What is BIM and where does GIS fit in?

Update: since this post was written the BIM landscape in the UK has matured. You can read a more up to date overview here and about the role of GIS through the building lifecycle here.


Over recent months, I’ve been looking at BIM (Building Information Modelling) and how GIS could play a role within the engineering and construction industry. Over the last year or so, BIM has become a hot topic of debate due to a government regulation that requires every government construction project to have a full 3D BIM implementation by 2016 - see http://www.bimtaskgroup.org/ for more information. 

So the question is what is BIM?

I like to describe BIM as a ‘workflow’ in which all of the building objects that combine to make up the building design coexist in a single database. This concept is important because it allows us to understand the entire building lifecycle (encompassing design, build and operation) from a single, central data store. So, in theory, a BIM implementation should allow a single, logical, consistent source of information associated with the building.

BIM can be defined as a process or methodology that:

  1. Facilitates the integration of data from multiple sources/formats
  2. Combines the data to form a Common Operating Picture for the entire building lifecycle
  3. Enables a comprehensive assessment of the financial and environmental cost of any building project

Where does GIS fit within BIM?

So now we’ve defined BIM, where does GIS fit into an industry that has been predominantly CAD and architecture based? The remit of a BIM implementation requires that projects have a holistic view of the data and an integrated set of processes. This is also a common framework of an enterprise level GIS implementation.

An enterprise GIS system will ensure that:

  1. All the data is stored in a central repository
  2. Any data with a common geography can be related to each other
  3. The project can be assessed at any scale (from individual assets to a whole country)

Out of the three points made above, the third one is possibly the most significant. The strength of a GIS is the ability to work at any scale (and move between them seamlessly). It is for this reason that we see GIS gaining importance in the BIM and Facilities Management space. With the ability to scale, facilities managers and building contractors can have a common operating picture which delivers an appropriate level of detail based on the context. The real power of scalability comes with the ability to view data at both levels. This way, the questions around life cycle cost, carbon footprint etc. can be answered easily.

Benefits of using GIS within BIM

Some of the major benefits that a GIS will bring to a Facilities Management system include the following capabilities:

  1. Spatial analytics – which enables project managers and designers to understand the impact of their design and proposed implementation before the project has even started. This is a concept known as Geodesign.
  2. Logistics and networks – This is applicable for both the transport of materials as well as movement of people.
  3. Ability to model and forecast – for both the actual construction and also specific instances like emergency scenarios. An example case study can be found here.
  4. Use throughout lifecycle – the same platform can be used in the planning, construction and operation phase
  5. Enable sharing of information – a GIS will standardize data and processes, ensuring that different organisation or departments will be able to share information (also commonly called a common operational picture).  An example case study can be found here.
  6. Visualization – Creating maps, models and reports for board level audiences is easier using a mapping solution. See here for an example.  

So, as it looks like BIM is here to stay, many organisations will have to find a way to implement this as a core process to their business. I think GIS is crucial component of the BIM process, but instead of hearing it from me, I’ll give the last word to Kendall James in his blog post “BIM – can GIS & CAD make peace?

Update: since this post was written the BIM landscape in the UK has matured. You can read a more up to date overview here and about the role of GIS through the building lifecycle here.