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Accurate Campus Mapping Unlocks Potential

Most people are visual thinkers. The last thing you’d want to communicate to your public is a visual misrepresentation. “If they see a particular building that is outdated, it defeats the whole purpose.” 

Two young women standing, one is holding a map with a “I don’t know where look on her face” while the second one is looking down at the map and holding a mobile in her other hand. Her brows are stitched as she tries to determine a location.

Finding your way around a university or college campus can be a daunting experience. Mind you, my university campus totalled less than 10 buildings in the heart of downtown Cairo. You would’ve gotten lost in the street crowd than actually navigating to the buildings.

Imagine being new on campus trying to get to your next class on a campus with more than 30 buildings spread over a 2.8 million square feet area. Without an accurate map, you might just make it in time for the last five minutes. And you’d spend the rest of the day complaining to anyone and everyone, including campus facilities, about how incorrect the map is.

Rich McEvoy, facilities information systems manager, and Samuel Adanyi, facilities information analyst at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario, have often seen Fanshawe’s campus misrepresented on websites and public applications. New buildings or building expansions were never captured. Attempts to correct such inaccuracies stretched over long months, if not years. As you can imagine, this frustrated the 4-individual team who are the custodians of the college’s technical drawings. In fact, they oversee all the facility management software systems contributing to the flow of information across departments, colleges, and with the Ministry.

Fanshawe College’s vision is simple. “Unlocking Potential.” Two words. Powerful words, pegged by a pentagonal pillar of values; focus on students, involve our communities, utilize resources wisely, embrace change, engage each other. I saw each of these values as a stop in the story of how Rich and Samuel introduced GIS in facility management for an educational institution. Although not in the same sequence.

Embrace change

For several years Rich had seen impressive examples of applied mapping technology and geoanalytics to improve facility management. Ones he would easily relate to, especially from a space perspective. “We experimented with it through some of our internal system, but really couldn't get any sustained traction. We couldn't quite get it working easily or it was too cumbersome for us,” he explained.

An invitation to participate in the Community Map of Canada Program, a community-driven program that uses authoritative data to build a highly detailed, up-to-date basemap of the country, offered Rich the opportunity to get that missing traction. “This sounded like a really great initiative to kind of help you guys (Esri Canada) improve the accuracies of your map with some of our information and for us to potentially learn how to dig into it.”

Utilize resources wisely

According to Samuel one of the best use cases of GIS is to communicate and that most people are visual thinkers. So, presenting wrong information is the last thing you’d want to communicate to your public. “If they see a particular building that is outdated, it defeats the whole purpose.” He further explains that it might discourage them ever looking at it again.

The real wow factor for the Fanshawe team was the time saved directly leveraging existing AutoCAD files into ArcGIS. Fanshawe’s data, such as building footprints and individual parking spaces, published on the Community Map of Canada was not only visually appealing but more importantly it was accurate. Data integrity on alternative basemaps fell short displaying the Fanshawe campus, according to Samuel.

A comparative image of three basemaps showing the Fanshawe College campus with different information to highlight the data accuracy on the Community Map of Canada against Google Maps and OpenStreetMap.

Image provided by Fanshawe’s Facilities team when inspecting their buildings on different maps.

The quick turnaround of 72 hours or less to see data changes or updates appear on the basemap keeps the Fanshawe team committed to the program.

Engage each other

1. Sustainability App

The Sustainability team sought Samuel’s assistance to help build a visualization tool to promote Fanshawe’s sustainability efforts throughout the campus. This public interactive map incorporates seven feature categories, such as bikes, sensors, water and waste, that you can easily explore to learn more about how Fanshawe is a sustainable campus.

A screenshot of a light-background web app showing sustainability initiatives on the Fanshawe campus. On the left there are a layer list, the legend and fun facts boxes. In the middle taking up 2/3 of screen is a map with all the campus buildings in different colours. While on the right there is an open dialogue box with an image outlining how an item is sustainable. At the bottom of the screen there is a red button that reads Take short Survey.

Fanshawe's Sustainability app outlining how the College is managing environmental footprint

2. Building Condition Assessment Report

With a limited budget and 1600 recommendations that address conditions of the 30+ buildings, project prioritization is a necessity. A challenge well-known to facility managers. How did the team address prioritization while effectively engaging non-technical colleagues and management? The Building Condition Assessment Report. A quick glance of the report gives viewers the details about a building’s condition, its size, last construction date, and what updates have been made. “It's a lot of recommendations. It's a lot of space. It's a lot of people. How can you condense it into a visual that you can communicate? The basemap is the starting point,” said Rich.

A black dashboard titled Fanshawe Building Condition Assessment – Facilities dashboard visualizing deferred maintenance needs for Fanshawe’s London campus buildings as of May 2021. On the left there is an image of a building. Below that is a gage titled Facilities Condition Index, the gage pendulum lands on a yellow area at around a scale of 0.2. Beneath that is a horizontal bar chart. In the centre a map representing different size buildings marked in different colours yellow, different shades of green and brown. The map is surrounded by boxes indicating different measurements such as year of assessment, year of building construction, total current replacement value.

Focus on students

A co-op placement with the Facilities Information team, while studying architectural technology, secured Samuel a permanent position. A fine example of how Fanshawe leveraged in-house expertise by focusing on its students. Much of the success highlighted here is testament to Samuel’s technical competency. Something Rich stepped in to explain “Samuel is being humble. He is very, very adept using AutoCAD and Revit, so it wasn’t as much of a bigger leap when I challenged him to see what he could do with ArcGIS. He blew it out of the water.”

Involve community

The unlocked future sees Rich and team focus on two initiatives:

1) A self-serve model that integrates the various software systems allowing information seekers easy access to what they are looking for. A geo-enabled interface that everyone knows and can interact with. For example, someone from finance can drill into a project’s expense using a simple app.

2) Fanshawe’s Building Information Management (BIM) strategy. Although behind compared to the greater industry, the team is exploring ways to incorporate new technology to its BIM strategy. For example, seeing more 3D models incorporated with 2D maps or using augmented reality pieces, something Fanshawe students are starting to learn.

Advice for other educational institutions

Four helpful tips to help you navigate integrating mapping technology on your campus:

  1. Determine what you’re trying to do
  2. Dedicate a resource to it
  3. Empower them with the freedom to run with it
  4. Make use of technology readily available to you

A blackboard with the words "Do Something Great" written on it. Three chalk pieces are in the forefront.

“With a dedicated resource, the cost of entry is very low,” advises Rich. While Samuel will tell you “Don’t be afraid to embrace the tools and the technology. It can be so much easier than you think.”

Have I managed to spark your curiosity to learn more? Email me or find me on LinkedIn and let’s chat.

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.