Revolutionising operations and maintenance through GIS

Technical managers in construction should consider investing in geographic information systems to truly unlock the value of data, says Rob Dessington from Atkins.

BIM is reaching maturity in design and construction phases of projects, but in operational stages, the information management is frequently underused, often due to the data being so complex it’s inaccessible. But integrating geospatial methodologies into BIM with a focus on asset definition within building structures has the potential to transform operations and maintenance.

If implemented with diligence, BIM can provide a wealth of information about assets and their interrelationships as a project develops through design and construction. Once completed, the legacy of these projects will often be a plethora of intricate data and a host of assets that need to be maintained going forwards. 

BIM’s ‘6th Dimension’ refers to the leverage of this information for operational purposes post-construction, but currently such a complex set of data is difficult for traditional CAD based tools to work with to produce actionable insights. Geographic information systems (GIS) however is specifically designed to manage such complex interrelated data, unlocking valuable insights by layering and connecting information. For mechanical, electrical and public health (MEP) systems within building structures, geospatial methodologies could revolutionise operations and maintenance of infrastructural assets and control systems. 

Data integrity

MEP systems (heating, lighting, drainage etc.) are typically complex entanglements of individual assets interconnected by various networks. From a data perspective, managing these is a daunting task, but one that is simplified by approaching it from a spatial data management, as opposed to a purely subject matter-oriented perspective. By doing just this, MEP assets (e.g. radiators) can be seamlessly linked to their parent systems (e.g. heating) and to other asset forms (e.g. rooms) with absolute integrity. This affords a holistic network view of an asset and all its interconnections as opposed to an asset in isolation. For example, being able to see all systems/assets impacted by the failure of a master heating unit. 

Analytical capabilities

Some may question the necessity of having a GIS (likely in 2D) alongside the detailed 3D digital twin BIM/CAD models that tend to precede the construction phase. However, GIS offers far superior analytical capabilities. It can consider geometry, location and attribution, making it eminently more suited to operations and maintenance where assets will need to be identified and managed for years to come. In this instance, MEP assets and networks have the potential to be easily identified, analysed and reported – meaning that work prioritisation, working patterns, logistics etc. can become more data driven. Hence, GIS can act as a tool offering a simple outlet for the vast amounts of (very useful) information siloed away in project databases, to assist in rational decision making.

Time (and cost) saving

GIS can make data more accessible to non-technical personnel like planners and controllers. The necessity for CAD/BIM experts to unlock the value of data will become a thing of the past, as will the need for laborious (manual) asset management practices. Issues can be quickly and easily identified, potentially even on-site and in real-time as GIS is becoming more mobile. Ultimately this will increase efficiency, cutting out the middleman and providing digestible information at the touch of a button. There is an upfront cost to meet in all this, however, it may be worth taking a hit on this and seeing it as an investment in long-term operations and maintenance.

For BIM managers willing to be trailblazers, I encourage you to invest in GIS and to embrace it in order to unlock an exciting new value for both disciplines.

Rob Dessington is a graduate GIS analyst at Atkins.