3 Apr, 2012 By: Heather Livingston

Tech Trends: When it comes to managing facilities and infrastructure, which technology provides the information that you need in the way you need it? The answer might be: both.

In facilities management, one question seems to be on everyone’s mind these days: BIM or GIS? Without a doubt, both options have a lot to offer when it comes to wrangling all the data involved in operating a facility. BIM (building information modeling) offers detailed 3D visualization and the ability to organize huge volumes of data related to buildings. A GIS (geographic information system) is highly customizable, well equipped for analysis, and ideal for projects in a campus or multi-site environment. Which program or process is better for FM depends entirely on whom you ask. In speaking with a variety of experts, one thing became clear: You’re not likely to find much consensus.

At Autodesk University 2011, one seminar explored “The Great BIM Versus GIS Debate.” Hosted by Matt Ball, editor and cofounder of Vector1 Media, with cospeakers Peter Southwood and Michael Schlosser, both of Autodesk, this gathering was lively and full of strong opinions about the capabilities, strengths, and drawbacks of BIM and GIS in the FM arena.

Taking Sides

Southwood, a geospatial technical specialist, expressed his belief that BIM is best suited for managing data related to the building itself, whereas GIS is more applicable for everything outside buildings. What FM really needs, he said, is something to manage information on a large scale. He believes that CAD in a GIS system provides the single source of truth that’s needed to analyze the data required for FM. Because 3D design programs such as Autodesk Revit don’t yet have the ability to easily transfer data directly into a GIS model, CAD is the standard-bearer for maintaining accurate design data in a GIS system.

Schlosser wholeheartedly disagrees with Southwood. Although he, too, is a technical specialist and a geospatial subject matter expert, he is a bit of a BIM evangelist — although his appraisal of BIM is not a conventional one. “I would say the BIM model encompasses more than that,” he argued during the seminar. “The BIM model can encompass an entire subdivision and not be just about an individual building, but could be about the behavior of that entire subdivision or campus. It can model vehicular traffic [and] pipes in the ground and analyze the flow of water through the ground. If I increase the density of the neighborhood, how does that impact the pipe capacity — and can the treatment facility handle it? I look at BIM as information modeling for the built environment,” he said.

Although GIS has been in use longer — Southwood says the first appearance of a GIS (albeit a paper-based one) was in 1854 — Schlosser believes that BIM will catch up due to its robustness and data-processing capability.

“BIM is just newer,” Schlosser says. “Anybody who’s designing infrastructure [or] buildings will embrace the BIM process the same way that others have embraced GIS. They have to. We have to become more efficient at what we do. We have to plan our cities and our infrastructure more efficiently.

“This whole idea of being sustainable applies to the greater context as well — not just a specific project, but in terms of how that project relates to other projects, and how one city relates to another city, and how that road relates to the city. So, I believe in BIM.”

GIS Converts

Michelle Ellington is the GIS coordinator for the University of Kentucky (UK) in Lexington. She disagrees with Schlosser’s assessment of BIM. Although the university does use BIM for design and construction, it transitions to GIS for the maintenance phase of the lifecycle. Ellington praises GIS for its ability to analyze information and integrate data from different systems.

UK’s approach is not a one-program-fits-all solution, she says. “We’re not converting everything to one world. We’re allowing each to be used for its strengths, and then publishing it with GIS.”

She says that UK uses perhaps 15% of the information embedded in a BIM model, and that it becomes time-consuming and unwieldy to extract information from that model in a useful way. GIS, she believes, is a strategic investment because it allows the university to leverage functions such as the single sign-on system.

“If we have UK police log on to the system, they see police and crime information,” Ellington explains. “If we have parking transportation employees log in, they see the parking and bus route information, and they don’t see the crime. GIS allows us to use this same graphical interface and tie into the many existing university systems and data, then publish it out to the users without interfering with normal business.”

This University of Kentucky Building Analysis Map application was developed for analyzing facility age and condition, ADA data, space and departmental information, student registration data, and historical data. It combines data from multiple university systems and records including space, SAP, and spreadsheets. (Click image to enlarge.)

One major drawback with BIM, according to Ellington, is data translation. Ideally, facilities managers really want to bring the data into a single application, she says. For the university’s Esri GIS system, CAD data is displayed in its native file format. “I would love to do the same thing with BIM and with the BIM model, [but] I’m not aware of an easy way to do it. … I don’t see that the technologies have advanced enough for BIM to be consumed easily into GIS.”

Safe Software’s Dale Lutz, cofounder and vice-president of software development, says that’s going to change soon. Today, he says, if someone uses Autodesk Revit or Bentley Architecture, they have to export the BIM data to IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) format first, then import that into GIS. “Customers don’t like to make the IFC stop,” he explains, so Safe Software is developing a solution to transition data directly from Revit into a GIS database in its native format.

All Together Now

Bentley Systems — which, like Autodesk, develops both BIM and GIS applications — takes the approach that the two technologies aren’t competitive, but rather complementary. “We would much more likely say BIM and GIS rather than BIM vs. GIS,” says Huw Roberts, global marketing director, Building, Structural, and Core Product.

“It’s a question of the scale [and detail] you’re operating at,” adds Richard Zambuni, global marketing director, Geospatial and Utilities. Zambuni says that when you’re talking about a BIM model, you’re really talking about navigation within a building. For GIS, on the other hand, you’re looking at the high-level geospatial view of a city, and everything in between.

“The way that people want to manage infrastructure of different classes is to really be able to operate on GIS and BIM as a continuum, and it’s just a question of what type of information you need, and therefore which is the access point that’s most appropriate,” Zambuni believes.

Not surprisingly, Roberts and Zambuni believe that ProjectWise, Bentley’s collaboration platform, is the best option for reconciling BIM and GIS. Zambuni believes that when owners get into operations and maintenance workflows, it doesn’t matter whether they’re trying to get all the data into a classic information model or running everything into a GIS database. It’s never enough, he says, because “you have the type of data that doesn’t really submit to being rammed into one master database. What you need to be able to do is to federate that data, index it, and navigate it spatially.”

As an example, Zambuni cites the Crossrail project, which is creating 21 km of new twin-bore tunnels under central London. Crossrail presently is the largest civil engineering project in Europe; upon completion it will link 37 commuter rail stations, eight of them underground.

London’s Crossrail project comprises 21 km of new twin-bore tunnels and will connect 37 commuter rail stations. The project team uses Bentley Systems’ ProjectWise platform to access and share building information models, GIS data, and less-structured data. Image courtesy of Crossrail Ltd.

According to Zambuni, Crossrail is “federating this information so that they can access BIM models in the traditional way, but it can also find all the other information they need about the infrastructure, that either sits ideally in a BIM model or in a GIS database.” With Bentley’s ProjectWise, Zambuni believes, “They have the best of all possible worlds because they can get that geospatial data. They can get the BIM models. They can get all that other data that’s less structured and not suited to being rammed into a database.”

London’s Crossrail, currently the largest civil engineering project in Europe, demands an information platform that can easily deliver all manner of building and infrastructure data to members of the project team. Image courtesy of Crossrail Ltd.

Convergence in Sight

With all these varying viewpoints about BIM and GIS, it’s hard to find consensus, but one key thread emerged in my research: In the next few years, we will see a convergence of these tools. Although that doesn’t necessarily mean that one system combining CAD, GIS, and BIM will come into existence, we should expect that a solid toolset will enter the market that allows for easy data translation and optimizes the capabilities of the separate programs and processes. Safe Software’s Lutz says, “I think that’s a growth area for us, and the industry … is going to need more and better solutions. I think a variety of companies are going to be coming out with ways to address this pain point over the next few years.”

Today’s technology is making progress in the effort to coordinate BIM and GIS data. Autodesk
Infrastructure Modeler calls on CAD, GIS, and BIM to show the impact of a proposed road-widening
project on surrounding neighborhoods.
(Click image to enlarge.)

Putting it in terms of benefit to owners and the design and engineering community, Schlosser concludes, “That whole idea of BIM and GIS converging leads to better analysis and better simulation.”

In the end, it will amount to a huge step toward where we all want to be.

Add comment


Re: BIM vs. GIS
by: barryjk02
April 9, 2012 - 4:07pm
I have a unique advantage of having worked for Autodesk and Esri and have seen how the two companies overlap in their solutions and integration. BIM is a process which should encompass both CAD and GIS, not debate CAD vs. GIS. The FM world has historically been in the area of CAD and typically not concerned about georeferenced infrastructure. This is changing since GIS can create data models that support both geometric and hierarchical needs which can address inside and outside infrastructure. To facilitate long-term maintenance of sites, clients are demanding that the final as-built design be delivered digitally and georeferenced. Much of this debate depends on whether BIM stands for Modeling or Maintenance. A solution like Revit is far better suited to the design of a building(s); however, in the early stages before building designs are created, GIS plays an important role in the selection of sites and integration of data throughout the process. Sustainability or GeoDesign have similar ultimate goals to make the best possible decisions that support the maximum infrastructure lifecycle at the least cost. Neither CAD nor GIS can do this on their own which is why virtually every engineering firm and municipality owns multiple solutions for best-of-breed functionality. Although we have been talking about it for 20 years, 3-D is still in its infancy but is continuing to grow in its easy of use. 3-D has proven itself as a tool that saves money in the long run but there is still a need for 2-D. Temporal information can also add significant insight into the long-term impacts of local conditions. The multiple formats required to communicate at different stages for the entire lifecycle will keep companies like Safe Software in business for a long time. BIM as a defined concept is new but the practice has been around for many years/centuries, it’s just becoming more sophisticated. I don’t see a harmonic convergence happening any time soon so until then we should be able to agree that everyone deserves to be heard. The designers, builders, and managers of infrastructure have a combined responsibility to listen. Barry Kelly, Industry Manager, Public Works Esri Canada
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