Potential for Applying GIS to Business and Management Research

School of Business faculty enjoyed a lively briefing on an increasingly popular research and analytics application, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and its potential application to business and management research, from George Mason’s GIS and Geography Liaison Librarian, Joy Suh.

According to National Geographic Society, a GIS is a computer system for capturing, storing, checking and displaying data related to locations on Earth’s surface. GIS can show many different kinds of data on one map. It helps people to see, analyze, and understand patterns and relationships.

One widely deployed field for GIS is business and marketing. “Roughly 80% of business data is location based,” Joy explained. “GIS is a tool for business decision making through visualization related to location based questions.” Joy demonstrated the various types of data GIS captures and represents, and how GIS bridges data and analysis with visualization. Some business analytic examples further brought home how GIS helps businesses understand their marketing and service modules.

Customer Density GIS


On the Left: This GIS presentation indicates customer density inside a shopping center using data collected by indoor sensors.

Source: Hirsch et al., Journal of Property Research, 2016.


Customer Base GIS




On the left: This GIS map shows actual customer bases of a store using the store’s customer data.

Source: ESRI Business Analyst Examples 




Application of GIS in business and marketing is almost unmatchable, from site selections, supply chains, to risk analysis, retail sales, and market strategies, etc. Joy went on suggesting GIS should be introduced to all marketing majors, as their future employers will likely incorporate GIS in their marketing efforts.

GIS is certainly not just a business application, as Joy pointed out. Any data containing geospatial information can be represented in GIS. Other successful applications of GIS include environmental research, disaster relief, insurance, real estate development, telecom and network services, media and entertainment.   Fairfax County, for example, provides a service “Virtual Fairfax” which integrates maps, aerial images and 3-D renderings of building and terrain with data such as tax, land development and police events.

Environmental GIS


On the left: GIS representation of lead risk priorities at the land parcel level, Durham County, North Carolina

Source: Miranda, Dolinoy and Overstreet, Environmental Health Perspectives, 2002




As data collection and analytics become more robust in the coming years, the growing adoption of GIS in broader fields seems inevitable.

How do Mason users access GIS?

ArcGIS is the leading Geospatial analysis software. Mason has a site license for ArcGIS, which means it is available in most computer labs on campus. There is also a web-based version called ArcGIS Online.

In addition, Mason Library also collects data sets from government and commercial sources such as ESRI,  (Environmental System Research Institute), which provides ArcGIS and other geodatabase management applications. The Library also has partnerships with local communities to make local GIS data sets available to the Mason community.

More specifically to business majors or faculty, Mason has acquired a license to ArcGIS Business Analyst (restricted access – course and research only), which provides a combination of demographic, lifestyle, behavioral, and spending data.

The potential of GIS is immense and Mason’s GIS resource is well developed and ready for use. Interested users can go to or contact Joy Suh (3×2238 or for more information.

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Peng Warweg

Peng Warweg is Research Assistant for Research Partnerships and Grants at School of Business, George Mason University.

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