Integrating Location & Design: There must be a better way

Autodesk & Esri Sponsored Content

Engineers using building information modeling (BIM) software and geographic information systems (GIS) specialists constitute overlapping segments of the infrastructure project community. Sometimes, they work for the same company or public agency, but often they don’t: for example, the engineers might work for a design firm and the GIS specialists for a local government. 

Either way, when they work on infrastructure projects — say, a road rehabilitation, land development, a new bridge or water main — they need to share data. Because BIM and GIS data are in different formats, they need to be converted. Because they are housed in different systems, belonging to different organizations, they need to be handed off from one to the other.

Traditionally, the exchange of data has been an inefficient process. To acquire GIS data, engineers must request them from the GIS team — who are often guarded about providing them — specifying the exact geographic extent and data layers they require. If they later realize that they need additional data, they must go through this process again. In turn, GIS specialists can often receive raw CAD data from engineers, but to import them into a GIS database, they must manually process the files, which can easily introduce errors and cause data loss.

The case for more streamlined workflows

To design an infrastructure project, designers and civil engineers typically start from a context model of existing conditions and an analysis of them. For the best outcomes, engineers need to have the most detailed view as possible of their project’s built and natural environment. But they may also wish to consider other factors such traffic and accident data, zoning restrictions, storm impacts or flooding risks, soil quality, or population density and demographics.  All of these factors could significantly impact design decisions.

However, obtaining these data involves several often disconnected steps.

First, the designers and engineers must identify the best sources for these data. In the case of GIS data, these sources may be government agencies or, if they work for a large company, their internal GIS team. 

Second, they must request these data for the right geographic extent and in the right format for their project — including the correct coordinate system and file format (SHP or DWG). Third, the relevant GIS team must produce the data, precisely as requested, and upload them to a shared storage area. 

Due to this lengthy process, file sharing links can time out or run into permission issues, making the files inaccessible and, soon, out of date. While waiting for the GIS data they requested, or as an alternative to waiting for them, engineers may use printed PDFs, images, ArcGIS maps, or other such “static” data sources that are not easily interrelated.

Maintain up to date asset information

The integration of BIM and GIS data is very important throughout a project’s life cycle, helping to ensure that “as-designed” models generate “as-built” records that accurately reflect what is actually “on the ground.”

What happens when a technician in the field finds a manhole that is missing in the GIS data or an engineer discovers that a culvert being designed would conflict with a drain already in the ground? 

Traditionally, the process of identifying, recording, and reporting from the field back to the office required laboriously entering and tracking issues manually, on paper, with no way to effectively organize and log them. 

It often also involved a division of labor, such that an engineer would report the discrepancy and a GIS specialist would update the data. This created delays in correcting discrepancies and slowed down the rest of the process. 

Integrating BIM and GIS, by contrast, enables staff in the field, both engineers and GIS specialists, to capture updates through mobile apps and update GIS data in ArcGIS, so that their colleagues back at the office can then refresh their design model using this fresh GIS data.

Often, engineers find they need to update features in their designs that were originally obtained from a GIS data source. Keeping GIS systems in sync with these “as-designed” information is critical. Better integrated workflows between design and GIS allows designers to make changes to features in their design tools and publish those changes directly to the GIS, helping to maintain the most up to date asset information.

Improve decisions, enhance project outcomes

Yet, time is of the essence during any infrastructure project. Because the reality on the ground may change and new data collected throughout the process, delays in conveying data means that by the time they are in the system they may no longer reflect the existing conditions. These challenges can impact all phases of a project, from design to construction, operation, and maintenance.

Therefore, it is essential that engineering and GIS teams establish more collaborative workflows – streamlining how data moves between them. This can ensure project teams are working on the most accurate data, helping to improve understanding of a project’s geographic context and environmental impact, facilitating improved stakeholders understanding and decisions, and enabling more efficient maintenance of the completed asset.

Enhanced collaboration like this requires moving BIM and GIS data from organizational silos to workflows that enables everyone working on a project to easily access and utilize the data they need – so that GIS informs BIM and BIM, in turn, fuels GIS.

Autodesk and Esri delivers

The alliance between Autodesk and Esri has achieved this. With the introduction of the Autodesk Connector for ArcGIS, users of Autodesk Civil 3D, Autodesk InfraWorks, and AutoCAD Map 3D can now maintain a live connection between their design tool and the data in Esri’s ArcGIS. Designers and engineers can pull the GIS data they need directly into their design model, they can also make changes to features in their design tool and push those updates back to ArcGIS directly.

With this level of data integration, project teams can save time, enhance productivity, and reduce the risk of using outdated or incorrect data. Ultimately, with improved workflows and improved understanding, infrastructure project quality is improved while the harmful impacts to communities and the environment minimized.

Download this eBook to discover more about how location and design can help deliver more resilient and sustainable infrastructure.

Learn more about BIM and GIS integration at

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