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Understanding GIS: Location, Location, Location

March 23, 2022

That’s a term we have all heard in reference to your home. You can always modify your house, but you can’t change the location.

This is a saying that has a different meaning and impact on infrastructure construction programs everywhere. To best explain the explosive demand for accurate geospatial data on everything from buildings to bridges, roadways, utilities, items, assets, and more, it’s important to understand a little of the past.

First - what is GIS, or a Geographic Information System?

A Geographic Information System is a database of geographic data, combined with software tools for managing, analyzing, and visualizing that data. GIS always integrates location data with descriptive information. GIS helps users understand patterns, relationships, and geographic context. The benefits include improved communication and efficiency as well as better management and decision making.

How did GIS evolve?

Not too long ago engineered projects were developed using assumed positional coordinates, and often, actual locations were not applied until the project baselines were established in the field. In those days design, construction and operations were vertical silos with each having its own start and finish points and almost never overlapping. If they overlapped, it was worked out on location, usually at the project site. But as technology advanced, geographical information systems (GIS) became an industry standard and a requirement. Its very name implied geospatial data, and eventually, geographical and geospatial became synonymous.

In the engineering and construction worlds, Global Positioning Systems (GPS) became not a luxury but a requirement. The CADD systems became GPS aware, and designs were created in real space in real locations. The idea of engineering scale only applied to the plotted hard copy documents. Construction technology advanced even faster as automated machine control or guidance (AMC/AMG) improved efficiency of projects and reduced carbon emissions. But automated machine control cannot work without accurate positional data from design and construction teams.

With additional industry advancements like e-Construction, Digital Project Delivery (DPD) and Building Information Modeling (BIM), the silos are coming down. We no longer have design, construction, operations, and maintenance but have asset life cycles. In no other industry is the accurate location of constructed objects more important than transportation. The advent of automated machine control, the promise of autonomous vehicles, the demand for more efficient repairs all rely on a common technology – geospatial position.

I also think it's important to better understand the common objective most states, cities, towns, and private owners and developers have.

GIS Priorities by Role

In short, owners are adopting more advanced technologies and solutions to help them better manage the complete lifecycle of an asset like a bridge or road. In order to accomplish this and be able to leverage the more advanced functionalities like predictive analytics on maintenance cycles, it's back to the old adage - “good data in, good data out.”

So what does accurate geospatial reference data have to do with this? Everything!

GIS Data Use Cases

If an accident occurs on a highway that takes out two sections of guardrail and a light pole, the contractor needs to know the location of repairs. This is a very simple example. Multiply this example by thousands of miles of roadway and tens of thousands of assets installed in most states or even by billions of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and sensors connected throughout the digital infrastructure of this country. The terms Smart Building, Smart Cities and Digital Twins come to mind. Without accurate spatial data, how could any of this work ever be installed, much less be maintained?

The significance of location data has always been there, and the industry has addressed this through drawings, surveys, and inspections. BIM has played a considerable role in connecting disparate, siloed systems and business areas that promote collaboration and a spatial workflow. Another key factor is the advanced technology being adopted in the field that provides extremely accurate geospatial data. Consider rovers, Robotic Total Stations, laser scanners, and drones. Even today’s smartphones, like the iPhone 13 Pro, can leverage advanced photogrammetry capabilities and LiDAR functionality.

Popular GIS Management Systems

Another significant factor? The systems that consume and manage all of this data. Asset management and building automation software solutions are being widely adopted by both public and private owners. Cityworks® and AgileAssets® by Trimble are two of the leading solutions used by many of the state DOTs and Local Public Agencies. Firms like Siemens, Honeywell, Johnson Controls, IBM, and others have been at the forefront of building automation systems that are already in use around the world. They are all focused on the rapid expansion of edge devices and computing with systems by Cisco, Intel and numerous others. And now, the mega firms like Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and Meta are all investing in solutions that will better manage the built environment and associated digital infrastructure. Owners are becoming increasingly aware of the systems they can invest in to reap the benefits promised by these solution providers.

Esri’s ArcGIS platform is positioned to be a linchpin in the successful enablement of geospatially referenced data from end-to-end in the asset lifecycle. Advancing spatial literacy globally is Esri’s mission. Infotech is leveraging ArcGIS to enable our clients and the public to visualize things like funding, pay item data and progress. Esri and Autodesk worked together to launch the new ArcGIS GeoBIM® that connects geospatial data with design and construction information.

Infotech + GIS

Infotech has been diligently at work on our own systems while also partnering with other industry leaders to address the demands of the rapidly evolving world of infrastructure construction. Our goals are to add value for our clients and to connect disparate systems and business practices. The common denominator at the core of these efforts is location data. Our integrations with both Trimble and Leica help to connect precise geospatial data from their rovers to our inspection tools and processes in both Appia® and Mobile Inspector®.

These integrations incorporate the most accurate geospatial information possible and all but eliminate the risk of human error when connecting spatial and item data. Once this data is in our systems, it can continue its digital journey into Geographical Information Systems (GIS) by way of our integrations with ArcGIS by Esri. Project details can now be viewed on Esri maps and the dashboards and analytic tools visualize progress and provide a far higher level of transparency and accountability. All of these efforts will support the exchange of digital information between tools for BIM and GIS.

The fact is that with this level of interoperability, we are confident that all of the data managed and collected through our systems and those of our partners will be a comprehensive account of the built environment these tools are designed to manage. With that said, the enhanced value of using spatial data as the standard method to organize this information is that owners and other clients can add additional data points from their own sources or other vendors. In ArcGIS, they call them “Feature Layers.” Can you just imagine the value for the owner to connect a wide variety of data from various vendors and other sources all layered one on top of the other through accurate geospatial referencing?

No one company can provide everything an owner or agency needs to manage the full lifecycle of their programs. Our philosophy is to partner with best-of-breed industry leaders so we can connect our systems and deliver these solutions that all center on location. This is the same path that project data needs to take prior to being moved into asset management systems.

Where is it? How do I find it? What condition is it in? What else is there? It's all about location. Explore how Infotech is working with our partners to build the best possible solutions by incorporating location data: https://www.infotechinc.com/partnerships/.

Authors

Ron Perkins
Sr. Business Manager
Ron Perkins is the Senior Business Manager of Strategic Partnerships at Infotech and has been an active member of the Associated General Contractors (AGC). His experience in the AEC industry goes back more than three decades and he has been incredibly involved in technology deployment at the construction site for many years. Ron is also a former US Marine serving as an Assault Amphibian Crewchief of the LVTP-7 (YAT-YAS).
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