If you’re going to make a big announcement, why not make it at a big event. That’s just what Autodesk and Esri did this week at Autodesk University. This year’s event was held at The Venetian in Las Vegas and attended by more than 10,000 professionals from the architecture, design, manufacturing and media industries for three days of learning, inspiration and in-depth skills development. Dubbed by Autodesk as “The conference for those who design and make the world around us,” it was the perfect place to make an announcement that impacts nearly everyone in the architectural, engineering and construction (AEC) industries.
Autodesk and Esri announced they have started a new relationship to build a bridge between BIM and GIS mapping technologies. The two industry giants plan to “enable a broad range of industries to gain better context by visualizing data of the man-made world, the environment, citizens and the networks that weave it all together,” according to their press release.
This vision, announced by Andrew Anagnost and Jack Dangermond at Autodesk University, is great news to those in the AEC industry using BIM or GIS, or even better yet, a mixture of the two. The improved interoperability of this partnership will help ensure the two technologies work more seamlessly together. This will allow users to optimize their ability to plan, design, build and operate infrastructure assets, which will dramatically decrease workflows as well as save time and money.
The benefits of an Autodesk and Esri partnership to better integrate BIM and GIS technologies include reductions in permitting through improved stakeholder engagement, more sustainable and resilient design through enhanced project insight, and reduced risk from improved end-to-end flow of material, resource availability and scheduling during construction.
I spoke about this big announcement with three representatives very involved in this partnership while they were at Autodesk University earlier this week: Theo Agelopoulos, Autodesk director of Infrastructure Strategy & Marketing; John Kizior, AECOM director of Delivery Solutions—an active partner with both Autodesk and Esri; and Danny Spillmann, Esri director of Global Business Development, Natural Resources.
In discussing what happened early on to get the ball rolling on this partnership, it almost seems it was meant to be.
“We have a long-term relationship with Autodesk going back to when we started reading each other’s file formats,” Spillmann said. “With new demands, especially on spatial data and now with BIM, it felt like the right time to start to have a much closer relationship to help improve the way our companies share data across an entire project’s life cycle.”
From an Autodesk perspective, Agelopoulos noted that as time went on the company invested in driving BIM and infrastructure. A lot of the focus was primarily around engineering and construction—basically the curation of a BIM model. They also soon realized the two companies had numerous mutual customers, such as AECOM, that were wanting to better incorporate BIM into the planning process and on the flipside wanting to better leverage geospatial information.
“We realized there is an opportunity to improve the customer experience and enable a more seamless and frictionless movement of information all the way through planning, design and construction, and ultimately to operations and maintenance,” Agelopoulos said. “We felt it was an opportunity to partner and help our mutual customers deliver projects better, faster and ultimately cheaper. Esri is dominant in the GIS environment and a lot of their users are using spatial technology for planning, operations and maintenance. When you can bring their strengths and our strengths in BIM design and construction together, that in my mind is how you really create a full life-cycle solution that optimizes a lot of our mutual customers investments, and that is what we are striving to do. It was a natural convergence over the past 10 years I have been in GIS, and we wanted to take the opportunity to help the industry make that shift.”
Kizior is excited for the numerous benefits to come out of this new partnership.
“When I see technologies like this, the partnership and merging of the two, the most exciting thing is the interoperability issues addressed to where we can start to move information and recognize each other’s data. That’s the first sign of a good partnership; a lot of interoperability and usability issues taken care of,” he said. “What also excites me, since we are partners with both Esri and Autodesk, is the ability for the bidirectional flow of information. With the advancements I have seen with geospatial technology, we’ve got real-time traffic, pedestrian traffic, easements, all kinds of information available to us. Geospatial data has come so far over the past years, and so has BIM. This is the time where bringing the two together is going to be something really, really good from an AEC perspective.”
Saadiyat Island Project. (Image courtesy of AECOM.)
In discussing with Agelopoulos what some of the early goals were when this partnership began to form, he explained that in the short-term they saw a unique opportunity to support an interoperability for customers, but also realized the benefits could be far reaching.
“We improved the movement of information between different vendor application, but I think more strategically what we considered was how do we basically help the industry solve really complex problems for the long term,” he said. “We believe a lot of problems can be solved by a mutual BIM and GIS offering, especially with smart cities where Esri is really good at city scale applications, whereas most of our focus has been more around project scale. We felt that bringing those two together was going to be something that would help the industry in general, but also drive new opportunities for both Esri and Autodesk.”
Talking through the potential benefits outlined in the press release, I asked Spillmann if he could pick one to expand on.
“The permitting side is a good place to start,” he said. “Right now engineering firms or developers have to submit new permits on what’s going to be build. A lot of times they have to submit data in both a GIS format and BIM format. Moving forward, as developers start thinking about permitting and getting approval for new projects, it will be much easier for the city, county or some department to be able to quickly visualize that data, understand the surroundings and how the new facility may fit in there, and then hopefully make quicker decisions on whether they are going to approve a new project going forward.”
Kizior offered his insight on the benefits to this partnership in regard to project workflows and what it might mean for the end client.
“Overall I think anytime we can have access to more and more accurate information, it means a better, more informed design that will extend the capabilities of the asset long into the operational phases of the life cycle,” he said. “The asset and or digital twin of that asset should be able to supply the owner with the actual information about what was installed, what was used, how it’s performing, what’s going on, etc. Anytime you can do that with an asset you’re going to get better performance. You are going to be able to fix things before they go bad and be able to maintain them better moving forward.”
In summarizing what this will mean for Autodesk and Esri clients, Agelopoulos commented that the interoperability is like a means to an end.
“Our customers are going to be under pressure to deliver more out of every dollar of their investment, and we believe that creating a frictionless movement of information through the different phases of a project’s life cycle will be a critical part of the solution,” he said. “By connecting our clients' investments, we will help them be more efficient and utilize their investment better. In the long term, our clients leveraging GIS and BIM will allow many of them to achieve sustainability and resiliency. There are multiple angles and benefits, but at the end of the day, the biggest single reason we have done this is to bring more value to our mutual customers and improve their experience.”