Infrastructure Means Opportunity for Geospatial - from Bentley Systems #BeInspired 2010 Event

By Joe Francica

While attending the Be Inspired Conference in Amsterdam this week, hosted by Bentley Systems, I got the feeling that the global economy is being propped up by massive infrastructure projects. From the $59 million Jiangxia 500 kV substation project in China (... and China needs 200 more to support the growth of its economy) to London's $24 billion Crossrail project (a rail line cutting through the city) to offshore drilling platforms in Vietnam, the scope of the construction as well as the information processing and management aspects of these projects lead me to conclude that much of the growth in geospatial will be supporting projects such as these.

To that end, Bentley released a study of its own, ranking the largest owners of infrastructure by value. The Bentley Infrastructure 500 report, compiled over an 18-month period, ranks the top owners of infrastructure around the world from both the public and private sectors.
How and why did Bentley undertake this project? Bentley reviewed financial statements of these organizations and recorded the value of their tangible fixed assets, net of depreciation. Bentley found that the yearly list of largest design firms from the Engineering News Record (ENR), based on current spending and project progress only, was inadequate to help it quantify the market, thus leading to this report. The result provides an understanding of who/what has the highest investment in total infrastructure. According to Bentley, total infrastructure of these 500 owner/operators is $13 trillion, roughly the size of the U.S.'s annual gross domestic product (GDP) and equal to the combined GDP of China, Japan and Germany.

What this says to Bentley, as well as other information technology providers, is that efficiency in maintaining these assets will be driven by better information management and not necessarily in new buildings and projects. And while, this conference certainly illustrates the work of new and ongoing projects, the growth rate in places like China and India, and the impact of U.S. stimulus funds may soon peak. As such, work will turn to asset management through better "information management."

Greg Bentley, the company's CEO, also referred to the high level of interest in 3D City GIS, a marketing program by Bentley to illustrate the integration of its solutions. The concept of integrated information management within cities is not new nor is the use of 3D visualization of infrastructure for urban planning or economic development. What's changed perhaps is the fact that much more data have been digitally collected within the past ten years. The ability to exchange data between geospatial solution providers, whether though open standards or simply better ETL products, has allowed GIS analysts to explore 3D. In addition, product suites for geospatial and civil engineering are better integrated. So, when the need arises to show how the transportation network will be impacted by a new utility substation, the data are more easily retrieved, visualized and analyzed.

Malcolm Taylor, head of technical support services for London's (UK) Crossrail project, said, "Data is running through Crossrail veins." While there would be lots of steel to bend and concrete to pour, Taylor knew that information technology would be key to efficient project management. He said that his "data strategy was to create an integrated design, facilitating multidisciplinary collaboration through the life of the project becoming the base for an asset management system." Taylor shared that the GIS data alone consist of 231 tables, 420 layers, 34 thematics and 250 additional layers (unspecified) and he called this use of these data "a pretty powerful way of working."

As I listened to these presentations, it was hard not to conclude that geospatial technology for infrastructure management has a bright future now and beyond the current recession.

Published Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Written by Joe Francica

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