We would like to see the GIS technology spreading around

We would like to see the GIS technology spreading around

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10:08:12PCFC is wholly owned by the Dubai government. There are various Business Units operating under the PCFC umbrella. The Businesses, run by PCFC companies include Port operation in different parts of the world, Free Zone administrations in many countries, real estate development etc.
Nazek Al Sabbagh
Chief Civil Engineering Officer
Civil Engineering Deptartment
Ports, Customs and Free Zone Corporation, Dubai, UAE

PCFC is wholly owned by the Dubai government. There are various Business Units operating under the PCFC umbrella. The Businesses, run by PCFC companies include Port operation in different parts of the world, Free Zone administrations in many countries, real estate development etc.

Q: What are the driving factors, which led to extensive automation and computerization in your organization?

The amount of construction activities that take place in the region currently has surpassed all expectations. Civil Engineering Department plays a key role in this development. We are responsible for issuing Building Permits, Building Completion Certificates etc for some of the developments in Dubai. We make sure that, anything that is built within our jurisdiction follow the highest international standards. For each project, clients used to submit full set of paper drawings in triplicate to CED for verifying the engineering, architectural, structural standards, which would also be sent to the Environment, Health and Safety departments for their approval.

You can imagine the volume of paper we handle for each project. Approximately 1500 papers per building are submitted for our engineers to review. We have to also make sure that our field personnel reach sites on time with all required information. Frankly, we had no choice other than to automate. There was no other way we could cope with this workload. In our automated systems, we maintain maps, drawings, graphics, reports and other documents which are accessible to authorized staff members. Comments entered by one staff member are available to others in real time and any modifications made on the data are immediately reflected.

Q: Was there any kind of resistance or ‘inhibition’ in adapting ‘automation’?

Yes, it is human nature to resist changes. But one has to initiate and then strive to meet the goal and make a difference. We started implementing our paperless policy three years back and step by step we reached our desired destination. At first, we started using CAD software to do regular drafting work.

Then we converted maps and engineering records and made construction services online. Then we created a series of online applications. Site Inspectors don’t have to come to the office to take the request for site inspection.

They have the necessary automated tool. It’s so exciting; the employees wake up and they know what jobs their seniors have scheduled for them for on that day. The supervisor schedules jobs in such a way that all jobs in the same geographic area are assigned to the same inspector. The GIS intelligence used here is transparent to all users involved. You can imagine the amount of time saved. We have saved considerable amount of storage space as well considering the fact that we do many thousands projects and each project has six hundred to thousand drawings.

Q: Since this ‘automation’ is a big change that you have introduced successfully; can you summarize your experience in brief and the ways to implement it ?

The concept is that we should move ahead of times. Change can not be brought in one day. It needs time with proper planning strategies. Before implementing the plan you also have to make sure that your clients and employees buy it. The proposition have to be sold to other organizations whom you deal with; keeping in mind their requirements and needs.

There will be some opposition from the system but one has to deal with it. We always have to look at our outcomes and strive for the best. I always want to be ahead of demand. It’s a beautiful system and a very good challenge and this is not about becoming philosophical but practically we have to go further.

Q: What motivated you to introduce GIS seven years ago ?

We were reaching a stage where there was too much of information, especially drawings. There were paper maps, CAD files, excel sheets, paper reports. And more data was being added with each new project that was initiated. There was a clear need to have an organized system to store geographic data. We studied other organizations around, who had similar needs. It soon became obvious that GIS was the only way to go. With the help of the top management, we soon had a GIS in place and there was no looking back ever since.

Q: Could you tell us something about the e-map which you have initiated and how it is helpful for the clients?

e-Map has two versions. The first version, e-Map internal is an intranet application designed keeping in view the regular information requirements of our staff and is used as a comprehensive tool for supporting their Decision Making. This is an integration of GIS and other MIS applications. This is currently used by many of our staff for their day-to-day information needs in an easy to use manner. This application has changed the culture of our users to a great extent, who started looking at the information from an entirely different perspective. All of a sudden, staff started looking at the leasing data from a different perspective. Till the time, GIS data was made available to the FZ staff, a facility was just a number. But, today, when a FZ staff talks to a client, he or she speaks with a different picture in his or her mind. Previously a list of vacant land plots was just a list, but today, when they talk about vacant plots, it is a beautiful map that shows a lot of information that are all linked to its location on the ground.

e-Map external, an internet application is a GIS based interactive query system designed for the Free Zone and Port visitors who would like to view the information on free zone companies searching companies by name, activities or country of origin, locating facilities, landmarks and Corporate departments etc. on map, generating map based on point to point routing.

Q: What are the standards you have?

The data standards are in place as per the published guidelines of Dubai GIS center. We did not reinvent the wheel. We maintain various type of data starting from data representing Free Zone leasable facilities, topographic data and ortho images covering all our project areas, utility network data. In addition to the map data we maintain lots of attribute information such as engineering specifications for various constructions. Our engineering standards match with the best international standards and are customized to the regional requirements. We have published engineering guidelines and regulations and have also launched color-coded accreditation program to accredit PCFC Business Units staff, consultants and contractors

Q: Could you please share with us your future plans? How this integration can be further taken?

We would certainly like to see the GIS technology spreading around in the organization. CED has benefited from this technology and we would like to see similar benefits enjoyed by the whole corporation.

One particular area where we like to see GIS technology being used in the near future is in Emergency Response Planning. We will be ready to share data and resources in addition to our expertise in this field with other Business Units of the corporation to get mutual benefits.