Saturday, March 7, 2009

GIS Skills for the Engineering and CAD Professional

ENGIS: It's not Engineering or GIS; it's Engineering and GIS!
Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Calgary, Alberta and facilitating a half-day seminar aimed at demonstrating the crucial GIS skills needed by engineering and CAD professionals. This well attended seminar, hosted by Pacific Alliance Technologies, highlighted the differences between CAD and GIS workflows, reviewed the obstacles to CAD/GIS integration and discussed the importance of an Engineering GIS approach.

I was expecting the audience to consist mainly of engineering and CAD folks. So, I was surprised to discover that there was a 50:50 mix of both CAD and GIS professionals. It turned out that some of the geospatial participants were looking for a better understanding of CAD related workflows. They also wanted information on how to work and better communicate with their engineering and CAD counterparts so that they could potentially simplify their geospatial data integration tasks and drive productivity. Similarly, some of the engineering and CAD participants were seeking pointers on how to overcome resistance to GIS within their own engineering organizations.

So, why is there this resistance to GIS by some engineering firms?

Well, engineering is about design; it’s about creating documents that have the exact amount of detail necessary to construct what was designed and then ensuring that construction proceeds according to specification. To these firms, construction represents completion and so their design documents and as-built drawings reflect that.

However, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the cost of inadequate interoperability for U.S. capital facilities during the operation and maintenance phases is estimated at $9 billion US. If you include infrastructure, like bridges and roads, then these costs sky-rocket even further!

Design documents and as-built drawings must be created with a new end in mind.

Engineering and CAD professionals must create their design documents in such a way that the embedded geospatial data can be utilized throughout the infrastructure lifecycle. Design data must be easily integrated with corporate databases so that this information can be used during infrastructure operation and maintenance activities. Engineering GIS can help.

As the original creators of our infrastructure data, I believe engineering and CAD professionals have a responsibility to ensure that this information can be easily integrated throughout the infrastructure lifecycle. To do otherwise, simply contributes to the billions of dollars already wasted due to the lack of interoperability and poor data integration.


Rod said...

People obviously are driven by what is in it for them and part of this short coming is from the client side and this was part of my soap box pitch during all of my presentations. Engineers as consultants or as in house departments are incented in such a way that they do not really care about the life cycle of the data in most instances. They just want to hammer out a design and their work stops - it is the asset managers who are then need to take the next step and they are typically not educated enough to realize the short comings.

I applaud you for doing the education piece and think the next step would almost be a presentation or two to the FCM where you can lobby that all infrastructure projects include lifecycle ready data (correct as-builts using some type of interoperability setup to facilitate the migration of data between CAD and GIS)

Michael Schlosser said...

Thanks for your comments and suggestion. I agree. Incentives do play a large role. I think it's also a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. I've had a number of asset managers indicate that consultants were unable (or reluctant) to comply with stated CAD standards so how could they be expected to comply with geospatial requirements.

It needs to start somewhere though. I think more asset managers need to spec this as a requirement and I think more consultants need to take the initiative and offer the enhanced data as a deliverable option.

Gerry James said...

This post is brilliant. I spent seven years working as the "Geomatics Manager" for a geotechical engineering firm. Basically this meant that I oversaw GIS, CAD, application development and surveying. It is amazing how all of these folks balk at the technologies the others are using even within this technical group. Not only did the CAD types shy away from GIS but the GIS types typically didn't want to know much about CAD which made for some interesting project meetings. In the end it fell on the shoulders of a few of us to facilitate the integration of both CAD and GIS into project workflows. I was lucky in that I was given carte blanche to make sure that, in the end, we met our project objectives so I was able to deploy some creative solutions to this problem.

I think there are more junior engineers coming out of university with some exposure to GIS so this should help somewhat. It would be nice, however, if some of the GIS programs gave more thought to educating GIS technologists with regard to CAD data and how it integrates in a GIS workflow.

Good work for taking these steps.

Michael Schlosser said...

Unfortunately, departmental and cultural silos between engineering and GIS professionals continue to exist. Perhaps modern technology and workflows or like you said, maybe a new crop of junior engineers and GIS professionals will help. Thanks for your comments!

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