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Convergence is still the key Implementation leads the way!

Practice Manager – Design & Engineering
GIS Development
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This month’s article is a continuation of my earlier article ‘D&E – convergence is the key’ ( in January issue ), which talked about the latest trends in the use of geospatial technologies for design and engineering and concluded with the need for convergence of AEC and geospatial technologies for establishing an effective design-build solution.


Though economic recession is the most talked about topic these days and construction and real estate being one of the worst affected industries, one can expect little or no investment in newer technologies or research along with reducing compensation and job cuts. Fortunately, amidst all the confusion and chaos of the economics, research is an ongoing process that’s en routedevelopment.
As a research topic, objectives of BIM, CAD and GIS integration was to develop a framework of interoperability across the lifecycle of building and infrastructure investment involving planning, architecture, engineering, construction, operations and maintenance and decommissioning. As individual technologies, these have been successfully implemented in design-build and management of buildings, highways and roads, network infrastructure such as telecommunications, power, water, wastewater and gas networks. Also, these disciplines have been isolated from the other and each has maintained its own database and profiles for a while now.

Convergence of AEC (Architecture/Engineering/Construction) and geospatial is one of the well researched topics and is now a substantially developed technology in itself. It is now in a difficult yet exciting time. The USP (unique selling proposition) of this integrated technology is that it is directly associated with the economics of the construction industry, as it is cost/time-effective right from the time of design, through build and even post construction management as it integrates all the disciplines in its core and optimises the solutions for best results.

The best way to utilise the different databases from AEC and geospatial is to integrate it in a single interactive model supporting 3D visualisation so that one can visualise and analyse all aspects of the infrastructure effectively. BIM (Building Information Modelling) with plug-in support is one such tool. It is well beyond the early research phase, and is being used by major architectural and consultation firms around the world. As explained by Andrew Pressman, FAIA in Architectural Record, May 2007: “This is an exciting time to practice architecture. Architects and engineers seem to be able to

design and construct almost anything they can imagine and the data they use enables these buildings to be well managed by their owners. Architects, consultants and owners are also working together more closely than ever. Integrated practice (IP) is the term that is being assigned to this collaborative process. IP is a meaningful response to the ongoing marketplace mandate for buildings that are faster to design and construct, at lower cost, as well as more sustainable and of higher quality than those built in the past. Building information modelling (BIM) is enabling – some say forcing – this informationsharing, integrated- practice culture to emerge.” (https://archrecord. construction. com/practice/projDelivery/ 0705proj-1.asp) A European Commission funded project, the Open Information Environment for Knowledge-Based Collaborative Processes throughout the Lifecycle of a Building (InPro) programme, is one of Europe’s largest collaborative projects in construction- related research and development. The project is lead by five large European construction contractors in close cooperation with other stakeholders of the construction and IT industries, plus renowned research organisations and specialised consultants. The InPro website states, “The main objective of InPro is to “develop and establish a model-based and collaborative way of working in the early design phase, considering the whole life-cycle of a building.” And, “The construction industry is standing before a major technology shift – from the traditional 2-dimensional drawings to 3- dimensional building information models (BIM). Advanced design, communication and simulation tools give us an opportunity to change the way we work in the industry, including open collaboration between stakeholders, design for increased energy efficiency, flexibility, constructability, comfort, etc.”

) One of the important trends is WebGIS for “land-based” infrastructure projects: transportation, telecommunications and the construction industry at large. Although GIS is traditionally confined to the planning stage, geographical information is actually required in all phases of the infrastructure life cycle. An essential element of WebGIS for infrastructure projects is engineering information management: a projectcontrol structure that gets the right information to the right person at the right time.

G-enabling or geospatial enabling is another important trend that has emerged in the past few years across the IT sector and many other verticals, as almost every thing we do is associated with location now. Even the advertisement we see on our monitors are location specific!


Construction industry is one of the last to jump on the technology bandwagon but the construction boom came as a boon for the industry as it upgraded its survey from plane table to total/laser stations and paper drawings to CAD and now GIS in some cases. But still, there are some bigger challenges that it faces. One being, global climate change, as buildings account for a substantial share in the total energy consumption and carbondioxide emissions across the globe. And these need to be adapted to achieve zero net carbon emissions and minimise environmental impact while at the same time yield a respectable financial return on investment.

Some of the other challenges include aging infrastructure that requires refurbishing or replacement. There is also a need for capacity building, to upgrade the workforce with newer technologies. In many infrastructure projects, design and engineering continue while construction is underway, responding to conditions in the field. It is also important to identify the design errors early. It is estimated by the US Department of Defense that the cost of correcting a mistake in the design phase increases by three orders of magnitude-a factor of 1000-if the error is detected late in the construction phase as opposed to early in the design phase. Another problem that arises is as a result of having different teams

responsible for engineering design and maintaining or records, i.e. there is a distinct classification amongst the engineering design and GIS professionals and their different ways of delivering final products and the method of updating their database. Many project managers understand that underlying requirement is a robust system that will assist in providing the right information to the right person at the right time. And this is where the convergence of AEC and geospatial technologies plays a vital role in implementing a comprehensive, sophisticated, geospatially enabled, engineering, information management system.


Geospatial technologies, on its own, have excelled to a position where a GIS system is capable of the entire life-cycle management of the construction project. Most survey instrument manufacturing companies have tied up with
their GIS counterparts to develop formats or provide platform for seamless integration of datasets over various platforms. Though GIS is associated as the data management system, both spatial and non spatial data, through a map interface, it has now evolved to efficiently manage the visualisation of the 3D data and is also capable of simulations. The coordinate system that is used in defining the architectural, engineering and geo data is the sole distinguishing factor to implement whether the data a spatial or not. Most CAD applications are now capable of supporting real world coordinate systems and based on the Industry Foundation Classes developed and maintained by the IAI are also being geospatially enabled as a result of an alliance formed between IAIand OGC. But as a wise saying goes, it is best to integrate the better of all worlds, i.e. the database management capability of GIS, 2D visualisation of CAD or 3D visualisation of BIM.

The major requirement of this convergence is seamless integration at the ‘standard’ level. Though a lot of work has been done, the prospect of having a new and improved visualisation, database, drawing or any other data format is always around the corner.
The OGC develops and promotes standards for distributed geo-processing, with a particular focus on Web services. Many of the software companies that serve both AEC and geospatial customers are providing interoperability between their own AEC and geospatial products. The OGC’s standards development process, which relies heavily on fast paced, results-oriented test beds, has already started work in the AEC and geospatial technology convergence.
The different AEC and geospatial technology have different vocabularies, geometries, computing paradigms, data formats, data schemas, scales and fundamental world-views. They also have different requirements for accuracy,

“verisimilitude” (realism), and animation performance. Different organisations have different business processes for which they have developed their own paper and digital forms and procedures.
The CAD-GIS Interoperability Working Group in the Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc. (OGC(R)) is working towards AEC/CAD/Geospatial integration. OGC members are working on projects such as: Integrating international standards for Building Information Models with the OpenGIS(R) Geography Markup Language Encoding Specification (GML), the main international industry standard XML encoding language for geospatial information. XML makes it possible to describe and encode many kinds of data such that software can intelligently integrate and re-organise the data for diverse purposes.

It should also be noted here that geospatial technologies is not only GIS but includes surveying, remote sensing, photogrammetry, etc. as well. The inherent challenges faced by these individual technologies does effect their efficient use in the field of design and engineering. The technology in this regard will have to improve in terms of their quantitative and qualitative capabilities and its interoperable industry standards.


The challenges of the construction industry on the surveying front are a result of the existing instrumentation and their limitations. As and when companies introduce compact or heavy duty but more importantly accurate instruments, industry will adopt them and evolve along with them. It will also, as a necessity, invest in the training of personnel for the operation of these instruments. It is already on many major survey instruments companies to make the survey data available in a format that is interoperable with software it will be used in.

On the software and engineering aspect, it can be noted that technologies like GIS/CAD/BIM have been developing customised solutions for the construction industry at various levels, say designing, process management, or post construction management. But this has led to repeated data collection or using it in different software for desired results and increasing labour cost. This has also given rise to common integrated solutions, but the capability of it being a total solution is still questionable.

The convergence of technologies is also a principal factor responsible for the construction industry to move towards the green and sustainable development. It helps in managing energy costs and materials costs. It also helps in design and modelling of infrastructure that follow the local green development guidelines. Thus, there is high value in technology- assisted AEC – geospatial business process innovations that reduce the percentage of wasted materials and energy and that help architects design for local climate and materials. It is one thing to know that the technology exists and a different ball game when it comes to the implementation of the same in an organisation. Some of the issues that arise could be high capital investment (for the software license), habit (comfort of using existing technology), etc. It is hence important that a cost and risk analysis for its implementation is carried out and ROI calculated.

‘The only constant is change – Heraclitus’. We have to understand that it is inevitable that the change (read advancement of technology) will eventually catch up with our existing business practices and the transition will have to be made. Until next time, adapt and evolve!