Under the Hood: 4 Ways to Enrich Civil Projects by Connecting BIM and GIS

John Sayre August 22, 2019 7 min read

Every month, an Autodesk expert gets technical and gives their personal take on workflows that can help you. In this issue of Under the Hood, John Sayre shares how the Autodesk Connector for ArcGIS enables the use of geospatial data in your civil projects. 

When I attended the recent Esri User Conference in San Diego, I mixed and mingled with GIS professionals. They explained how they use GIS to make rich, detailed maps, which help city planners make decisions that affect their communities, allow utilities to keep the lights and communications on for all of us, help us all better visualize the impacts of the changing environment on our daily lives, and many, many other applications. This gave me the opportunity to discuss with them why we civil engineers need their datahow we use it in our infrastructure design projects, and how more efficient workflows between our teams could benefit the broader community. 

Bridging GIS and civil project teams 

Typically, in order to maintain an up-to-date record of an infrastructure asset, GIS specialists in a city’s public works department would need to work through field updates and as-built information about the precise locations and details of city buildings, roads, bridges, sewer systems, and other infrastructure. At the same timecivil engineers need GIS data to establish a context model for the location of their project. How does the designer get the GIS data today? How do GIS professionals maintain their database? Not very efficiently.  

The Autodesk Connector for ArcGIS (Connector) is the product of an alliance between Autodesk and Esri that aims to streamline how GIS and design/engineering teams work together. Speaking with GIS folks at the Esri UC, wgot excited about how the Connector helps to streamline the flow of data between them and us civil engineersBy establishing a real-time round trip of data between GIS and design tools, planners and designers can make decisions on a richer view of the project context and more accurate data can be returned to the GIS, keeping the data up-to-dateThis simple but powerful tool helps to create and maintain a single source of truth for infrastructure asset stakeholders, from planning and design through construction and maintenance. 

Watch the video to see context modeling for site design integrating real-time GIS data updates:


Let me share with you four ways that the Autodesk Connector for ArcGISin InfraWorks can help us work more effectively together to bring better projects to our communities more efficiently: 

1. CoordinatingGIS data requests 

When we start a new project, one of our first tasks is to put the site in context. We often walk the property with the owners to get the lay of the land. Where are the utilities? How will water, sanitary sewer, and stormwater be managed? As engineers, we typically need to find the right data for the project, including putting in a request to the GIS department of the municipality or utility. The GIS group would then compile the data, convert it from various data formats, and maybe even digitize it for us, or we might need to do this ourselvesNeedless to say, errors can be introduced and valuable precision is lost through this process. 

Well, that’s all changed with the Connector for ArcGIS. Using the Connector, it’s possible to establish a connection between the InfraWorks model and the GIS data in Esri’s ArcGIS Online. With this integration, we have a “live” connection to the geospatial data needed to establish a real-world view of the project’s environment. Populate your context model with rich GIS features like existing underground utilities, and FEMA Floodplain data. If there’s a sanitary sewer line, the attribute data gives you everything you need to know about it. 

The kicker – the Connector saves time. And, eliminating the need to convert data from different formats minimizes errors. Instead of waiting days or even weeks, access to more accurate GIS data is at your fingertips. 

2. Optimizing designs

Let’s say I’ve got the data I need for my context model and I’m ready to get started on the design of my projectMaking the right design decisions involve properly evaluating existing conditions like traffic flow and accident data, environmentally sensitive areas, zoning restrictions, and other factors are important.  

It’s impossible to optimize designs for existing conditions when the picture is inaccurate or incomplete. Data format conversion processes and manual input can result in inaccurate data. Many times, engineers would receive data in the form of maps or drawings that are likely out of date as they are not part of the live database. The Connector can help. 

With the Connector, can add GIS content directly from ArcGIS Online to the InfraWorks design model by selecting the feature layers I would like for the project area of interestBringing in the GIS data directly ensures the use of the latest data to enrich other existing conditions information in the model. This also gives me more confidence that I am using data that is more accurate.Now, when base my preliminary designs decisions on existing conditions that reflected up-to-date, real-time GIS data, better decisions can be made that help improve the quality of designs, reduce risk, and save time and money. 

3. Coordinating data from the field to the office

Ok, so I’m working on design options and alternativesAs I do thismight need to verify that assets in the field conform to the GIS data I have in my modelWhat if discrepancies are discovered? How do you update the GIS database easily and how can that update get reflected back in the model? 

Fortunately, Esri has a tool called Collector for ArcGIS. This tool helps designers and field technicians capture data in the field and return that to the GIS back at the office. The Collector automates the typically manual process of identifying, recording, and reporting the proper attributes of assets in the field, back to the office – this can often lead to lost time as a project needs to pause while the GIS data is being updated. 

RELATED: See InfraWorks and The Connector for ArcGIS APP in action

5. Syncing GIS and design data as conditions change

Engineers often find themselves in a situation where they need to make updates to the existing conditions data based on what they encounter “on the ground”. For example, as I work on my design I might discover that the pipe showing in GIS is in a different location than what is on the ground.   

With the Connector, as iterate my project design and uncover these discrepanciesI can simply make updates to GIS features from within InfraWorksI can then save these back to ArcGIS to update the database record without the need for time-consuming, error-prone manual processes. So, I can get on with my work more quickly and I’ve also helped keep the GIS database in sync with the built environment, helping enable more efficient operations and maintenance down the road. 

The Autodesk Connector for ArcGIS makes it possible to better connect GIS and design/engineering teams. The vision is to enable planners and designers to make better decisions on infrastructure assets that impact their communities and the lives of their citizens. 

Let us show you 

For more information on bringing location intelligence and design together to make smarter decisions that help solve real-world problems, watch this video about BIM & GIS Integration. 

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