BIM & GIS Integration: Smarter Designs, Better Outcomes

A version of this article was published in the Geospatial Engineering publication of Civil Engineering Surveyor.

The ongoing shift from more traditional computer-aided drafting & design (CAD) to building information modeling (BIM) tools has launched exciting new opportunities for the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry.  But for AEC professionals, taking advantage of these developments requires that they have access to the data they need to make better planning and design decisions.

Our alliance with Esri is intent on placing data at the center of projects, giving project teams access to this data throughout the project lifecycle – allowing project teams with access to more complete and accurate data when they need it.  Together, we delivered the Autodesk® Connector for ArcGIS (Connector), establishing more integrated flows of geospatial data between GIS and BIM design tools.

Read on to learn more about the integration of BIM and GIS.  And discover how this integration helps GIS and design teams work better together to design smarter and improve the quality of their projects for their communities and its citizens.

The challenges — why AEC professionals need to streamline the flow of data

Civil project designers, engineers, architects, and planners solve problems to improve the lives of citizens and communities. But, their projects never exist in a vacuum. On the contrary, their projects need to fit into an existing network of roads, buildings, bridges, rail lines, utilities, ground conditions, and so on.  Planners, engineers and designers typically rely on the information stored in a GIS to determine the impact of their project based on the site’s existing conditions and geographic context – including topography, floodplain, connecting roads, and underground infrastructure.  But, getting access to this data has often been the source of many delays and inefficiencies, including:

  • Complicated data transfer: For decades GIS and CAD/BIM existed on parallel tracks, relying on different file formats, workflows, and expertise, making it complicated and costly to move data between them.
  • Lost opportunities: Inefficient data flow hampers the ability to take advantage of project data for the effective consideration of such issues as climate change, growing urbanization, and changing demographics.
  • Costly delays and mistakes: Manual data entry and conversion increases the potential for errors and data loss.
  • Out-of-date data: The painstaking process of collecting and updating data from the field creates possible discrepancies between what is in the system versus in the ground.

Paul Petrowsky, Director of CAD Technology at Wood Rodgers, Inc. suggests that the challenges in coordinating GIS and design work consist of “being able to move data between departments and providing the right deliverable to the customer. If we can move our data into the GIS world seamlessly, then it is a lot easier for us to use these other applications, and then move that data back.”

The solution — integrate location intelligence with design

The Autodesk Connector for ArcGIS integrates the flow of data between GIS and Autodesk® InfraWorks®and Autodesk® Civil 3D®.  The Connector allows infrastructure professionals to read GIS data directly into their design model and use that information to develop a real-world context model of their project. They can also update GIS features within their model and make updates back to ArcGIS Online directly.

Bridging GIS and BIM can help city planners make decisions that affect their communities and it provides civil engineers with data needed for infrastructure design projects.  Enabling these more efficient workflows between GIS and design teams enriches infrastructure projects and benefits the broader community, reinforcing the new roles AEC professionals can play as social and environmental stewards.

The advantages of having more integrated GIS and design data include:

  • Improve GIS data request coordination
  • Enhance design optimization workflows
  • More efficient field-to-office data updates
  • Better consistency between GIS and design data

The initial release of the Connector integrated InfraWorks with ArcGIS Online, taking advantage of the capability of InfraWorks to aggregate large volumes of data from various sources to establish an existing conditions model of a project.  This context model is enriched with GIS data and provides a platform for planners and engineers to establish an even more accurate, real-world representation of their site conditions.

Placing a digital design within a more accurate, real-world geography improves decision making in the initial planning and permitting phases, which involve a lot of assessments of social, economic, and environmental impacts and cause the biggest delays in large infrastructure projects.

Lisa Herrmann, an Applications Support Specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, says that, “access to GIS data is going to help us consolidate our planning process. We’ve reorganized our program and safety issues will have to be determined earlier and earlier in the process. Because we have data and information in many different places in our GIS department, the GIS integration will hopefully help us do that in a very efficient way.”

The process of taking advantage of GIS data in design now extends to Civil 3D.  Planners, designers, and engineers can bring GIS features and attributes directly into Civil 3D in order to work on and complete more detailed engineering workflows.

With the Connector for ArcGIS in Civil 3D, AEC professionals can easily establish a “live” connection between Civil 3D and ArcGIS.

As the project progresses, design changes that affect as-built conditions can be published directly into ArcGIS.

At the same time, changes made to GIS features from within Civil 3D can also be saved back to ArcGIS.

“We often need to overlay floodplains, wetlands, parcel lines, and easement lines,” says John Mayo, a licensed professional engineer who is also an Autodesk Civil 3d Expert Elite member and the head of hydrology at a large engineering firm. He uses GIS data in all aspects of his work, especially at the beginning of a project. “A lot of this information only comes from our environmental department and might have taken a day or two to obtain. Now, it is easily accessible to us, at a moment’s notice, using the Connector.”

Benefits — design smarter to serve communities better 

By enabling more streamlined flows of data between GIS and design, Autodesk and Esri are leading the evolution of how planners, designers, and engineers do ‘smart’ — including smart cities, smart utilities, smart transportation, smart infrastructure.  With more integrated access to geospatial data throughout planning, design, and operations, infrastructure professionals can better assess how their project intersects with the built and natural environments –– helping them better understand the impacts that their planning and design decisions can have on this balance.  Integrating location intelligence and design will transform infrastructure design and construction, and help AEC professionals design smarter and improve outcomes for the communities they serve.


If you are interested in learning more about BIM and GIS, visit our website or go to the Autodesk Infrastructure YouTube channel where you can view technical videos.

You may also be interested in learning more about Esri’s ArcGIS Online and Esri offerings to bring together location intelligence and design.