The Marriage of GIS and BIM sets the stage for a happily ever after future

February 14, 2018 Barry Kelly

The marriage of GIS and BIM (Building Information Modeling) has been a long time coming and we are so ready to embrace the potential of bringing these two powerful capabilities together. Recent announcements by Esri and Autodesk have stirred up new ideas and excitement to enable a broad range of industries to gain better context by visualizing data of the man-made world, the environment, citizens and the networks that weave it all together. The conversation will now shift from ‘one versus the other’ to ‘one and the other’.

Most of us are comfortable with and highly knowledgeable within our primary profession and curious about related areas. We often debate where the boundaries of one area overlaps with another. GIS as a horizontal technology provides insights and support to many professions, and some would define it as a discipline onto itself. To many of us in the GIS world we are curious about this thing called BIM, but what is it? BIM or Building Information Modeling is defined in Wikipedia as “a process involving the generation and management of digital representations of physical and functional characteristics of places”. BIM often implies a 3D representation to improve visualization, especially amongst inter-disciplinary teams. As a GIS professional, what does that mean to you?

Think of all the moving pieces of a car and how each piece fits with the other pieces. The car, as a whole, is designed to perform a function, operate among other vehicles and with the surface it drives on. A building complex has similar needs; which is what the process of BIM is intended to deliver. The iterative approach of BIM allows for faster, more confident designs and improves communication. If you have ever flipped through a stack of E-size drawings of a newly designed office tower complex, you will have some understanding of where we have come from and how important BIM is.

Improved data flows will drive smarter decisions and create the next evolution of how we do ‘smart’—smart cities, smart utilities, smart transportation, smart logistics, smart infrastructure.

Having worked for both Esri Canada and Autodesk, I have always been interested in the flow of information between these two platforms. I was pleased to hear the mainstage announcement at Autodesk University about the new partnership with Esri back in November 2017.

There is little disagreement that both companies have their specialties for design, planning, visualization, analysis and operations with some overlapping capabilities; what was missing was the easy flow of information between these two giants. Many years ago, a partnership was attempted which created a product called ArcCAD. It helped with the flow data but there were limitations. Data translation has long been part of our business practice; however, certain information was often left behind to accommodate a solutions’ limitations.  Over the years, organizations have deployed a best of breed approach for the task at hand but interdisciplinary work has been challenging and fraught with potential errors, to say the least.  How can you be prepared for future needs when what might have been seen previously as unnecessary data, could become a key point for critical business understanding?  Thankfully, this partnership will close those gaps and ensure that all data can be stored, updated and accessed in any process.

To quote an article on the new partnership by Bobby del Rosario, “The plan is to work together to create a more direct, bi-direction and frictionless flow of information, enabling owners and AEC firms to work with more robust existing conditions models for planning and design, minimize data loss, and more effectively manage and operate infrastructure assets.”

While we are constantly improving our methodology for maintaining existing assets, we must consider a long-term approach when working on new infrastructure. To get the maximum life out of all infrastructure, we need to look at how it supports and impacts us and how we impact those assets.

Talk about climate! If an ever-changing climate with major weather events is becoming more the norm than exception, we need to understand and visualize how all the elements and conditions impact each other.  A recent article from nextcity.org, discusses how NYC flood maps will take climate change into account before remapping the city. This will benefit flood mitigation planning and analysis; and should impact new developments in critical areas. The need to share information starts from the initial conception of a development. Design frameworks like geodesign bring BIM and GIS together to quickly analyze design alternatives to minimize environmental impacts and improve resiliency of the development. In the near future, the bridging between the two technologies will ensure that all information from design to construction to operation and management can be carried forward and maintained.

You may be thinking, why would the GIS need to know all the details from the original design of a development? There’s a lot of information that may not lend itself to thoughts beyond regular, ongoing maintenance. But if you imagine an incident where the building’s cladding is discovered to act as a flame accelerant, then suddenly information from the entire lifecycle becomes critical. Having information readily available and being able to share it across departments and between agencies gives first responders insight into actionable intelligence in their rescue efforts. Likewise, using GIS to quickly identify and analyze all similar type situations puts data into action in a very meaningful way to prevent future tragedies. 

All aspects in the life of an asset are increasingly taking advantage of 3D models with supporting data. It may be obvious on how a 3D model has benefits for design and presentations but further down the road, solutions like Augmented Reality (AR) can, in real-time, overlay that digital information with the actual physical infrastructure to improve how we manage those assets. Everyone who plays a role in the stewardship of assets will be the beneficiary of this new alliance. Personally, I can’t wait to see what will be developed.

While this announcement is relatively new, GIS and BIM have been moving towards a better integration for quite some time. I anticipate interesting announcements at our conferences this year and exciting times ahead. Stay tuned.

To learn more about the Esri/Autodesk alliance, you can review:

About the Author

Barry Kelly

Barry Kelly is the Public Works Industry Manager for Esri Canada. A Certified Engineering Technologist, he has over 30 years of experience in both geographic information system (GIS) and computer-aided drafting (CAD) disciplines. His expertise includes implementing maintenance management, automated vehicle location, lifecycle planning, long-term planning and asset valuation solutions. Along with serving on the Ontario Public Works Association’s Executive Board, Barry enjoys camping, skiing, golf and travel.

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