Fundamentals of GIS and BIM part 1: Data at the Center

10 July 2020All, BIMCollaboration, Data, GIS, Model, smart cities



by Kenneth L. Driscol Sr.

As I reflect and see myself centered in the middle of technology hub-based Atlanta, I am often in awe of exactly how much the city is BIM-modeled and what exactly is GIS-referenced with buildings, lights and streets. I look at all the things that provide location intelligence and the power of building information modeling (BIM) and geographic information systems (GIS).  If you look at how information is provided, where things are located, you begin to recognize how BIM and GIS really come together. 

The first thing that comes to mind are the three ideal pillars of BIM and GIS: 

  1. Seamless collaboration.  I think it would be ideal if Esri and Autodesk are working together to provide an environment where GIS professionals, designers and engineers collaborate across a whole project lifecycle when integrating GIS and BIM.
  2. Importance of deeper understanding.  When I say deeper understanding, I mean where the data center is that creates a broader sense of infrastructure in a larger context. When we’re talking about buildings being built and natural environments, how do those things enable earlier and better-informed decision making, improve stakeholder engagement, and allow you to accelerate the approval process? 
  3. The ideal of better decision making.  Last, but certainly not least, is the ideal that better decision making allows stakeholders throughout project life cycles to leverage all this digital information. When it includes the built and natural environments, everyone on a project can look at alternatives, see what the impacts are and make better decisions.

So, by providing a real-world context of an asset’s existing environment per se, engineers and designers can explore and evaluate design and construction, allowing GIS to inform BIM. Then think about the ways rich accurate models can be utilized to improve operations and maintenance of specific assets within a larger area. This allows the models to fuel GIS.  

BIM fuels GIS

From this we start getting a better understanding of how the fusion of BIM and GIS together provides the power to build a robust context model. This is where graphical information and infrastructure design data are brought together, helping project teams to better understand how assets interact within the context of a real place and geography. In trying to meet today’s macroeconomic challenges and build more sustainable and resonant infrastructure, we need more seamless sharing of data and information between BIM design processes and GIS technologies. By doing this, we begin to break down barriers and improve urban planning and management, which will help us make investments in infrastructure with fewer negative social, economic and environmental impacts.

The key benefits to these processes include:


Disconnected and fragmented – those have been hallmarks of the project lifecycle due to the traditional ways of working between BIM and GIS teams, and they hamper our ability to meet global trends.

BIM model hologram in light blue, person looking and pointing at it with VR glasses, background wall with banks of computers with amber lights, GIS

Project handover process

The GIS specialist receives raw BIM or CAD data. Then, they must update manually so that it can be imported into a GIS database. The flow of information usually goes in one direction, which is not taking advantage of project data across workflows.

Outdated data

The likelihood of human error in the manual data input process can result in the loss of critical information. Exporting data manually also makes it “outdated” in a sense, since it can no longer be accessed directly by the BIM or CAD program from which it came.

Nonauthoritative system of records

Project teams might incorporate GIS data that is not connected to an authoritative system of record, and so designs may be based on inaccurate and out-of-date information. These processes are prone to not just inefficiencies, but critical data loss leading to increased risk. These inefficient ways of working are key drivers for integrating BIM and GIS.

Driving Smarter Decisions

In the new approach, GIS informs BIM, and BIM in turn fuels GIS. Using integrated GIS and BIM optimizes the performance of assets within systems, which feeds back into the ongoing planning of new and more sustainable projects.

The optimized performance from this integration helps:

  • Enable better informed and smarter decision making.
  • Improve stakeholder engagement.
  • Accelerate project timelines.
  • Reduce costs.
  • Deliver more resilient infrastructure and smarter cities.

Bringing together graphical information and infrastructure design data clarifies the real-world behavior of infrastructure assets. In this way, project teams can rise to today’s challenges, whether they be sustainability, economic in nature, or resilience. Putting data at the center with more seamless sharing of information between BIM design processes and GIS technologies results in projects that can carry us into the next century and beyond.


If you have questions about how you can leverage BIM and GIS on your projects, contact Applied Software today to talk to an industry expert about combining them to rise to your challenges.



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