UPS Inc. has been building routing software dubbed “ORION,” which stands for “On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation.” With fleet telematics and sophisticated algorithms, the software is designed to optimize routes for UPS drivers. The software evaluates more than 200,000 alternative ways to operate on one route. The number of route combinations a UPS driver can make in a day is greater than the number of nanoseconds the earth has existed. By 2017, UPS will equip all its North American drivers—who operate over 55,000 routes--with the software.

Few delivery companies have UPS’ scale. Reducing a driver’s road time by just 1 mile per day saves the company up to $50 million. And it’s hard to imagine any company able to spend $1 billion a year on information technology like UPS does. But every shipper, provider or intermediary needs to reduce unproductive miles, manage variable costs, avoid traffic congestion, conserve fuel and cut carbon emissions while meeting their delivery commitments. Using a combination of digital maps and geo-referenced data, Geographic Information Systems software can synchronize fleet movements and maintenance schedules; a properly designed and executed GIS solution can save 10 to 30 percent in operational expenses through reductions in mileage, overtime and routing planning time. These translate into reduced fuel use and a smaller carbon footprint.

Modern GIS software has made it easier for companies and organizations to connect with governments for a variety of issues. For example, the Port of Rotterdam built resilience by replacing its legacy GIS with a modern geospatial platform, according to Terry Bills, transportation manager of Esri, a research firm in California. The port’s staff worked to implement a comprehensive port management system designed to shorten workflows and grow with the burgeoning organization. In the U.S. state of Louisiana, Baton Rouge Regional Airport implemented GIS to connect all its departments and bring immediate efficiency to the medium-sized airport, Bills said. The U.S. Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which oversees rail safety, used GIS software to create an app that provides rail-crossing information. Called the “Rail Crossing Locator,” the app was created with Esri’s mobile APIs and software development kits, and pulls detailed information about all national rail crossings from the nation’s rail databases.