Population Data Sources – GIS for Business and Service Planning


The very nature of competitive business lies in spotting niches and opportunities. Geographical niches are the more difficult to identify when market areas are blurred by the overlay of successive different geographies.

A range of computer software houses have developed products which enable users to gain rapid access to precisely specified sections of databases, while developments in computer graphics allow information to be portrayed in a geographically accurate manner. Business graphics are, in short, becoming increasingly geographical.

Taken together, economic, demographic and social information is becoming available in a much wider and more flexible range of forms than has hitherto been the case.

Geography provides the “natural” medium for integration of diverse data sources available to businesses and service providers. Indeed, this recent explosion in the scale and scope of computer-readable databases has been a powerful force in the development and uptake of geographical information systems themselves. At the present time, many business and service organizations are finding that a combination of public and private databases are required in order to fulfil market analysis functions. Such sources are likely, however, to involve different areal units of data collection and availability, and also possibly different geographical coverages. An understanding of the basic ways in which areal coverages may be created, combined and hence analysed is thus a prerequisite to progress.

The case for structuring market research and service delivery systems using geographical point, line and/or area referencing is a strong one, since a potentially wide range of information sources may be integrated and analysed across the geographical dimension. Dwellings, properties and households are the basic units of consuming populations are inevitably referenced indirectly; for example, via census zones, postal geography, property codes or other administrative divisions.

There is increasing evidence that GIS has “come of age” and that it now has a significant role to play in both specialist and routine business applications.


The aim of each of these systems was to classify neighbourhoods into certain categories which enable the users to make valid assumptions about the likely responses of those classifications to certain consumer goods, to advertising and to services available in the vicinity.


Census information can be enormous interest to organizations whose business involves them with understanding population characteristics or behaviour. Examples include the retailer who wishes to determine the right store format to suit local tastes in a new area; the health authority manager who needs to predict demand for services within a catchment area or region: and the utility company who wishes to build models of demand for its services in the light of varied social and economic conditions. Geographical information systems (GIS) offer a powerful range of tools for these people, and the increasing availability of large digital data-sets relating to population is expanding this potential at an ever-increasing rate.

Since the late 1980s, we have seen increasing use of GIS for socio-economic applications and it is within this context that our discussion of censuses and population modelling for business use in GIS should be set.

Even before the widespread availability of GIS tools, geographically referenced census information already played an important part in the development of both public policy and commercial strategies. Not only does the basic patterning of demographic and social phenomena provide a general backdrop for policy formulation, but the spatial distribution of population is a fundamental input to many important decision-making processes. This is particularly the case where the geography of population is in some sense significant to the organization, and examples include site selection, catchment area definition, market analysis, financial allocation and political districting.

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GIS for business


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