What are the implications of model-based design for the geospatial community?

by Matt Ball on December 11, 2009

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The community of architecture/engineering/construction (AEC) specialists is undergoing a dramatic evolution toward model-based design.  The concept and tools of Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a paradigm shift for the AEC community as it breaks free of the drawing-oriented design process toward an intelligent model that informs all phases of a building’s life and is acted upon by all of the disciplines that are involved in the process. BIM is basically a GIS for a building — introducing a database to store all details and components of the building, the domain knowledge of a team of collaborators, and the ability to query and analyze this information for a streamlined construction process and more efficient and effective structures.

The GIS community is well versed in the benefits of this model-based approach as this essentially has been the role of GIS from its beginning. The difference with this BIM revolution is that the tools are pushing forward with technologies for richer 3D experiences, a means to track and query change over time to handle the progress of building construction, and the means to collaborate among and across disciplines in a very complex progression toward shared goals.

Bringing on 3D

The development of rich 3D visualizations among the design and geospatial community has long been on a parallel but separate track, while the true innovations have taken place in the gaming and entertainment worlds. The mind-blowing realism that computers are capable of these days haven’t reached the standard desktop software to date.

The computer processing and visualization barrier has existed due to hardware limiations, but these issues are falling fairly rapidly due to the inevitabilities of Moore’s Law. While the machines to view this information are improving, so are the means to rapidly render large complex models through better software handling and the resources that can be tapped through cloud computing.

The CAD community is driven largely by visualization, because the process involves the design and creation of objects. The GIS community largely deals with analysis in abstraction, but could benefit greatly by being able to visualize and simulate with much greater realism. The line between the two software tools has been drawn largely around visualization capabilities, and this visualization and modeling capability is where the lines blur for greater technology convergence in the infrastructure space. Expect a heated technology battle between the vendors who have tools in both or either camp as the stakes are very high for how business gets done in the AEC space, and there are huge global business prospects at stake.

Simulation and Temporal Queries

In the GIS world, the ability to track and query change over time has been on the agenda for some time. While the toolset can handle simulation and some temporal analysis, it still doesn’t adequately handle the long-term storage of this data to meet the vision of being able to seamlessly query this information to discover change over time or to project the look and implications of plans into the future.

In the CAD community there have been great inroads in 4D construction that involve modeling the building construction timeline to enhance scheduling of materials and work for a more streamlined and efficient process. Again, the capabilities don’t currently address the full vision of a seamless integrated project delivery, but the call for wider adoption of this process improvement strategy will move software development toward meeting this goal.

In both CAD and GIS there is a concerted effort to deal with the capability of the software to model and query across time. The temporal capability will provide huge advantages for both vendors, practitioners and society.

Collaboration vs. Integration

GIS has long touted the ability of the geographic common denominator of place to integrate separate systems. This play has largely revolved around such enterprise systems as enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer resource management (CRM), workforce automation, and others. The means to integrate has led to interesting custom solutions that combine data among systems for operational dashboards and better decision making. This integration capability is extremely important for business process improvements and poses a great growth potential for GIS and databases that handle geospatial data.

In the CAD world, the sharing of drawings among the different AEC disciplines has led to innovations for real-time collaboration. There have been a number of different approaches over the years for greater real-time sharing of ideas, with varying levels of success. There will be continued development of this capability as it’s of critical importance to streamlining the whole design and build process for real cost savings in the process.

The software challenges are different between the integration and collaboration. Both CAD and GIS developers stand to benefit from each others work as both tool sets could benefit from enhancing both within their tools. The issue of data and model interoperability plays a huge role in both integration and collaboration. As momentum grows for a model-based approach, great pressures will be placed on barriers to interoperability, benefiting both CAD and GIS toolsets.

These three capabilities of enhanced visualization, temporal data storage and visualization, and richly collaborative workflows have been key development goals for both the CAD and GIS software vendors. While some capability in all three areas exist among and across the toolsets, there are also considerable technical barriers that hold back the true potential of both toolsets. As both developer communities address these issues there is hope that they will work in concert to learn from each other and enhance and enable each other. It’s up to the user community to assert their needs clearly and forcefully so that the convergence of these tools becomes a benefit rather than a blockage to work processes.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Maitri December 11, 2009 at 3:33 pm

The GIS and CAD viz worlds have a lot to offer each other as you point out. This is the main driver for the CityGML-BIM integration, along with CityGML scaling very nicely to building geometries and semantics.

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