Top 5 Things to Do When You Install a New GIS Software

So, you’ve just downloaded the new QGIS release, latest ArcGIS, or maybe you are completely new to GIS and wondering how to even get started with this behemoth eating up your (or your employer’s) disk space. 

Having done this MANY times over the last 15 years of working with geospatial software, I’ve noticed that there are 5 key things I do EVERY time, no matter what geospatial software it is

1 – Set up the GUI

First thing is to always get the interface right. Maybe I am a little obsessive/compulsive but no matter which software I use, and I use a few, I like all the buttons to be in similar places so that when I switch between them I am not hunting for a button.

As a guide, I recommend having the tools you use most often to the top left, near to the main toolset, and then disperse the tools farther depending on your need. If you are new to GIS, I would highly recommend having your basic/standard navigation tools (pan, zoom, add data, identify, etc.] top left. Next to that I would have the georeferencing tools, and then below them the editing tools. Obviously, as you use GIS more you will find yourself using other tools more.

2 – Make Templates

The primary purpose, for me anyhow, is for others to see my maps. To ensure that they are always in a consistent style and that I can produce them quickly, I use templates. No matter the software, I have a landscape and portrait map at A5, A4, A3, A2 & A1 which is blank except for my bespoke text. I’ve used the same templates for some software for the last decade,  updating only certain styles or logos. It is a VERY efficient way of getting maps out of the door!

If you are new to this, you might want to start setting up style templates too, so that some of you basic/most-used features are styled consistently and, of course, will not conflict when drawn together.

3 – Add Local Transformations

Okay, so maybe this is one for more of the detailed project worker but definitely one NOT to be overlooked. If I got paid money for every time I saw a map that was alluding to detail but was transformed using a Helmert transformation, I would have retired a long time ago.

Most GIS can use grid-based transformations such as the NTV2 format gsb files. Here is a list that Esri provided for ArcGIS 9.3 which shows all the different transformation methods the software uses. Although this is an amazing list, you (UK dwellers) may note that it is missing the nation’s standard OSTN02 transformation.

If in doubt check with the software developers!!

4 – Make Models (ArcGIS & QGIS)

And by models I don’t mean a new mxd; I mean the (QGIS) modeller or the (ArcGIS) modelbuilder type of model.

Whether you find yourself creating environmental designation maps or just extracting information from attribute tables, you can automate a lot of the routine tasks by using the modelling tools in both software.

Examples of where I have saved myself hours of time are with environmental analysis; I’ve created large models that merge data together and will then return distances to features when added to the “model”.  Another good example is a model I have for wind turbine zone of visualisation analysis. Rather than spend hours preparing the data and settings, a model already exists; I only have to tell the model WHERE to analyse and what the relevant heights to use are.

5 – Make a Map

Seems pretty dumb, right? Make a map when that’s all you’re going to do with the software? Wrong! It’s not until you make that first map that you notice all the niggles and issues. Better that you find out BEFORE you have to get a request to make a last-minute map!

If you don’t believe me, then consider this. Three years ago I pushed the company (I work for) to upgrade to the latest release of a well-known GIS software. The same day the software was installed we had a client require 40 maps. This is not normally an issue as the maps were simple and we already had templates, etc, set up …. only when we checked some of the PDF outputs it turned out that all the data were offset due to an issue with the software’s engine, and we had to roll back a couple of GIS machines so that the maps could be created correctly. We were a few hours late delivering the maps, but it could have all been avoided had we created a map on the new software install!

Nick D



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