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How GIS Data Is Impacting Design and Construction

    3D GIS image used to support planning in New York City.

    By Steve Jones, Senior Director, Industry Insights Research

    Our physical world is a rich three-dimensional experience. While architectural and engineering design tools have been dramatically advancing to engage with 3D more effectively, geospatial (GIS) information has also been evolving from 2D maps into detailed surface, subsurface and land use datasets and visualizations. Now these exciting advancements are joining forces to provide fully informed 3D contextual environments.  

    The Industry Insights Research team at Dodge Data & Analytics recently released a study titled The Business Value of GIS for Design and Construction to explore and share several key aspects, including:

    • How design firms and construction companies are currently using GIS.
    • How broader project teams are jointly engaging with GIS.
    • How GIS is delivering a variety of benefits to both projects and companies. 
    • Where users are investing in their GIS programs and what they perceive their ROI to be.
    • What current users need to expand and improve their use of GIS.

    Use of GIS by Design Firms and Contractors

    GIS is being widely used for project planning, permitting/urban planning, to classify land use, for site data collection to support design of buildings, highways, and infrastructure, for digital handover of project information, and to support information sharing and collaboration.  But in addition to these frequent uses, several interesting newer uses are emerging that offer the potential to improve the final project, increase productivity and address stakeholder concerns. They include: 

    • Designers report also employing demographic, socioeconomic, commercial, and cultural surveys, collecting field data and using GIS for program management, status tracking and decision support.
    • Contractors are starting to use it to enhance safety and security, monitor construction progress onsite and status of issues like RFIs and punch lists, and to monitor equipment location and usage.

    These findings demonstrate that GIS data is becoming tightly integrated with numerous critical project activities. 

    Team Engagement with GIS Data

    Responses from all users about the types and extent of team engagement support the idea that GIS data is most powerful when it is widely shared across the project team. Designers and contractors agree that owners play a key role, saying the best results occur when the owner:

    • Expects the project team to use GIS
    • Provides access to its pertinent GIS data and system
    • Requires updates back to its GIS as part of the final deliverable

    Benefits Generated from the Use of GIS by Design Firms and Contractors

    The study reveals that the value of GIS is well understood by architects, engineers and contractors. Five major categories of benefits were studied, and nearly all (88% or more) of the GIS users report that they have experienced benefits from its use in all of them. The top benefits in each of the five categories are: 

      • Better Multiparty Communication and Understanding from Improved Visualization
      • Improved Quality of Completed Project
      • Reduced Conflicts, Field Coordination Problems and Changes During Construction
      • Better Ability to Manage Project Complexity
      • Reduced Errors and Omissions in Construction Documents
      • Better Able to Consider Environmental and Social Impacts in Design
      • Design Solutions Exceed Performance Requirement
      • Increased Project Resiliency
      • Improved Productivity
      • Establishing Consistent and Repeatable Processes
      • Improved Client Satisfaction
      • Offering More Services

    GIS Investments and ROI

    Understandably, users frequently report they are making various technology-related investments. This includes software and customizations, interoperability solutions, content library development and upgraded hardware. This is natural because to capitalize on the rich data available good content and software tools are essential, and to use the data properly the ability to exchange data across programs is also valuable. And typically, more sophisticated software calls for hardware upgrades to support it.

    But very importantly most users also report significant people and process-oriented investments, including training on GIS and developing both internal and multi-party collaborative GIS-based workflows. This shows a serious commitment to fully integrating GIS into how companies work together to deliver projects, not just marginalizing GIS as an occasional necessity.  

    Supporting this is the finding that half of the users surveyed believe they are already experiencing a positive ROI from their investments in GIS, and among those well over two thirds (69%) believe their ROI is 10% or higher (with 13% citing 50% or higher).

    Most-Needed Improvements to Expand GIS Usage

    The top challenges and drivers for increased use of GIS are:

    • Improving interoperability with other tools so that it can seamlessly be part of design and construction workflows. 
    • Having access to more accurate and reliable GIS information.
    • Help finding qualified staff to manage GIS.

    The benefits that GIS brings will help encourage the industry to address these challenges, and the study reinforces the enormous potential for GIS as a critical tool in design and construction. Dodge Data & Analytics thanks Esri and Autodesk for sponsoring the research for this report.