Monday, January 19, 2009

The Five Principles of Engineering GIS

Have you ever rummaged through your toolbox looking for that certain tool only to find that you stored it somewhere else? If you have then you know how frustrating and inefficient it can be.

Well, when it comes to CAD and GIS, traditional thinking separates design tools from geospatial tools into different packages. When you’re faced with working in both domains, however, you end up switching back and forth between those packages. This means you also need to pass the data back and forth. The process is error prone and not very efficient.

Engineering GIS combines CAD and GIS capabilities into a single unified toolset. That is, the engineering design, data creation and editing tools of CAD are combined with the database, analysis and spatial data management tools of GIS.

There are five key principles of Engineering GIS:

1. Data passes through a lifecycle. Engineering GIS recognizes that data passes through a lifecycle. For example, when working in the municipal infrastructure domain, data moves through various phases from surveying and mapping, to design and construction, and finally to management. Engineering GIS assumes that the design information will be used in different ways by many people downstream from the engineering design process. Consequently, engineering drawings are topologically correct and “GIS ready” which streamlines the task of incorporating this information into an infrastructure management system and a geospatial database.

2. Access data natively. Engineering GIS recognizes that data comes in many different formats and from many different sources including traditional engineering and GIS environments, spreadsheets and databases, as well as, desktop and web-based sources. However, rather than relying on a data import/export process, Engineering GIS promotes working with the data in its native format. Consequently, data integrity is maintained, data redundancy is reduced and efficiency is improved.

3. Leverage design tools. Engineering GIS leverages CAD and engineering design tools because of their precision and ease of use for data creation and maintenance of engineering design features, as well as, mapping and other geospatial data.

4. Leverage geospatial tools. Engineering GIS leverages GIS tools because of their data oriented capabilities for automated mapping, spatial analysis and management of geospatial databases.

5. Renderings must be accurate. Whether printed to paper or published to the Web, Engineering GIS ensures that drawings and maps are accurately rendered with the point, line and polygon styles, raster and vector overlays, symbology, dimensioning and overall appearance that users expect.

As you can see, with Engineering GIS, you don’t have to choose between CAD and GIS software because both types of tools are available in one place. Together, they create a toolset that simplifies engineering and geospatial data integration.

Until next time...why not take a moment to geoExpress yourself?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

CAD and GIS like Milk and Cookies

Milk and cookies - just plain good! There’s something about pairing the crunchy sweetness of cookies with a refreshing glass of milk that not only tastes great but satisfies too. Some things are meant to be together.

I think that CAD and GIS are kind of like that; I think CAD and GIS are meant to be together.

If you are an engineer or a drafting professional, you know all about CAD. You know the value of using CAD for engineering design and drafting; you know that when it comes to producing accurate drawings for construction purposes, CAD is the right tool for the job. In fact, there’s no better tool.

However, as an engineer, you may also have a need to place your designs within a geospatial context; you may need to combine design information with geographic data and you may need to examine your designs using spatial analysis techniques. In fact, attribute data, raster imagery and thematic mapping may help you to better design and visualize your infrastructure projects.

Traditional thinking separates design workflows from geospatial workflows. Consequently, you stick to what you know. With little experience in GIS or little time to learn new technologies, a choice is made; you focus on design and let someone else handle the geospatial stuff.

Unfortunately, this approach results in a disconnect between design departments and GIS departments, and between CAD data and GIS data. Consequently, workflows suffer which compromise efficiency, affect decision making, and impact data accuracy and currency.

However, there is an alternative: a unified approach called Engineering GIS that embraces both engineering design and GIS. Engineering GIS together with an improved understanding of how GIS skills can complement existing design skills can help overcome those workflow challenges and ensure that CAD and geospatial data are integrated in a manner that respects both engineering design and GIS requirements.

CAD and GIS like milk and cookies – just plain good.

Stay tuned as I elaborate on the importance of an Engineering GIS approach in future posts. I’ll also highlight some of the challenges encountered when attempting to integrate design information with geospatial data and I’ll review the key skills that you need in order to take advantage of Engineering GIS.

Until then… remember to geoExpress yourself.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Road Ahead: Time for Change

Happy New Year and welcome to geoExpressions!

For many people, now is the time to think of the road ahead – the time for making New Year’s resolutions. Yet, while some people vow to get more exercise, strive to lose weight or promise to quit smoking, I committed to writing a blog. Ok – I have to admit; even though I have written and published several papers and presented numerous conference presentations about CAD and GIS throughout my career, geoExpressions is my first blog and this blog entry is my first post.

As an engineer who has worked in the GIS industry since 1988, I have witnessed the evolution of design drafting from pencil and paper to computer aided drafting to model based design. I have seen CAD evolve from a drawing only environment to one that embraces geospatial data and databases. Today’s CAD has changed.

And yet, I still see many engineering, CAD and geospatial professionals continue to limit CAD to the realm of design drafting. Consequently, for many organizations, paper is still the prevalent output medium for maps and drawings; integration of CAD and GIS data means an inefficient import/export process; and analysis involves loading the data into spreadsheets or handing the data over to geospatial gurus. Ultimately, these outdated workflows result in decreased efficiencies which negatively impact budgets and business objectives.

As local governments, utilities and other organizations design, build and manage our above- and below-ground infrastructure in the face of ever increasing infrastructure deficits, it is imperative that we find new ways of doing things. The more dollars we save; the more dollars we can put towards repairing our roads, bridges, water mains and other infrastructure.

For my New Year’s resolution, I have committed to writing this blog because of a need for change... a more efficient way of expressing my thoughts on the engineering and geospatial challenges still encountered by many organizations.

And so, when you look at the road ahead, if you are frustrated by CAD and GIS integration, if you are looking to put more dollars towards maintaining the roads rather than on outdated and inefficient workflows, make a New Year’s resolution; challenge the status quo and commit to new ways of doing things.

Until next time... go ahead... take a moment to geoExpress yourself!