March 21, 2018

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Integrating geospatial technology with BIM: Aidan Mercer, Bentley Systems

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Since the inception of computer-aided design (CAD) and geographical information systems (GIS), users have been adopting technology to better deal with infrastructure projects around the world. Meanwhile, with the rise of building information modelling (BIM) has ensured better team collaboration, improved quality of infrastructure, and the ability to design, build, and operate more efficiently.

Aidan Mercer talks about BIMBIM is not just about the design or the models themselves, it is all-inclusive of design through to operations and maintenance of assets, and has been eloquently described by UK-based consultancy Mott MacDonald as “a coordinated set of processes, supported by technology, that adds value through creating, managing and sharing the properties of an asset throughout its lifecycle.” By accepting that it is a process, we should accept that the technology is only one component.

Another thing to consider is the people and skills needed for such an integration. GIS professionals need a broad range of management, business, and technical skills. BIM professionals, on the other hand, are evolving and are often technically savvy and easily adopt new sets of technology in innovative ways.

The difficult part is integrating the differing technologies that have so far operated in different environments. It is also imperative that software vendors should work on the exchange of data between varying systems, such as i-models. Given that BIM is not a static model created for one purpose, it is important to see the value of how these technologies can complement one another.

For example, BIM models should be ascribed throughout with geospatial information in order to gain additional value. For example, the topology of a building is required to spatially understand the layout and attributes of that building, thus giving a heightened importance to this integration.

This growing importance of having a geo-context to the AEC lifecycle is becoming more evident and the demands on various communities are growing at a rapid rate. But the issues of integration raise some significant questions due to a variety of factors.

Fundamentally speaking, existing CAD and GIS platforms have been developed independently with different purposes. BIM data is typically more standardised in structure, more highly structured and is file-based (hence the need for i-models). Given that CAD and GIS platforms have been created for differing purposes, one keyword is needed to deal with this integration. That word is interoperability. But, as a word of caution, this means being interoperable with technology and each other.

Defining a standard format is fundamental to any successful integration plan. Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) have provided a solid foundation and offers great promise of interoperability for the AEC community. IFC schema has developed new geographic elements within IFC itself and ensured, with the help of new computing powers, that 3D GIS is now possible. This opens up a whole new potential with 3D analysis and simulation for energy performance, urban planning and development and a new wave of cadastral mapping and registration.

Ultimately, any meaningful attempt to integrate BIM and GIS requires a systematic mapping of conflicting semantic data structures. BIM has new and differing levels of structure (BIM Level 1, 2, 3) and is by nature much richer in detail than a GIS database, but both BIM and GIS will require network capabilities in order to share information. This integration also requires consistent collaboration between vendors like Bentley’s suite of products that interoperate with other vendors. Huge advancements show this integration between BIM and GIS will happen, but organisations should be careful when venturing into such new territory.


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