GIS Software Development: A Comprehensive Guide 2024

October 10, 2023

GIS stands for “Geographic Information System.” It’s a bit of a mouthful but stick with me. Break it down:

  • “Geographic” means it deals with locations on the Earth.

  • “Information” is all the data or facts you want to know about that location.

  • “System” is the tool or app that lets you see and work with all this information.

Table of Contents

What Is A GIS App?

Alright, let’s dive into this in a fun and simple way! Imagine you have a map. This isn’t just any ordinary map where you see roads and rivers. It’s like a magical map where you can layer on extra pieces of information like weather patterns, population density, or even where the nearest pizza place is. This magical map, in the digital world, is what we call a GIS app.

Why Would Someone Use a GIS App?

Imagine you’re the mayor of a town. You want to build a new park, but you need to find the perfect spot. With a GIS app, you can see a map of your town, then layer on extra information like:

  • Where are the most kids living? (Because they love parks!)

  • Where’s there a big open space?

  • Is there a noisy highway nearby? (You wouldn’t want that next to your peaceful park.)

By looking at all this information layered together on your map, you can find the perfect spot for your new park.

What Else Can It Do?

Well, tons of things! Farmers can use it to see where the best spots are to plant certain crops. Scientists might use it to track where endangered animals are moving. Even businesses use it to decide where to open their next store or how to deliver packages the fastest way.

Why Develop GIS Software?

Urban Planning:

City planners use GIS to decide where to build new roads, parks, or schools.

Natural Resource Exploration:

Industries such as mining or forestry use GIS to find new resources or manage existing ones.

Disaster Response: 

Responders can assess which areas are most affected by natural disasters and efficiently allocate resources.


Stores can decide where to open new branches based on population density and shopping patterns.

The applications are vast, making GIS software development a promising field.

Key Components of GIS Software:

  • Map View: This is the canvas where geographical data is visualized.
  • Data Input: Tools to add new data, whether from satellite images, sensors, or manual entry.
  • Data Management Tools: Think of these as the organizing shelves. They help store and manage vast amounts of geographical data.
  • Analysis Tools: The brainy bit! These tools help interpret the data, find patterns, or make predictions.

What are the Components of GIS Software Development?

Alright, let’s dive into the essential pieces that come together to create a GIS (Geographic Information Systems) software. Think of GIS like a jigsaw puzzle; each piece or component is vital to see the full picture. We’ll break it down in a way that’s easy to grasp.

  1. Maps and Visual Display

Imagine opening a map app on your phone. The first thing you see is a visual representation of roads, landmarks, and other geographical features. That’s the map view – a fundamental part of any GIS tool.

  1. Data Collection & Storage

To show details on a map, you need data. This could be information about land types, rivers, road networks, or population. GIS software needs a system to gather this data and a place to store it securely.

  1. Data Management Tools

Ever tried finding a specific photo among thousands on your phone? It can be daunting! Similarly, with all the geographical data a GIS system handles, it needs a set of tools to organize, retrieve, and manage this information efficiently.

  1. User Interface

This is the dashboard or control panel users interact with. Think of it as the buttons and search bars in your map app that let you zoom in, find a location, or plot a route. A good user interface is intuitive and user-friendly.

  1. Analysis and Processing Tools

Now, this is where the magic happens! With these tools, a GIS can take raw data and turn it into meaningful insights. For example, it can analyze traffic data to suggest the quickest route or use weather patterns to predict rainfall in an area.

  1. Reporting and Visualization Features

Once the data is analyzed, it needs to be presented in a way that’s easy to understand. This could be in the form of charts, graphs, or even 3D models. For instance, a heat map could be used to show areas with high pollution levels.

  1. Navigation and Search Tools

Ever tried finding a cafe or a friend’s house using a map app? The tools that let you search for a place or get directions are crucial for any GIS software.

  1. Collaboration and Sharing Tools

In today’s connected world, the ability to share a map or data with others is vital. These tools allow users to collaborate on projects, share findings, or even integrate with other software.

What Are The Features? 

Essentially, features are like the special abilities or characteristics that make a product unique or useful.

Here are some common ways we talk about features:

Basic Features: These are the standard or essential characteristics. In a car, this would be wheels, seats, and an engine.

Advanced Features: Think of these as the extras or bonuses. For the car, this might be heated seats, a sunroof, or advanced voice controls.

Interactive Features: These are features that users can engage with. In a software program, it might be the ability to drag and drop items or use voice commands.

Safety Features: As the name suggests, these are all about safety. For a bicycle, it could be reflectors, brakes, or a bell.

Eco-friendly Features: These are characteristics that make a product green or environmentally friendly. Like a reusable water bottle being BPA-free or a car having low emissions.

Customizable Features: These are parts of a product you can tailor to your liking. On a computer, you can change the wallpaper or adjust brightness based on your preference.

What Tools Are Used to Develop GIS Applications?

GIS (Geographic Information Systems) applications are sophisticated tools that allow for the capture, storage, manipulation, analysis, and visualization of geographic data. A variety of tools, both software and hardware, are used in their development. Here’s a basic overview:

Software Tools:

GIS Software Platforms:

  • ArcGIS: Developed by Esri, it’s one of the most popular GIS software suites used for analysis, visualization, and management of geographic data.

  • ERDAS IMAGINE: A remote sensing application used for advanced image processing.

  • MapInfo: Another widely-used GIS tool for mapping and spatial analysis.

  • Open Source:

    • QGIS (formerly Quantum GIS): A free and open-source GIS software that offers a lot of functionality.

    • GRASS GIS: A free GIS software used for geospatial data management and analysis.

    • PostGIS: An extension to the PostgreSQL database that supports geographic objects allowing location queries to be run in SQL.

Database Management Systems (DBMS): These are used to store, retrieve, and manage spatial data. Examples include:

  • Oracle Spatial

  • Microsoft SQL Server Spatial

  • PostgreSQL with PostGIS extension

Web Development Tools: For building web-based GIS applications.

  • JavaScript libraries like Leaflet, OpenLayers, and the ArcGIS API for JavaScript.

  • Geoserver and MapServer to serve spatial data to web applications.

Remote Sensing Software: For capturing and processing images from satellite or airborne cameras.

  • ENVI: Used mainly for image analysis.

  • Orfeo Toolbox: Open-source software for remote sensing.

Mobile SDKs: For developing mobile GIS applications. Examples include the ArcGIS Runtime SDK and Mapbox Mobile SDK.

Integrated Development Environments (IDEs): General-purpose IDEs like Eclipse, Visual Studio, or PyCharm can be used with GIS-specific libraries and SDKs.

Hardware Tools:

  • Servers: For hosting GIS data and running GIS software, especially in an enterprise or web environment.

  • GPS Devices: To capture location data in real-time. They range from simple handheld devices to more sophisticated equipment used in surveying.

  • Remote Sensing Hardware: This includes satellites, drones, and aircraft equipped with cameras and sensors to capture spatial data.

  • Workstations: Powerful computers designed for complex GIS and remote sensing tasks.

  • Plotters and Printers: To produce hardcopy maps and visual outputs.

  • Digitizers: Earlier used to convert paper maps to digital format, though they’ve been largely replaced by more modern methods.

Approximate Cost of Developing a GIS Software Application

Alright, let’s break this down into bite-sized chunks! Developing a GIS software application is similar to cooking a gourmet dish – the final cost depends on the ingredients you use, the chef’s experience, and where you’re dining.

1. The ‘Ingredients’ – Features & Functionality

Like choosing between a basic salad or a fancy steak dinner, the complexity of your GIS software matters. Basic apps with simple map viewing features will be cheaper, while those with advanced analytics, 3D visualization, or real-time data processing will cost more.

  • Basic GIS App: Can range from $10,000 to $50,000.

  • Medium Complexity GIS App: Can range from $50,000 to $150,000.

  • High-end GIS App: Can start from $150,000 and go upwards.

2. The ‘Chef’ – Development Team

Hiring a Michelin-star chef costs more than someone just out of culinary school. Similarly, experienced developers or reputable firms will charge more, but the quality often justifies the price.

  • Freelancers: Can range from $20 to $150 per hour depending on their expertise and location.

  • Development Agencies: Prices vary greatly based on the region. For example:

    • U.S. or Western Europe Agencies: $100 to $250 per hour.

    • Eastern Europe or South American Agencies: $40 to $120 per hour.

    • Asian Agencies: $20 to $80 per hour.

3. The ‘Location’ – Platform & Region

Just as dining in New York can be pricier than in a small town, developing for different platforms or regions can affect the cost.

  • Platform: Developing a GIS web application might be different in cost from a mobile app. Sometimes, you might want both.

  • Region: As mentioned above, development costs vary by region. It might be tempting to go for the cheapest option, but always consider quality, reviews, and communication barriers.

4. Extras – Maintenance & Updates

Like going back to a restaurant for dessert or a drink, software development doesn’t end once the app is built. Regular maintenance, updates, and adding new features will incur ongoing costs.

  • Maintenance & Updates: Can be about 10-20% of the initial development cost per year.

5. Unforeseen Costs

Remember those unexpected appetizers or the impulse dessert? Sometimes there can be unexpected costs in software development due to unforeseen challenges or changing requirements.

What are the Steps to Develop GIS Software?

  • Define the Purpose:

 Are you creating a GIS tool for city planners, farmers, or tourists? Knowing your audience helps tailor your software.

  • Data Collection: 

Gather geographical data from reliable sources. This could be government databases, satellite images, or even crowdsourced.

  • Choose a Platform: 

Decide if your software will be web-based, a mobile app, or a desktop application. Each has its benefits.

  • Design the Interface:

 Keep it user-friendly. A simple, intuitive design can be the difference between a widely-used app and one that’s quickly uninstalled.

  • Incorporate Analysis Tools: 

Depending on your audience, integrate tools that help make sense of the data. For instance, a farmer might want soil quality analysis.

  • Testing: 

Before launch, test your software thoroughly. This ensures it’s free from bugs and meets user needs.

  • Feedback and Update:

 Post-launch, gather feedback and continuously update your software to meet evolving needs.

Wrapping Up

GIS software development is an exciting field with the potential to impact numerous sectors, from urban planning to environmental conservation. With a clear understanding of its components and a step-by-step approach to development, you’re well on your way to creating a valuable GIS tool! To know more connect with Carmatec.