Connecting GIS and BIM to form a digital twin

Join Wayne, Mary, and special guest, Esri's leading AEC Solution Engineer, Andy Lovell, as they discuss the emerging trends in the digital twins space and the technologies driving smarter urban planning, collaborative design and enhanced stakeholder management. Hear how the integration of GIS and BIM is transforming our approach to built environments.

Tune in for more in Part Two


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Andy Lovell profile picture
Andy Lovell
AEC Solution Engineering Team Lead
Esri, California
Advising on the integration of location intelligence into business processes.
Wayne Lee Archer - GIS Directions 1
Wayne Lee Archer
Sector Principal Consultant
Esri Australia, Brisbane
One of Australia's leading curators of spatial information and modern technology.
Mary Murphy - GIS Directions 2
Mary Murphy
Esri Australia, Perth
Experienced GIS and remote sensing specialist

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    Andy: Let's plan all that out first in our digital version before we start moving the bulldozers, shifting dirt and doing this, and then realising halfway through the job, that's not gonna work!

    Disclaimer: This podcast is brought to you by the team at Esri Australia. To get your hands on more short, sharp and immediately useable resources, head to the Esri Australia website and search for Goldmine. 

    Wayne: Welcome to GIS Directions. I'm Wayne Lee Archer.  

    Mary: And I'm Mary Murphy.  

    Wayne: And today we are lucky enough to be joined by Andy Lovell. Now Andy manages the direction and focus of Esri technologies within the architecture, engineering, and construction space, or AEC.  

    But he's here to talk to us about that space and help us to learn a little bit about how companies can leverage location-based information to improve their business. So, welcome along Andy.  

    Andy: Hey guys, it's fantastic to be here with you. I'm stoked that I actually get to be on the GIS Directions. 

    I've realised I've had to move countries to then be invited to come back, so I'm really glad to be here with you guys.  

    Mary: Cheers, Andy. You're very welcome.  

    Wayne: Do I detect a little bit of an Aussie twang there? Have you got a bit of an Aussie connection going on?  

    Andy: I am indeed Australian. I grew up in, country Victoria, and lived in Melbourne for many years. 

    A while ago, we, my wife and we moved over to the US. and a couple of years ago, I left the consulting realm.  I was at an AEC firm for a long time and joined Esri Inc. And now I find myself, I reside in Denver, Colorado, so I'm learning to live in the mountain. 

    Wayne: Being a fellow Aussie then Andy, I'll probably have to kick this episode off with a bit of a course correction for our audience. So, we're gonna be talking about AEC a lot and we're gonna bring up that acronym a fair bit here in today's conversation. 

    And for our Australian listeners, we are not talking about the Australian Electoral Commission. What we're talking about here today is the engineering, architecture and construction industry aren’t we. This is your bread and butter over there with Esri inc.  

    But in general, we're talking about that urban planning, that sort of intersection of BIM and GIS today, aren't we?  

    Andy: No you’re absolutely right. The phrase that we use within Esri Inc. AEC, for us, what it means is, yes, its architecture, engineering, environmental, and construction. 

    And it's really looking at that, that the professional consulting side of the world, many of the folks listening have probably used to, and have come across or worked with some of the consulting firms.  

    And you’re right, the AEC, whilst it's a phrase within the US, it is being more broadly used across the globe, certainly throughout Europe and now finding it more in APAC, to be that ubiquitous term of anyone that is doing consulting work that is in that urban planning, the design, consulting, the engineering construction side of the world.  

    And very much importantly, I do include very specifically the environmental side, both environmental management, environmental consulting side as well. 

    Wayne: Very exciting space. This is really the breeding ground of digital twins. And this is, I think, where we're gonna go with this conversation today.  

    So where do you wanna start? Mary?  

    Mary: I'm very keen to understand a little bit more, Andy around what’s happening with GIS and BIM now? What trends are we seeing? What tech are we leveraging? Where are we going?  

    Andy: There is a heck of a lot going on in this space, and it's probably worth just winding the clock back a little bit. 

    And now whether we're talking BIM and for myself when we're talking digital twins as a workflow, as a methodology, it's very much more to understand that it's not just BIM, it's BIM, CAD, the design side. 

    That for me very much is the detailed content, the design side of things that have gone on and the geospatial part of the world brings together the context.  

    Mary: Yep. 

    Andy: Now bringing together CAD data into GIS. The first step of, and if you're ultimately looking to a digital twin is, being able to connect information of all forms and flavors and different sources into a singular environment. 

    It doesn't mean copying all the data, it just means providing the connections between that. So, part of it is yes, Building information models into the context that is GIS, but then it's taking it steps further, and it's being very clear that about not just being playing with the shiny tech.  

    It's about what's the business challenge I am trying to answer. And I think the big thing, the question that I hear probably most often from the consulting firms that I speak with, and that's, I think most of my job is actually just hanging out and chatting with firms about what are they up to, what's working well, what's not? 

    What are they looking for? They're asking me for Andy, how do we make this real? How do we answer the challenges and the questions of our clients? How do we get our projects built on time and on budget? How do we go and progress and ultimately build the infrastructure that people need for our societies because, we all live in the communities. Like that's really what we're all doing and we just wanna do it the most effective and efficient way to get to the end point, to have things done and done well.  

    So, the digital twin piece for me is always gonna come back to understanding what's the business question. 

    Then we can start to work out what do people need, what are the processes, and then what is the tech that answers that question. And at the moment, is seeing how much easier it is to bring the design side of the world, so the BIM and the CAD space into the geospatial context. 

    Now, whether you wanna talk about individual, software companies, Esri's obviously very close with Autodesk, and there's some great things that are gonna be released later in year for that.  

    But it's about bringing all of that content together, no matter where or what software, what vendor, and ultimately allowing people to make decisions from information and be confident in those decisions so that we can get on and do the next thing. 

    Mary: Yeah, I like that. 

    Wayne: Sometimes, with the international divides that we talk across, we sometimes see a bit of a chasm in the technology or in the situations that we're trying to solve. 

    But, I think we're probably on a bit of a meal ticket here. We definitely seem to be solving or encountering the same sort of problems in the same sort of problem space. Building, construction, engineering, that as-built environment, the sensors and the buildings and the construction of what we do outside the windows. 

    What sort of problems do you see being solved by GIS in general in this space?  

    Andy: Sometimes we break this down into sort of four areas of: plan, design, build, and operate. Pretty common when most people are used to that, okay, we get it. Now that's all well and good to have these four discreet categories, but anybody that's ever worked in the industry well understands that they are not cut and dried boundaries at all. 

    And they kinda blur over each other and somebody says, oh wait, I've got environmental approvals with the EPA I've gotta do, well, that kind of rolls across probably all four sections, and then ties onto its own tail. And then you got the as-builts and then the maintenance and the whole thing, it does get messy in that sense. 

    Now, the role that I'm seeing GIS play, we are seeing it influence all four of those ones. So from the very early phases of planning, so the strategic planning, where will we build this infrastructure, this building, this freeway, where will we take the landfill. 

    I'm supporting a company up in Canada at the moment. They're doing a new hospital, they're using GIS as part of their planning on a very micro level, like on a hospital site. Completely different scale to what most people would be thinking about. And they're looking at managing materials on there. 

    So at the planning phase. Then you work your way through all the design. It's like well we've gotta bring together and make sure we've got utilities. All right, well I'm planning out that I'm doing my design so that it's in the right space. I'm on the right plot of land, all the way through for your construction side of things to keep track of where materials are going. 

    And then at the operations phase. Now, whether, like you said Wayne was, like you mentioned about being outside the windows. GIS can come inside the building too. And we're seeing this across airports, throughout the entire United States. I think all major airports now are using Esri’s indoors technology for wayfinding. 

    I used it myself honestly in San Francisco a couple of days ago as I was flying across,  where I had to run from the internal terminal, the domestics to the international terminal. I had about five minutes from landing to taking off again. I was very glad I had that map. So GIS for me can be used throughout all phases and all aspects.  

    Now it's use type and the volume of use will fluctuate throughout the different phases of work. There is times when there are other tools that take precedence. And when you get into the design space, GIS is not a design tool. You're not gonna do a building design in it. 

    But you'll want to be using that information to bring it together. So yeah, it's used for me throughout the entire life cycle.  

    Wayne: God, I would've loved to have had ArcGIS indoors for LAX when I was there last. 

    Andy: I was very grateful that I had it, so I knew exactly what gate I was running to.  

    Mary: And what you're talking there is to that high level overview of these things, right? I love the innovation, I love the creativity, the usefulness, the human mind is a fantastic tool if we use it correctly, but, I have my nerdy guide on one shoulder, and then I always have like my skeptical one on the other shoulder, right? So, we can see the value of this, but a lot of people are talking about being digital twin ready in this space. 

    Where is this heads up coming from? How can we talk to the people who maybe aren't reading these reports and things? What are the big-ticket indicators that we are moving towards using a one-stop shop kind of model, for their workflows? 

    Andy: There's a couple of things that have been going on over the last few years. One that's definitely worth being aware of is there was a survey, a study that was actually done by Autodesk a couple of years ago. Part of the questioning they’re asking about is, where do people see the use of geospatial? 

    Their surveys really pointed out that one that folks are aware of and want geospatial information as a part of the process for doing design. They acknowledge that geospatial brings value to them. 

    And the third point of was that the vast majority of people don't know how to go about it.  

    Mary: Yep. 

    Andy: So, there's a gap. And for me, that's where that falls on both of us as, people within the industry, on the people that we work with in the consulting firms, to be very, very clear about what's the pragmatic, the real return for investing in this. 

    Because it is an investment, it’s an investment in people, in time and in software to go and do this. People would say, and, and over the years I've certainly worked with engineers who they were old school engineers. They were damn good at their job. 

    And they looked at me and like, Andy, why do I need to be using some GIS mapping things to do corridor assessment, I know where to build this pipeline. 

    One, it actually gave verified proof. It showed this is the right option. The information that we are able to bring together and say, look, this is the right way. It also meant we could get to a decision with a high level of confidence. So, it's all well and good to go, yeah, this is where we should do it, but is it a gut feel or can you actually confident in what you've gone and put out there? 

    So for me, that's one of the things it's being aware of that the industry is well aware that it needs it. It wants it. It’s just not sure how to go about it. 

    Mary:  For me, the knowledge gaps are the things I'm really interested in. So it is how do we get started? How do we jump in?  

    Wayne: How do we close the gap?  

    Andy:  I go back to a comment I made at the start. It's like a digital twin, there's a lot of descriptions and it means lots of different things to lots of different people. And that's a heavily overused phrase. There is the defined descriptions that have come out of the Geospatial Consortium, the Digital Twin Consortium that Esri's a part of. 

    Clarifying that it's representation of the physical world, of processes, going the two and from, it's not just a pretty picture. It's not just a three-dimensional model, although I will say, you do need a three-dimensional representation of the thing. 

    Now, whether we're talking about the entire state of Queensland where I'm sitting at the moment, or whether it’s the brewery down the road or whatever it may be, or the cross-river rail project. Yes you need the detail in often in three dimensions. But you also need to be very, very clear, it’s like, what is it that you're actually trying to get to? Then you can work back through and go, this is what I need.  

    Because community engagement, stakeholder engagement, absolutely critical. So, a digital twin can serve that purpose. It can also serve a purpose for understanding clash detections, or it could be looking at, you know, making sure that we've sequenced the project, well, let's plan all that out first in our digital version before we start moving the bulldozers, shifting dirt and doing this, and then realising halfway through the job, ah, oh, that's not gonna work. And then having to spend the time. So, yeah. How do we close the gap?  

    Wayne: What I've just heard from you there, Andy, is that, it is very much about planning, whether we're talking about that CAD design sort of planning or whether we're actually just talking about the planning of our as-built environment, it sounds like, measure twice, cut once is a bit of a good rule here, and   GIS technology allows us to do that and, flesh things out before they become real bricks and mortar. 

    Andy: And in part just because of the cycle that we are looking at, we're talking about a site, and either a decision is to be made or needs to be made, what will we put in this location or the inverse, where will we put this piece of infrastructure?  

    So for me, yeah, there is absolutely a planning and the tools that by default, generally we would use would be geospatial tools. We're talking Esri and, but geospatial tools to understand that space. Now the scale of a digital twin that we might be talking about. 

    Maybe the whole of the state. It's like some of the work that the Victorian Government here in Australia is doing absolutely fantastic to see. It's like the content is being curated, brought together to assist in that decision-making process at the planning stage. Then as we roll along, we get into, okay, and then let's look at the design space, the scale, the resolution that we're talking about that we're working to, we turn it into a much smaller scale. 

    The resolution becomes much finer because we're working to answer different questions. Again, it's all about wanting to be confident in the answers and the results that we're getting out of it. So that just as you said, Wayne, and you're sounding a little bit like my father-in-law, measure twice, cut once! 

    Throughout these different phases, the scale and the tools that we would use will vary.  Now whether you're plugging the content, because we've done a desktop assessment, you've pulled some web things together, we've shown it to a projects team, maybe you might push it out into one of the gaming engines, your unreals and unities and such. Well, the data is still there. We know what the flow and the connections of information, we’re not repeating and duplicating content, but we're using it specifically to answer a question and then you move on to the next bit.  

    Now I completely understand that the vast majority of people hear the words or the phrase, digital twins. There was a report done by, I think it was the Gartner report, looking at the hype curve. 

    Mary: Oh yes.  

    Andy: Digital twins were fairly and squarely in the trough of disillusionment.  

    And we're talking about it because we're already planning. And looking ahead and we can see things coming for that slope of enlightenment when it becomes into it, and then eventually in the not-too-distant future, it becomes into that, the place of productivity. The bit that we're seeing, and this is all coming back to the area, they're closing the gap for you. 

    It's being very clear about how do, at a technical level, how do we bring all these different sources of information. So it's not just design data and CAD and your BIM, your geospatial information and whether that's, feature services or databases or shape files or KML, it doesn't matter. But also adding into that the connections into graph databases where you're playing with Neo4j when you are looking at the temporal side. Oracle P6, your scheduling data, pulling that kind of information into it and making it accessible.  

    Again, all about being able to answer a question and being very clear. Then, okay, now we can go and put this content together. And that for me is where we are heading. And the way we can close this gap is because the major tech firms, Esri, Oracle, Autodesk I mentioned, Microsoft, working closer together to make information more translatable and more connectable, make, use of the APIs that exist. Make use of the relationships that are already there. 

    Bring into that automation, allowing people to, again, at the end of the day, answer the question that they're trying to answer.  

    Mary: Yeah.  

    Andy: And be confident in it. 

    Mary: That comes down to something I've mentioned probably 101 times, Wayne is around audience and purpose and it's understanding, what you're trying to do and why. 

    Wayne: I could hear you in my ears Mary, already saying audience and purpose, understand what your problem is, go back to the data, go back to the issue. And I'm hearing the same thing from my friend Andy here as well. 

    Mary: And what we're trying to do here essentially is leverage the location intelligence side of things in this space as well. And then understanding where the disconnects or those miscommunications occur, because we're trying to communicate with each other, we're trying to collaborate with each other and then, having the different, tech industries and the different organisations work together to come together and find those solutions and create those solutions. 

    And while all that’s quite exciting I am afraid we’re going to have to wrap this up for today because we’re all out of time but, Andy you have very kindly agreed to join us for another episode so we can pick your AEC brains a little bit more.    

    Andy: Hey guys it’s absolutely my pleasure to be here.  Yeah, really good fun and looking forward to chatting with, with you guys more.  

    Wayne: Thanks, Andy. Okay, everybody, as always, hop onto the GIS Directions podcast website to get started with the tips and tricks that we've seen and heard here from Andy to today. We've added all of the resources we've spoken about to our website. That's and all of the information you need to get started with GIS in the AEC industry is right there.  

    Mary: Catch you in episode two – until next time. 

    Wayne: Indeed, until next time. Stay spatial. 

    Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are solely those of the hosts and guests, and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of Esri Australia. 

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