Infrastructure is a common need today. We often think of smart or digital cities in the context of large cities with many inhabitants and a lot of activity associated with large cities. However, small places also need infrastructure. Factor in the fact that not all political borders end at the local line, but also extend services to provincial, regional and national governments and it suddenly becomes apparent: la Infrastructure is a clear violator of limits, of necessity.
The notion that we can see smart places only within smaller geographic spaces is simply wrong. Not only that, but legislation pertaining to building information management, construction practices, product applications, and people's safety and construction often transcends small and large places as well. There are bottlenecks where GIS and BIM are meant to be used.
Technologies have long surpassed border lines, but GIS and BIM policy and administration have failed to achieve their highest order of use and effect.
We used to call this vertical barriers or stove pipes. The early GIS and BIM applications were deeply rooted in localized areas, at worst those with the data ruled the project and did not venture too far out into the world for fear of losing control. Fortunately, this has changed a lot - and not for the most logical reasons you might think. Contrary to the idea that people would identify these localized GIS and BIM exchange obstacles and choose to share, other factors driving change can be seen. These include:
The shift to cloud-based software and applications has resulted in "ease of use" that stumbles over limits and provides everyone with insight into what can be used. There are far fewer data warehouses that are strictly maintained, and computing applications are optimized to build and connect data. This in turn has led to more integrated thinking, and the development of shared projects has become much more robust and possibly more resilient.
- The shift to cloud-based software and applications has led to an 'ease of use' that stumbles over the limits and provides everyone with a vision of what can be used. There are far fewer data stores that are strictly maintained, and computing applications are optimized for building and connecting data. This in turn has led to more integrated thinking, and shared project development has become much more robust and possibly more resilient.
- Mobility has really created a connection between field and office applications. Suddenly, a person at 60 degrees latitude can share data and connect to high-level data systems with another person at 10 degrees latitude, no problem. Mobile data tends to shift and around people's roadblocks, supporting the team and a wider network.
- It can be argued that early infrastructure projects using BIM and GIS got too involved in comparing one technology with the other. Those kinds of arguments about the previous approach to the desktop platform strangled the lives of creative thinkers and doers, those seeking to pursue trends and new approaches and are often referred to as innovation-changing project leaders. The fact is that today's infrastructure is not only based on GIS and BIM, but other technological changes and innovations are also taking place. The objective today is to incorporate them, seeking to identify where and how they could be used and if they provide greater performance and efficiency. These are some of the reasons why and how GIS and BIM technologies are now achieving higher levels of success.
It can be argued that early infrastructure projects using BIM and GIS were too involved in comparing one technology with the other. Those kinds of arguments about the previous approach to the desktop platform strangled the lives of creative thinkers and doers, those looking to chase trends and new approaches, and are often referred to as project leaders who change innovation. The fact is that today's infrastructure is not only based on GIS and BIM, but other technological changes and innovations also occur. The objective today is to incorporate them, seeking to identify where and how they could be used and if they provide greater performance and efficiency. These are some of the reasons why and how GIS and BIM technologies are now achieving higher levels of success.
On the horizon is a world of artificial intelligence (AI) waiting that aims to include GIS and BIM in the mix for infrastructure designers, builders, operators, and organizations looking to maintain infrastructure. Sometimes it seems that AI is so driven towards these discussions that it seems magical in nature and tone. However, speaking with AI professionals, you can often hear that the impacts of AI are largely geared towards understanding uncertainty.
AI can provide solutions, and its goal is often articulated in terms of infrastructure performance: improved performance. However, their goal is largely to reduce uncertainty, thereby increasing performance.
Just as GPS has helped increase the use of location in many applications, it cannot tell you, for example, that the route you are taking will absolutely find you arriving at your destination within a minute. There remains a lot of uncertainty in GPS applications, even though we know where we are. Similarly, in terms of construction sites, the AI will see a delay in materials, strike actions, or bad weather. Using climate change variables, who knows if the availability of water will change or not, the wind for wind generation will increase or decrease or even if wave generation could be the most used power generation even in local lakes.
The point is - GIS and BIM have had steady and continuous growth for decades. During this time, much of what we have known and become accustomed to has changed and will continue to change. Smart cities and digital infrastructure are entering a phase where more knowledge is being achieved. The network of participants within infrastructure development and operations is expanding at the same time. We will continually need to take a critical view of the uncertainty of infrastructure measurement activities, assess it more broadly, and begin to develop tools that not only describe and consider what we need for performance, but also what can be understood through what we don't know about a given project. This is something like understanding the role of spatial data versus Aerospace.
In any case, keep in mind that smart cities and digital twins are not just for big achievements in cities, but also for those in smaller places, like the places where food comes from and where trains often travel, planes and automobiles. It would be interesting to know how many infrastructure professionals today live outside the big cities, right?
About the Author
Jeff Thurston is a Canadian GIS professional and former editor of geospatial publications in Europe. It is based in Berlin, Germany.