Engineering Information Systems enable holistic infrastructure planning

February 2012 » Columns » GIS SOLUTIONS
Jeffrey Yoders

"We need to think about the information throughout the life cycle and how we can use it to recapture that value that we're currently losing to individual silos and agencies that don't think about holistic infrastructure."
—€” Terry Bills, Transportation Industry manager at Esri.

A National Institute of Standards and Technology study utilizing the input of many architectural and engineering firms came to some startling conclusions:

  • 40 to 60 percent of engineering time is spent just locating and validating required information;
  • effective data and information communication could reduce project delivery time by as much as 50 percent; and
  • effective data management early in a project could save as much as 14 percent of the project's operations and management costs, which could constitute up to 70 percent of total project costs.

"A range of technologies need to be integrated together, not just GIS," said Terry Bills, Transportation Industry manager at Esri. "If we think about having these technologies seamlessly integrated and working together, there are huge potential savings."

Engineering Information Systems, a term used by Esri, is the integration of several technologies (CAD or BIM, GIS, financial, and project and document management systems) used on most infrastructure projects that, taken together, can help better plan, construct, operate, and maintain public infrastructure throughout its life cycle. The main problem that most engineering firms run into on public infrastructure projects is that most departments of transportation and other public agencies still see the world in narrow terms of bidding out design, and this siloed mentality separates design entirely from construction, operations, and maintenance.

"We can do really good planning studies using GIS and planning data and then we take that and turn it over to the engineers for design," Bills said. "They start over and use CAD in their design. The planners have a financial system that's different from the engineer's system and those two don't communicate. We need to think about the information throughout the life cycle and how we can use it to recapture that value that we're currently losing to individual silos and agencies that don't think about holistic infrastructure."

Bills said Esri purchased (3D GIS environment) Procedural CityEngine because it is a high-quality 3D model that can be used as part of an integrated suite of models to look at transportation, land use, and environmental factors in a comprehensive way. Applying GEODesign concepts at the city and community level, we have the technology to design and build better projects, but project data and information is still not integrated enough.

An Engineering Information Systems approach begins in the earliest stages of the planning process, gathering all planning information including CAD/BIM, GIS, financial management, and project management information and planning and environmental studies. In 2005, when the Australian Engineering Company Theiss won the contract for the Eastlink Project, a 45-kilometer ring road surrounding Melbourne, it was faced with a common problem —€” not enough maps and information for field personnel. The $3.5 billion project was the largest in Australia's history and the scale of it alone made information gathering difficult. GIS Manager Jason Clark was tasked with providing better maps to field personnel. He found that they needed maps but also needed a lot more. Clark began asking every project manager along the 45-kilometer planned route what they needed to make their work go more smoothly. Clark gathered all of the project's existing maps, the initial planning studies, CAD drawings, geological surveys, and all of the project's environmental studies and collected it in ArcGIS Server, a web-based collaboration tool that allows users to store and access any type of project information.

There were 17 field offices along the 45 kilometers of the Eastlink project. All employees and subcontractors had access to all of the project's information and they could get it regardless of where they were using the Web via ArcGIS Server. Eastlink was delivered in 42 months instead of 46 months because of the Engineering Information Systems used on the project. Thiess now uses the process on all of its projects. Total cost savings for Thiess' average project is 7.5 percent, mostly from time saved locating and validating project information.

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