Geographic Information Systems Specialist

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialists manage and optimize GIS infrastructure. This professional is responsible for system administration, ensuring seamless operation and accessibility of GIS servers and databases. They develop data security policies and performance standards, addressing GIS operations' technical and administrative needs. Their expertise maintains geospatial data reliability and efficiency within an organization.

At a Glance

Imagine you are a geographic information systems (GIS) administrator at a leading GIS software company tasked with managing and optimizing GIS applications and data storage on cloud platforms. Your role is pivotal for enhancing data sharing, collaboration, and scalability, especially in projects with a significant environmental impact.


You are working closely with several municipalities engaged in developing green infrastructure projects. These initiatives are designed to introduce sustainable urban planning solutions, such as creating green roofs, expanding urban forests, and improving stormwater management systems. The challenge lies in efficiently planning and implementing these projects across diverse urban landscapes, each with unique geographical and environmental characteristics.

Your expertise in leveraging cloud technology for GIS comes to the forefront. You optimize GIS applications and ensure seamless access to spatial data in the cloud. This ensures municipalities collaborate effectively, share critical data in real-time, and scale their projects according to their specific needs.

You develop a cloud-based GIS platform tailored for green infrastructure planning. This platform allows municipalities to integrate vast amounts of spatial data, analyze potential sites for green projects, and visualize the environmental impact of proposed developments. Through your efforts, municipalities can now make data-driven decisions, optimize the placement of green infrastructure, and monitor the progress of their projects with greater ease.

Your work underscores the technical and administrative skills required in the GIS field and highlights the role's direct contribution to sustainable development and environmental conservation.

Job Duties

Job duties vary from one position to the next, but in general, geographic information systems (GIS) specialists are involved in the following activities:

  • Oversee GIS servers and databases for performance, scalability, and upgrades.
  • Create and maintain GIS databases for optimal functionality and troubleshoot issues.
  • Provide GIS software and hardware support, including training and resources.
  • Keep spatial data repositories updated for accuracy and accessibility.
  • Customize GIS applications for specific project needs, improving functionality and user experience.
  • Manage GIS technology lifecycle, ensuring up-to-date integration.
  • Implement security for GIS data, adhering to regulations.
  • Promote GIS integration across departments to meet organizational goals.
  • Research and develop innovative GIS solutions for enhanced spatial analysis and mapping capabilities.
  • Set policies and best practices for GIS data management, ensuring data quality and system compliance.

*GIS specialists and GIS analysts require strong GIS skills; however, the former focuses on the technical and administrative aspects of GIS, while the latter concentrates on applying GIS technology. For details of a GIS analyst see the Career Profile.

Work Environment

Geographic information systems (GIS) specialists primarily work in an office environment, where they perform various duties.

The office:

  • Optimize spatial databases through indexing and efficient storage.
  • Create custom GIS tools with programming languages to simplify data analysis and mapping.
  • Automate spatial analysis workflows with customized scripts to process large datasets and identify patterns.
  • Scale GIS infrastructure to support increasing data and user demand.
  • Integrate GIS across web, mobile, and desktop platforms for versatile user access to spatial data and tools.
  • Use cloud technology for GIS data storage and application management for improved collaboration.
  • Establish data governance for GIS, focusing on data quality and standards.
  • Innovate in geospatial data visualization with interactive maps and analytics tools.
  • Enhance spatial analyses by integrating remote sensing data with GIS.
  • Implement disaster recovery plans for GIS systems to maintain business continuity.
  • Build a GIS user community through workshops and forums for knowledge exchange.
  • Ensure GIS compliance with regulations and privacy laws, including data protection measures.

Where to Work

Geographic information systems (GIS) specialists find employment across diverse sectors, reflecting the versatility of GIS applications, such sectors include:

  • Federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal government departments.
  • Surveying and GIS firms.

  • Environmental consultancies.

  • Urban and rural planning firms.

  • GIS software companies.

  • Utility and natural resource-based companies.

  • Non-profit and non-government organizations.

  • Defence and intelligence agencies.

  • Research institutions and universities.

  • Transportation and logistics companies.

Search for jobs on the ECO Canada Job Board.

Education and Skills


If you are a high school student considering a career as a geographic information systems (GIS) specialist, you should have a keen interest in:

  • Advanced technology and computer systems.
  • Geographic information and mapping.
  • Environmental studies and sustainability.
  • Data management and analytics.
  • Problem-solving and project management.

If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as a GIS specialist, the following undergraduate programs are most applicable:

  • Geographic information system.
  • Geospatial science and technology.
  • Computer science with a focus on GIS applications.
  • Environmental science with a specialization in GIS.
  • Surveying and geomatics engineering.
  • Software engineering with coursework in GIS and database applications.

In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as a GIS specialist is an undergraduate degree or technical diploma. Pursuing a master's or doctoral degree can enhance your expertise, career prospects, and ability to contribute to the field. These advanced degrees offer specialized knowledge and skills highly valued in professional and academic settings.

Professional certifications for GIS specialists in Canada are not mandatory; however, certifications validate expertise, current skills, and knowledge in the field. Certifications enhance credibility, increase salaries, and improve job prospects by demonstrating commitment to professional development and adherence to industry standards.

  • GISP Certification: Offered by the GIS Certification Institute, this certificate is a globally recognized credential that signifies expertise and professional dedication in GIS.
  • URISA's GIS Leadership Academy: Provided by the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association, the GLA offers intensive training in GIS leadership and management, valuable for GIS specialists aiming for leadership roles in Canada.

Our Environmental Professional (EP) designation can also help you progress in your chosen environmental career.


Technical Skills

  • Advanced geographic information system (GIS) software proficiency
  • Database administration
  • Software programming and scripting for GIS
  • Remote sensing and image analysis
  • Geospatial data management
  • Geodatabase design
  • Spatial analysis and modelling
  • Web GIS development
  • Cloud computing for GIS
  • Data visualization and cartography

Personal and Professional Skills

  • Problem-solving
  • Communication skills
  • Analytical thinking
  • Attention to detail
  • Team collaboration
  • Adaptability
  • Project management
  • Critical thinking
  • Creativity
  • Continuous learning

Environmental employers look for professionals who can combine technical knowledge with soft skills. Watch our free webinar Essential Not Optional: Skills Needed to Succeed in Canada’s Environmental Industry or take our Essential Skills courses.

Role Models

Your Impact

Geographic information systems (GIS) specialists manage and optimize GIS infrastructure, which involves collecting, analyzing, and interpreting geographical data. This role can impact the environment by facilitating environmental monitoring and management, such as tracking changes in land use, assessing water resources, and planning urban development with minimal environmental disruption.

The occupation is environmental when it uses spatial data to support decisions promoting environmental sustainability and conservation. The sustainability impact of a GIS specialist includes promoting efficient resource use, reducing environmental degradation, and supporting conservation projects by providing accurate data and analysis.

Economically, the work of GIS specialists helps in planning and managing resources more effectively, potentially leading to cost savings and better investment decisions. Socially, their efforts can improve community well-being by informing policies and projects considering environmental health, thus ensuring sustainable developments and communities' resilience to environmental changes.

GIS specialists contribute to environmental sustainability, economic efficiency, and social well-being through strategically managing and applying geographic information.

Occupational Classification

Geographic information systems specialists are classified into the following occupational grouping:

NOC Code: 20012 – Computer and information systems managers

NOC Code: 21222 – Information systems specialists

The National Occupational Classification (NOC) provides a standardized language for describing the work performed by Canadians in the labour market. It gives statisticians, labour market analysts, career counsellors, employers, and individual job seekers a consistent way to collect data and describe and understand the nature of work within different occupations.

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