GIS in BIM: plan, design, build and operate

In a previous post I looked at the BIM process as it is being defined in the UK and where GIS fits in. BIM isn’t just about using attributed 3D digital design or facilities management with maps - but is about collating and managing digital data throughout the lifecycle of a building, site or other infrastructure. I now want to take a closer look at how some of the tools in the ArcGIS platform can play their part.


ArcGIS is proving its value as a master planning tool at the site and city level, both in the UK and worldwide. The ability to combine and manage multiple layers of spatial data helps ensure that plans are rooted in an understanding of the geography of a site and its surroundings. Furthermore, GIS can be used to work with data across all scales, including building internals. In ArcGIS for Desktop, viewing the physical geography of a site in combination with other data layers (transport, utility and demographic data) is complemented by tools for more detailed analysis. What are the options for connecting the site to the road network? Where is the nearest connection point for utility services? Given suitable data these are bread and butter questions in GIS. Routine analysis workflows can be automated using Model Builder to ensure that checks against constraints (such as slope, environmental designations or flood risk) are systematic and quick. ArcGIS tools also support recording and viewing change over time. This allows different phases in a project to be represented.


For an individual project it is important to be able to store and share geographically accurate site and plot boundaries. Early mistakes in the extent or geographical location of these lead to expensive changes to a design or even its abandonment. The architecture community traditionally works with CAD systems and, in the emerging age of 3D, with CAD style 3D design tools such as Revit, Rhino and Sketch Up. Having used GIS from the beginning of a project, relevant site data can be exported from ArcGIS for use in design software. This ensures that key things like site boundaries are correct and consistent. To achieve an effective BIM process it is important that project data can be exchanged effectively between different systems and the best way to achieve this will depend on the scale and complexity of the project. The data interoperability tools in ArcGIS allow data to be transferred to and from CAD and 3D formats.

Importing data back into the GIS through the evolution of a design validates it is based on the correct geographic location. In design systems location is primarily about the location of elements relative to each other. The geographic location can be defined but mistakes in setting up the grid referencing do happen. In one example a mistake resulted in a building being designed for a space a few hundred metres from the correct location. The connections with the road and utility networks didn’t work for the actual plot and the design had to be extensively reworked. A simple cross check, by viewing the design in ArcGIS, would have avoided the problem. Being able to show the design in its wider geographic context is also beneficial for sharing with stakeholders and for wider area analysis of things like line of sight and view-sheds.

Where CityEngine is available customers are finding that they can speed up the production of concept designs by doing this within the ArcGIS platform. Assembling a 3D concept model for a site is comparatively quick in City Engine. It ensure a close link with the GIS data and the design is easy to use and analyse in ArcGIS for Desktop. The outputs can be also shared directly with stakeholders using 3D web scenes.


At all stages of a project, but especially during construction, it is important to check that the view of the world provided by the data matches the real world. ArcGIS provides easy to use apps (such as Explorer and Collector) that can be used to view the available data while on site. They include integration with the GPS capabilities of devices such as smartphones and tablets to provide a basic check against real world location. The apps also provide workflows for capturing digital information on site.

When a professional survey is undertaken the output from this can easily be added to the GIS data to allow a more thorough reconciliation. Holding survey data in the project’s GIS makes the data available to subsequent surveys and allows discrepancies to be identified.

ArcGIS has demonstrated its value in providing a common operational style view during the construction phases of a large redevelopment (see the earlier BIM post for more on this).


As the project moves out of construction, ArcGIS continues to be an effective tool in the ongoing management of the building or infrastructure. The service based architecture allows for integration with other corporate systems including asset management systems and CRMs. At our recent conference we heard from Erwin Rademaker about the central role that GIS plays in the improved daily operations at the Port of Rotterdam.

In the US the organisation that manages George Washington’s house as a historic site have invested in acquiring the data to be able to use 3D GIS as a facility management tool. They can view building details and access key information about room components, but also use 3D analysis tools to help manage the wider site (you can see it demonstrated in this video - the first three minutes are an introduction to the historic site).

Information Sharing

Making current and accurate information available to all parties in a project increases efficiency and avoids mistakes. The information sharing capabilities of the ArcGIS platform are well suited to achieveing this, with interactive maps being a very intuitive interface to the information. Data is an important asset in a project and using ArcGIS Online (or Portal for ArcGIS) allows this to be managed in a flexible but secure way - with different users being granted appropriate access.

For an organisation with multiple projects or sites, GIS allows them to use a single system to deliver coherent views at scales from room internals to global.

Giving BIM a GIS backbone

Much of the information that will be involved in implementing a BIM project has a spatial element, whether it is a land plot at the site level or a lintel in a window aperture. ArcGIS has been developed to work with large enterprise geodatabases and supports the dynamic linking of data from different sources, allowing tabular data to be combined and presented along with the spatial data for features. This is being extended with the support for big data systems such as Hadoop.

The apps available as part of ArcGIS provide a variety of interfaces for presenting data as interactive maps so that different stakeholders can see and understand relationships in the data.

Given the flexibility of GIS and its relevance throughout the lifecycle there is a good case for using it as the information backbone of a BIM implementation. The data exchange options can be used to interface with specialist design tools and other information systems at different stages in the process.