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BIM/CAD/GIS Integration

The above phrase is getting a lot of attention these days.  At the same time, this is not so much driven by technology integration as it is by a growing realization that our current approach to the design and development of the built environment is woefully inadequate, and that with a different and more unified approach we could do things faster and much more efficiently.

The design and development of the built environment is inherently a collaborative and competitive enterprise.  Adding new structures will drive new requirements for transportation systems and hence new supporting structures.  New structures impact the environment in terms of noise levels, thermal loading, security, and demand for a wide variety of services of which transportation is just one.  The phrase BIM/CAD/GIS integration is really about a holistic look at designing and developing the built environment in which we are all cognizant of the inherent dynamics (e.g. feedback loops, process dynamics) of that process.

The phrase also implies the management of information about the built environment on an ongoing basis spanning the life cycle not only of one project (the typical case today), but of all projects and of all structures – in effect to have a complete and continuously evolving information model about the entire built environment.

To do this will require new approaches to information management both from a business and a technical perspective.  

From a business perspective we need to determine who will be the custodian of such information systems.  Traditionally this has been the role of government and certainly such systems do exist on a smaller scale at more senior levels of government.  However, now we require that urban governments or regional governments take on the task of hosting information systems that are likely more complex than what they have been used to in the past.  Perhaps this can be supported also in the private sector by engineering, development and architectural companies, by search engines or a new variety of “information utility” which currently does not exist today.  In any event, there is the clear need to manage complex urban information on a permanent and on-going basis for today, the future and effectively forever.

From a technical perspective we will need a new generation of information systems that combines precise geometric models referenced to the earth, with support for temporal evolution and support for project management and execution.  This will demand support for long transactions so that co-operating and competing interests can operate with one another concurrently.  We can also anticipate registries of physical objects coming into being that assign unique identifiers to all physical objects of importance in the built environment from buildings to culverts to railway switches.  Such things exist in a limited way today, so this is simply a matter of scaling in complexity and geographic coverage.

This evolution to unified design and development of the built environment will not happen overnight; however, there is evidence that we are nearing an inflection point that will rapidly accelerate things in the next 2-3 years.  It promises to be an exciting time.