BIM +Geospatial for newer and more efficient versions of infrastructure

BIM +Geospatial for newer and more efficient versions of infrastructure


Terry D. Bennett, Senior Industry Strategist, Civil Infrastructure, Autodesk, dicusses geospatial data and the importance of BIM.

  • How is the BIM+Geospatial trend catching up?

As demand for all infrastructure rises globally, the pressure to focus on the right way to increase infrastructure—by taking into account costs over the lifecycle of an asset, and helping to future-proof that asset for growth increases. Infrastructure requires a system and the information that supports it. The system requires the capability for monitoring and measuring the degree of change, then analyzing options for addressing it and then communicating those options and their intended impact to drive human actions or in some cases take action without human interaction. This all requires up to date accurate geospatial data as the input into a BIM process to supply the context models required to make these decisions. In the longer term this decision making process of BIM+Geospatial will help in the planning of newer more efficient versions infrastructure itself. It becomes a positive feedback loop that improves both the physical and digital infrastructure of the city.

  • Do you see an acceleration in the recent times?

Yes absolutely. Today’s infrastructure projects with their ever increasing size and complexity, require detailed and precise iterative planning and feasibility studies based on the most recent data usually collected from a variety of primary and secondary sources and applied against numerous outcome requirements simultaneously. This is where BIM (which has been geospatially aware within all our infrastructure products for over a decade) shines, the ability to rapidly access data of all types (Geospatial, photo, CAD, BIM etc.) model it in context (ex. with ReCAP, Memento, InfraWorks 360) then rapidly iterate through powerful simulation, visualization and analytics, numerous alternatives to solve for key outcomes required for a particular infrastructure project from planning through operations. With the ability to create accurate, intelligent city & infrastructure models in hours and days allows, it us to focus on the problem we are trying to solve not the data interaction challenges of decades ago.

  • Which are the sectors BIM+Geospatial is coming up in a big way?

Its need is rising across all infrastructure sectors – transportation, water, and utilities. This is important since no longer can we treat these a separate systems. They all impact each other in real time so we need to treat them as a system of systems. With rise of big data and near real time geospatial reality capture (laser scanning, sonar, GPR, drones etc.), by leveraging this information as an infrastructure type, we are entering a new era, the “Era of Connection”. This is where we leverage and extend BIM, combine it with smart systems/sensors and the analytics of geospatial & big data to create future “smart cities and its supporting infrastructure systems.” In this transition the role of infrastructure planners & designers fundamentally changes. Building the infrastructure right is no longer good enough. We can and must answer the more important question: “Are we building the right infrastructure in the first place?”

  • What are the factors that are promoting this trend?

Chief among the factors is big data and its backbone the Cloud. The numbers are staggering by any stretch of the imagination. It is estimated (according to companies like IBM and various technology blogs and press) that every day we create around 2.5 Exabyte’s of new information. Much of this thanks to embedded GPS in many of our devices is geospatial. This creates the intersection and opportunity for geospatial information but only when it is actively manage in context within a technology-enabled business process such as BIM. BIM for infrastructure can transform the infrastructure and asset lifecycle by increasing productivity, improving efficiency, and lowering costs. Utilizing information-rich models it provides greater project insight, a “single source of truth” to improve coordination and agile and powerful visualization, simulation, and analysis tools to expand innovation.

A second factor is BIM can help stakeholders move important decisions from the field to the computer where they are easier and more cost effective to make. All stakeholders can develop a shared understanding of the project lifecycle through cross-disciplinary collaboration reducing design errors and miscommunications which in turn reduces risk and liability. 3D design and modeling tools enable planners, engineers and contractors to leverage existing GIS/Geospatial information, explore innovative designs and “what-if” scenarios with project investors to test alternatives and simulate real-world performance, develop a better understanding of scheduling and cost (4D and 5D), O+M requirements (6D) while assessing environmental impacts, and providing the public with accurate visualizations of various stages of the project, all while keeping a geospatial context.

  • What have been the new trends and innovations in this field?

I would reiterate the explosion in realty capture tools (ex. ReCAP & Memento) and the power of the Cloud (ex. infinite computing). In this connected era, there is a blurring of lines between hardware and software resulting in the digital systems being deeply intertwined with their physical real world counterparts. Innovative strategies in planning, design, and maintaining the asset can better leverage information and our manmade and natural systems to create integrated infrastructure that is resilient and better able to withstand disasters, both natural and man-caused, and recover more quickly. This is helping to usher in predictive asset management approaches to prolong the infrastructure life once built. We are rapidly closing in on the ability to create a digital mirror of the physical world. Advanced technologies such as BIM have allowed us to analyze more complex geospatial and big data information including risks and problems at a system asset level in order to optimize a design to avoid wasting time and money. Optimization of those models allows the stretching of infrastructure investment dollars throughout the design and construction phases. Going forward leveraging BIM to optimize all designs like its muscle memory will be a critical skill set.

  • Has there been any improvement policy wise in this space in the past one year?

That is a tough question to answer given improvements to one audience could be seen as hindrances to others. Globally all business sectors and governments are challenged with the onslaught of new information sources, the volume of information generated and the concerns about data security (a key concern of AEC firm CIOs). While you can provide policies and standards on capture and data exchange, scaling this to AEC business processes and freedom of information requirements at a state level makes it much more difficult. This wave of information and how best to enable policy and standards to manage it, is a going to be a work in progress for some time.

  • What remain the biggest challenges and barriers in this space?

Having policy and standards of practice catch up with the standards of capability of tools. The technology capability today is far past what policies and standard of practices allow or take into account. Take the example of how fast drones and personal aerial data capture exploded before policies start to be created for them. We need to look at ways to allow for innovation and change to occur quicker so we don’t hamper it with outdated standards but at the same time provide the guidance in policy’s to ensure its managed. It’s a balancing act but the more we foster conversation early and often around what the technology can do – the better we can leverage this best in class capability to address the key challenges we face today within our infrastructure systems.