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July 29th, 2008
Geospatial Whitepaper: A Changing Landscape

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Local government geospatial professionals speak out about the challenges, solutions and benefits of CAD and GIS integration.

1. More spatial, less special

“My ideal would be one version of the truth.”

Delegate at local government CAD/GIS workshop*

There was a time when geographic information specialists were a race apart. Other departments respected their knowledge but treated their expertise as something of a black art, to be admired, but never interfered with.

Over the past few years though this has changed. Driven by the ever-growing use of the internet, the greater need for more precise and sophisticated information for better informed planning and local government initiatives in making information more readily available, everybody now, it seems, wants to – or even needs to – add a geographic element to their data.

In other words, geospatial has now come into the mainstream.

{sidebar id=176 align=right} So far so good. However, the issue is complicated by two further factors. First, for geospatial data to provide real value, it needs to be used alongside other data – in particular computer aided design or CAD data. But unfortunately, these two disciplines have evolved separately and are, traditionally, very difficult to blend.

Second, is the withdrawal of Land-Line® (which has been used by local government organisations for over 10 years) by Great Britain’s national mapping agency Ordnance Survey. Its replacement, OS MasterMap® Topography Layer, offers many enhanced features and benefits including “themed” information. However, inevitably, the change brings a number of challenges, especially the accessibility of Topography Layer data from within AutoCAD, the industry standard automated drafting tool.

This situation has excerbated the GIS/CAD integration question, and increased the pressure to identify viable solutions.

Autodesk recently spoke to over 120 local government geospatial and CAD specialists from across the country to ask them about how these issues affected them – on both a strategic level and in their day to day work. Here we record some of their comments about the situation and their views on the type of solution that could really make their lives easier.

2. A history of isolation

“Problem one: Lack of integration between GIS and CAD software.

Problem two: Lack of integration between GIS and CAD users.”*

In fact, the idea of geospatial information coming out into the open isn’t entirely new. Commentators have been discussing the fact that around 80 per cent of IT applications could benefit from spatial enabling for almost the past decade.

{sidebar id=177 align=left} However, driven by both government intiatives such as transformational government and the growing use of mainstream applications such as Google Earth and Multimap raising the expectations bar, momentum has accelerated. Increasingly we are now seeing an exponential rise in demand for location data, more accurate analysis and predictive modelling.

At a recent seminar for local government staff there appeared to be as many uses for geospatial data as there were delegates. Some used it to work out statistics on local bridges, for frequency of accidents, for population trends, traffic flow and parking. Others mentioned property management, estates management and asset management and planning. It was used to assess school travel routes and for making decisions on school locations and buildings and for monitoring building use and ownership.

With many of these applications, geospatial data needs to be dovetailed with information about buildings and infrastructure, usually held in CAD. This creates a technical stumbling block and costs a council money. In today’s competitive environment with shrinking budgets, it’s expensive to manage multiple types of software, convert data, synchronise systems and keep design and operations disconnected. .

But according to everyone we spoke to, there’s a real cultural divide between the two.

When asked what she would like to see to help her job improve, one GIS officer simply said: “Different departments talking to one another!”

In fact, over 50% of those we spoke to cited the gulf between CAD and GIS as one of the major issues in their working lives. One commentator called it “the hard hats versus the bobble hats”. It would seem the divide has been the cause of much loss of productivity, inaccuracy and repetition and is a significant barrier to progress in local government.

So, let’s take a closer look at the problems and their affect on different functions within the organisation.

3. The section manager’s view

“I receive many emails each day from borough councils asking for GIS information, so I put them in touch with their own GIS officer in the borough.” County council GIS manager

“We are a kind of communications roundabout.”*

{sidebar id=178} From our conversations, we learnt that local government section managers face a complex mix of day-to-day challenges. One of their main problems is the fact that different departments and teams all use different software with data held in different file formats and versions. “You have multiple approaches to the same problem. Even if one discipline is doing the same thing, the same way, you’ve got 13 other ones doing things in different ways,” one section manager told us.

Another told us that the fire brigade she worked for had four different GIS – and the situation was confirmed by a further manager who said his borough had no less than seven GIS. And this is before we even began to talk about CAD or OS MasterMap Topography Layer.

This situation obviously presents some pithy challenges for section managers who are responsible for facilitating the exchange of information. One summed it up when he said his dream scenario was, “no-one coming to me or my staff any more for data conversion of OS MasterMap”. Section managers also have to account for the efficiency of their staff. So, when their department has to spend its time converting data for others, rather than getting its own work done, they tend to get hot under the collar.

The withdrawal of Land-Line is also making their paths a little bumpier. Around 20% of those asked said that this was one of their main concerns.

Is this a one-sided gripe from the “bobble hats” unwilling to help their colleagues? Not at all. The CAD team had just as much to say about the matter. “CAD use is forgotten in the light of GIS, but is still very much needed,” said one highway engineer.

It seems CAD managers in general felt misunderstood and in some cases alienated. “The GIS department doesn’t really appreciate the requirements of CAD users,” said one. “There’s a lack of understanding about how best to use CAD,” explained another. Several pointed out that their organisation had GIS user groups, but the CAD team had no such support.

But, CAD managers too have been affected by the introduction of Topography Layer, stressing their concerns about moving from Land-Line and being able to access Topography Layer through their AutoCAD software. As a result, ongoing use of old and increasingly out-of-date Land-Line was causing problems. Around 19% said that unreliable data which has not been recently updated was one of their major concerns. For example, one person mentioned that he often needed to check the vehicular access to properties and this was information that was usually old and incorrect.

Politics and bottlenecks.

“The advantage is that they don’t know about CAD and admit it. And thank goodness we do.”*

Part of the problem is the niche nature of both systems. With some noteable exceptions, it seems that both GIS and CAD are departmentally driven and often fall outside the corporate IT strategy remit. This is gradually changing with GIS, but still CAD remains a no-go area for mainsteam IT.

“IT specialists don’t have the relevant know-how,” said one aggrieved manager. Or as another summed it up “lack of techie know-how is holding us back.”

“There hasn’t been an acceptance that CAD really exists by our corporate IT department, so why would you want to link CAD and GIS together?” we were told.

The interesting thing here is that, from what our contacts told us, a drive for better integration and efficiency is coming from the bottom up

But, our respondents also indicated that broader initiatives were creating opportunties. For example, enterprise-style applications such as electronic document management systems and SAP were encouraging management teams to think about information in a holistic way and forging a path for further integration and centalisation.

4. The CAD and GIS users’ views

“They need to recognise each others’ environment.”*

Like the section managers, CAD and GIS users themselves appear conscious of the cultural divide between the two disciplines. However, they are also aware of the practical gap between the two.

Both groups speak separate languages for a start. GIS is seen as sophisticated and experts in the field tend to be highly qualified and highly specialist. It’s always been a closed shop to engineers.

{sidebar id=179} On the other hand, CAD users often display their own form of elitism. Some consider GIS lacks the precision needed by engineers – and when they need information from the GIS experts, it always seems to be a complex process to obtain it.

The development of mainstream CAD has been dramatic. Now, engineers have intelligent, powerful graphical tools at their fingertips which enable them to produce highly-detailed designs of buildings, bridges, machinery and utility assets – and analyse and test their performance.

In the opposite camp, GIS has become robust and refined too. Users can take advantage of powerful, spatial databases, perform spatial analysis and generate compelling, intelligent maps.

When asked, CAD users believed that precision was all that mattered, whereas the GIS team believed that making information available was the important issue. Is there any scope for agreement?

“Working with both pieces of software together can perhaps be better than working with any one individually.”

Thankfully the answer is yes. There is evidence that users are becoming increasingly aware of the different benefits available to them when these are integrated – for example the chance to recoup lost productivity, improve data accuracy and streamline workflow.

The assumptions are that cultural, as well as practical changes are necessary to make this work. But, as we will see in the next section, there’s no need to abandon hope just yet.

5. A patch of blue sky

“I’d like a one touch solution.”, “A one stop shop would be ideal”*

At a recent workshop, there was no lack of imagination when we encouraged local government workers to do some blue sky thinking – asking them to describe their ideal solution to all the challenges listed above.

It soon became clear that the old enemies – the CAD and GIS departments – weren’t so fierce about each other after all. In fact, they positively hoped for a solution that was joined up and open to all. The need for totally current and reliable – even real-time – information was also very high on the wish-list.

{sidebar id=180 align=right} Demands ranged from the modest: “a truer picture” to the ambitious, “one data source for the whole of London” and the highly ambitious, “a real-time walk through of the entire environment”. Some were extremely specific: “A single map front end capable of access to varying data sets from all sources including DXF/DGN/DWG/JPG/TIFF. Simple point/click/zoom, fast, accurate and capable of integrating with current datasets from all sources,” said one respondent.

Web access was another issue which cropped up repeatedly: “All public utilities and council departments sharing datasets via the web in the same format,” was one engineer’s suggestion. Standardisation of retrieval methods also featured strongly. “One central storage place for all maps. Everyone with the same method of work/retrieval and with the ability to upload revised maps back to server,” was the hope of another.

But overwhelmingly (over 80%) said their ideal was some form of central or corporate store of mapping information which was updated daily, or even in real-time and which could be accessed by GIS or CAD professionals with equal ease and would integrate the two sets of data.

The only discussion point was who should manage this. There were rumblings and even pleas about proper training – but strangely enough, CAD professionals thought it should be managed by the CAD team and GIS believed they were best for the job. The solution was given by one perceptive delegate whose vision was, “CAD and GIS teams working as one department.”

All these might be faster to achieve than one man’s idea of nirvana – “ a virtual Sheffield”.

6. A brighter future

“Using AutoCAD Map 3D, engineers can now get the maps within AutoCAD without needing to convert files. They can export the data as GIS files seamlessly, too. This could save us an hour per scheme, and we handle hundreds of schemes each year.”

Chris Hunt, IT project manager, Hampshire County Council

{sidebar id=181 align=right} For a good few years now Autodesk has recognised that the key to solving the dilemmas highlighted in this paper is to develop software that bridges the disciplines of CAD and GIS but which doesn’t entail either to give up the tools they have been using for years. GIS and mapping functionality must be brought into the precision data capture, creation and maintenance tools offered by a CAD environment. And GIS must be able to access and work with object-based design information stored in CAD drawing fields such as DGN and DWG without losing precision through data conversion.

AutoCAD Map 3D, for example, brings CAD amd GIS together by providing direct access to data, regardless of how it is stored and by enabling the use of AutoCAD tools for maintaining a broad variety of geospatial information. An extension to AutoCAD and complementing existing GIS implementations, it enables quick acess, efficient editing and easy management of a broad variety of large geospatial sets, far beyond what standard AutoCAD could handle.

Because AutoCAD Map 3D is based on open data standards, users are able to work with virtually any spatial data available, an approach which offers far more flexibility than the minimal options in AutoCAD. Whether data is stored in DWG, DGN, Shape file, or other standard geospatial formats, the software can directly access and edit the data, removing the need for continual translation of data between systems.

Also, as it works seamlessly with Oracle, MySQL, SQL Server and ESRI ArcSDE, users can manage and store geospatial data as easily as they can create and edit it. This approach ensures data is far more accessible – by CAD users wanting to access geospatial data or GIS users needing a view of design data from the engineers.

Once the CAD user gets the geospatial data into AutoCAD Map 3D, they can view and query the attributes within the connected data, as well as style and theme the data based on the properties found within the DWG, connected mapping file or the database.

AutoCAD Map 3D brings users major benefits when it comes to working with Ordnance Survey large scale mapping data. The most efficient way to reap these benefits is by accessing Topography Layer data from within a central repository.

Autodesk Map 3D enables users to access the data directly regardless of whether it is held in an Oracle database, a Shape file or ESRI ArcSDE. When Map 3D is connected to a central store of Topography Layer data, accurate mapping is available across an entire enterprise, whether its users are CAD or GIS-based or a mixture of the two.

So, what key benefits can be achieved from CAD/GIS integration? Arguably the most important is the ability to support streamlined workflows. Rather than having to visit multiple departments to obtain information, CAD engineers can now integrate geospatial technologies – querying and some core analysis functionality – into their standard workflow.

They can then carry out core analysis functions before creating and designing an end product using familiar CAD tools.

Projects can be completed more quickly when an engineer can easily pre-populate a new design with current base map data – such as property lines, curb information and other associated data – from a central GIS. GIS specialists can use the powerful precision editor tools from a CAD system to more easily edit and maintain GIS data.

There is also a reduction in data redundancy and conversion errors. Significant added value can be achieved by providing GIS professionals with direct access to object-based design data stored in CAD files and at the same time giving CAD engineers native access to spatial datastores like ArcSDE, My SQL and Oracle Spatial.

This type of approach eliminates the need for data conversion and typically results in no data loss, no data copies and no stale data. This obviates the need to search out the most current version of the data or make decisions based on out-of-date information.

So it seems we are not so far away from the ideal solutions envisaged by the vast majority of local government staff we spoke to. Indeed, as you will see below, some forward-looking councils have already taken steps to achieve this goal:

7. First steps towards realising the vision

a. East Sussex County Council

“Although our department is mainly concerned with highway design, we needed a mapping element to the software,” explains Chris Dyer, design engineer at East Sussex County Council. “But this meant we needed a solution that manages OS MasterMap Topography Layer data files.

“We were keen to continue to use Autodesk software,” he continues. “I’d had around ten years’ experience using AutoCAD and I didn’t want to waste it.”

Now East Sussex uses AutoCAD Map 3D which allows users to access the data store directly, regardless of where it is held. “Land-Line data was held in a tile-grid system, but now Topography Layer data is stored in a database so there’s a big difference. But because Topography Layer is kept far more up to date, using the change only update option, we are using up-to-date information.

Says Dyer: “Our main current project using AutoCAD Map 3D is a pedestrianisation scheme in Lewes, replacing an area previously open to through traffic with a flushed paved surface. We are also working on a number of parking schemes.

“The advantage of using AutoCAD Map 3D and Topography Layer data on these schemes is that we have far more detailed and up-to-date maps available which means more accurate work and less re-work on site.”

b. Hampshire County Council

    “We’ve recently been working on a new Park and Ride scheme for south Winchester,” says Chris Hunt, Hampshire IT project manager. “This involved the highways engineers logging into the main GIS, taking up a licence, selecting a Topography Layer extract, saving this as a GIS file, logging into the converter software to change this to a drawing file, to then open this in AutoCAD. If they’d forgotten to gather something on the way, they’d have to go and start the process over again.”

{sidebar id=182 align=left}Now, because AutoCAD Map 3D has its own mapping capabilities, the civil engineering teams no longer need recourse to the main, corporate GIS which can now be freed up for land planning “Now the engineers gain access to the Topography data within AutoCAD, without needing to take up a GIS licence or to convert files from one format to another. They can export the data as GIS files seamlessly too. This could save us an hour per scheme – and we have hundreds of schemes each year.”

c. Rushmoor Borough Council

“We hold around 400 active spatial data sets,” explains Richard Greaney, GIS officer for Rushmoor. “We wanted to move to a position where every user could connect to this data, confident they were working with the most accurate, up-to-date spatial information we possess.”

Using AutoCAD Map 3D, AutoCAD and ESRI users now share a common data set. Each user maintains access to their preferred tools and way of working, but now they are all working with the same single map information, based on Topography Lager data for the area.

“It was important that we added the new functionality and data into the existing way each user worked,” Greaney says. “The great success of the Autodesk route is that everyone is now using exactly the same system they were before, but with added functionality.

“It was simply a matter of establishing the correct connection to the main GIS datastore, then rolling them out across all the CAD workstations in the council,” he explains. “We took the opportunity to upgrade to AutoCAD Map 3D 2008 at the same time, and the whole rollout went surprisingly smoothly. To access the new, unified data set it is just like opening a folder.”

The underlying OS MasterMap can be combined with aerial photography, and then the appropriate GIS data added on further layers. That data might be noise contours or monitoring data for environmental health, or it could be road markings or planned new building access for the highways department. CAD and ESRI data work seamlessly together.

“The really key point is that everyone is looking at the same information,” says Greaney. “This goes a long way to eliminating errors. It is also a big efficiency saving in GIS management: keeping multiple systems up to date meant multiple data loads. Now we just update once – everyone looks at the same central data.”


8. The benefits of bridging the divide

It seems clear that the councils that have begun to move towards the ideal are reaping the rewards. They are better able to take advantages of OS MasterMapTopography Layer data, so addressing concerns about unreliable and ageing data. They have also been able to streamline workflow in a radical way, saving them time and costs too.

One of the local government personnel we spoke to summed up the problems he faced particularly succinctly as “politics/cost/silos”.

He was equally concise when it came to assessing the benefits of working in an integrated way; “Fewer complaints, less hassle, less frustration, more time to do other things,” he wrote.

Nobody could doubt the value of that.

 

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A Whitepaper submitted by Autodesk

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