GIS & BIM Integration Benefits in 2023
One unfortunate, but well-known fact within the architecture, engineering and construction industry (or AEC industry) is that a lot of critical data gets lost in-between the different stages of the build process, from conceptualization to construction and maintenance. This is the result of converting and translating data between other software solutions and formats. This problem is preventable. It’s not uncommon for planners, designers and engineers to have to manually re-create the information from scratch, especially if the stakeholder needs data about a particular construction stage.
This tendency in the industry exists mainly because of the rapid movement of a new industry standard, the movement of geographic information science (GIS) towards third dimension and 3D modeling. A similar process is happening in the design and construction industry – the well-known transition between 2D models to 3D building information modeling (BIM) processes. This is one of the primary reasons the GIS & BIM integration needs to become the norm as soon as possible.
How GIS & BIM complement one another
While BIM’s purpose is to provide information for both the design and construction of various singular structures such as roads, bridges, airports and so on – GIS is responsible for the correct planning and operation of these structures. GIS information can provide a lot of geospatial details to BIM that can impact the building’s orientation, construction materials, location, and more.
As previously mentioned, there’s also a completely different scale between the two. BIM is all about designing and constructing a single structure at a time, while GIS often operates on an entirely different level, like regional level, city level, country level, etc. The addition of geospatial information allows structures created in BIM to have better context and be more aware of their surroundings and infrastructure, among other things.
Seamless transition of data between GIS and BIM allows for the reduction or complete elimination of data redundancy. The additional geospatial context for BIM means better designs and even less money spent on the construction process. If the GIS information were able to coexist within the same cloud as the BIM information, it would be much easier for stakeholders to manage that data and repurpose it multiple times without converting it over and over again.
There’s a plethora of different ways to utilize the integration of GIS and BIM. Still, one thing is clear – bringing spatial dimension into the modern information-rich construction process would increase the overall efficiency of every project in many ways.
Myths and misconceptions about GIS & BIM integration
There are many different misconceptions and myths associated with GIS-BIM integration, and many of them are based on outdated information about different industries and technologies. Here are some of the more widespread misconceptions about GIS & BIM integration:
- There is a dedicated file format that was created specifically for GIS & BIM integration
This approach was relatively plausible with classic enterprise integration workflows when a single format or table could be properly mapped to another format/table, allowing for automated information translation between different systems or technologies. Unfortunately, the overall technological progress in the industry made it so that most modern information workflows cannot be handled with the legacy approach to data transmission.
Most file formats that imply some sort of integration of massively different technologies (like BIM and GIS) must adapt and streamline an overwhelming amount of information in both directions. The sheer volume of data is so massive that it becomes extremely hard to perform information exchange at an adequate speed when data is still stored in legacy file formats.
There is also the fact that overall data mapping is relatively poor across different complex domains, and the standards in the industry change and evolve so much that any file format would become obsolete in no time. Both GIS and BIM have to have the ability to be flexible and responsive on their own, and creating a format or a data model that could include everything that both BIM and GIS are capable of is a borderline impossible process since it would be either too slow or too complex.
- BIM content cannot be used directly in GIS software
Alternatively, it is another common misconception that BIM content cannot be used in GIS software for a reason ranging from asset scale to semantic complexity. The aforementioned argument about integrated file formats is commonly used to reinforce this opinion. However, plenty of different GIS solutions can work with BIM data directly right now, and ArcGIS is one of many examples of such software.
- BIM information can be stored in its entirety in GIS software without any issues
Since BIM documentation is often seen as an alternative to a building’s legal record, containing information necessary for defect analysis, tax assessment, lawsuits, and many other tasks – it is only natural to assume that GIS could serve as some sort of a database for BIM models. Unfortunately, this is far from reachable at this point because the complexity of linking GIS assets to BIM repositories and the legal systems that could monitor and standardize such systems are incredibly complex and would take years, if not decades, to start using regularly.
- BIM already has GIS features included
A common misconception about BIM from an outsider’s standpoint is that a ready-made BIM model of a specific asset is equal to the same real-life object and can be implemented with the construction process. In reality, a BIM model may not have mapping or geospatial analysis data necessary for the model to become a reality.
One of the main requirements for proper GIS & BIM integration (especially regarding data needed for future GIS workflows) is to define what exactly needs to be gathered and structured for GIS purposes as early as possible into the BIM realization process. This process is very similar to how CAD & GIS integration was originally performed – by validating the necessary CAD data before it can be conserved into something useful for GIS purposes.
- BIM is only useful for a very specific task
Plenty of GIS specialists only see BIM as useful for a specific purpose – such as visualization, facility management, or 3D modeling. Of course, BIM can be used in all of these tasks, and many other ones, which is why this assumption is incorrect by default.
BIM can be described as saving resources (both money and time) by optimizing and synchronizing the design and construction processes. A 3D BIM model is mostly a consequence of BIM processes that need a single unified model for all kinds of different tasks, from original design to demolition cost assessment. Three-dimensional visualization of the project is also essential for a better understanding of how the proposed design looks, whether from an aesthetic standpoint or a technical one.
There is also plenty of effort to use BIM data for asset management in operational workflows, and plenty of different countries already standardize their BIM requirements. As such, integrating BIM with GIS is not as simple as taking a 3D model from a BIM software and opening it in a GIS software – since both BIM and GIS provide different kinds of context to the same task, be it a regular building, an asset for infrastructure, etc.
How the integration of GIS and BIM benefit cities and facilities
It’s not uncommon for cities today to experience various sustainability and resiliency issues when it comes to roads, bridges and other facilities. To even attempt to solve that, all of these constructions would need better designs, and this, in turn, would require the optimization of the data exchange between BIM, CAD (computer-aided design) and geospatial information from GIS.
Being able to place a digitally designed construction project in the context of its actual geographic location eliminates the majority of risk that arises when designing and building another road or bridge. There’s also the fact that the majority of time spent on large infrastructure projects is used on various assessments, like economic, social, environmental and other impact types.
These assessments are performed using the same geospatial data that GIS provides, allowing engineers and planners to see things like floodplain maps, underground utilities, and so on. By integrating this kind of information into the process, teams can significantly lessen the time needed for these assessments, benefitting all of the parties involved.
And that’s not just the construction phase – the integration between BIM and GIS is equally impactful for the structures that are already built. Having the entire model that was used to create a specific structure instead of just a set of manually-created post-construction data, allows the customer to reuse the data multiple times throughout the entire lifespan of the structure.
Smart Cities and Data Loops
An asset’s rather traditional life cycle combines several steps performed in a strict sequence one after another – planning, design, construction, and then maintenance. In this context, data flows from one step to another for the benefit of current and following steps – but this explanation lacks the bigger picture.
The truth is that every single asset is part of a larger infrastructure, be it for an organization or an entire city. Both of these also need to have data to manage their levels of infrastructure – including the creation of new assets, the upgrading of the existing ones, and even the decommissioning of outdated assets.
Not surprising, the integration between GIS and BIM is also highly beneficial for the mutual dream of “smart cities” that humanity is striving for. These “smart communities” are attempting to meet every citizen’s needs by performing their decision-making processes based on information about the built and the natural environments. Data-rich environments like these make data accessible to many different parties while supporting public safety and following all of the privacy-related standards.
Organizations and communities strive for this kind of data exchange between different levels of planning and operations when they push for BIM-GIS integration. Spatial data about all of the assets is necessary for further planning and investment efforts, making it possible for infrastructures to accommodate the growth of different communities and their needs.
We can roughly separate different parts of GIS-BIM data exchange into four parts: Design, Build, Manage, and Plan. Design and Build are directly related to BIM and are responsible for the aforementioned creation of a single asset on a bigger scale. This information is later fed into GIS, including Manage and Plan parts, which are all about managing existing assets (Manage) and plans regarding overall infrastructure (Plan).
One of the biggest goals of any data-rich community is to detect various changes in that community, be it via passive or active means. Utility usage, transportation needs, noise levels, etc., can represent these changes. Such communities have been working with GIS data for a while now. A lot of them are working on researching or integrating BIM into their GIS data – since the combination of GIS and BIM with a more streamlined data flow can make it much easier to maintain infrastructure assets, fund new community projects, and plan in general.
Let’s take autonomous vehicles, for example, they’re using highly detailed geospatial data to be aware of their surroundings, and the higher-quality roads and other facilities allow these vehicles to collect the relevant data from the places they’re moving through.
This information can then be directed back to the city designers and planners, allowing them to create designs and plans based on the actual information about the city, thus making the entire process more seamless and efficient than before.
Main benefits of GIS & BIM integration
The topics of both GIS and BIM are quite extensive on their own, and the integration between the two makes it even more information-heavy. To make it easier to digest, here are some of the key, major benefits of the GIS & BIM integration:
- Saving money and reducing costs
- Seamlessly transferring data between different stages of both design and construction processes
- Easing the data reuse for all the parties involved
- Eliminating redundant and duplicate data
- Helping create better and more efficient designs
- Removing data conversion from the equation
- Adding highly detailed geospatial context to BIM as a process
- Making it easier to manage data thanks to the cloud storage, and more.
There are also plenty of more specific benefits that BIM-GIS integration can offer. For example, here are the benefits of GIS & BIM integration in the context of underground utility management operations:
- Detailed material information
- Automated data sharing
- Utility clash prediction automatization
- Facility management capabilities
- Automated quantity take-off
- Seamless design updates across the board
Of course, these are not the only benefits that exist, but it is clear why the integration of GIS and BIM is so vital to the industry in general, both in the commercial sense and in an evolutional one. At the core of this whole process is the importance of innovation and the need to grow and evolve. The integration between BIM and GIS might be the next big step for the entire world’s AEC industry as a whole.
The combination of GIS & BIM is a great way to generate more efficient and productive outcomes for smart communities and more precise and detailed specific projects for providers of AEC services. However, to realize this level of integration would require something more than just software vendor collaboration – there should also be very detailed specifications for BIM data to include GIS attributes into a BIM model as early as possible in every project realization so that it could be used for later management-related workflows.
Multiple standards for various project types would have to be established for major urban areas, including architecture, utility, transportation, and more. It would be up to every GIS software provider in the industry to offer standardized access to BIM data, as well as its usage and relevancy during different stages of a BIM project realization.