Many years ago, in the early 80’s, when we were just thinking of using a GIS a friend took me to visit a unit in the Gandhinagar Software Park which was ‘working on GIS for an overseas client’.
I found that they were updating detailed maps of cities and towns created in popular CAD software. The details were mind boggling. Each and every sewer manhole, water pipeline, lamp posts were mapped and relevant information was attached to each feature which could be called up with a mouse click. That was my first introduction to Automated Mapping/Facility Management, or AM/FM. My first reaction was confusion. If CAD software could do all this then what did GIS software have to offer? Delving deeper I could set my bearings correctly. AM/FM predated GIS. In the 70’s when management of large utilities strained the resources of the company the advent of computer graphics was seen as a way of automating the mapping process. Thus we had a graphic engine, CAD, to handle the engineering schematics and a relational database to handle the attribute data and a way of linking the graphic elements to the database. While this system was very good it fell short of a GIS because it did not have a geographical data model and hence lacked the power to manage and analyse the data in its geographical context. Today a GIS can do all that the AM/FM system could do and more. AM/FM thus has become one of the many applications of GIS.
AM/FM traditionally has addressed utilities like power, water, sewerage and transportation which are based on a network model of the data. With the additional capabilities of spatial analysis enabled by the geographic data model of a GIS, these applications have been enhanced and newer areas have opened up. Some of the tasks that are enabled include job design, engineering and estimation and integration with work flow management, customer information systems and outage management systems. The systems can be web enabled to provide access across the enterprise. Field information can be integrated and activities like field maintenance can be automated. A GIS provides spatial visualisation, spatial query and modelling capabilities which make these applications more effective.