GIS is used extensively in completing risk assessments

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The Power of GIS

In its simplest form, Geographical Information System, or GIS is not much more than a digital warehouse of spatiallyrelated data. However, GIS datasets can be leveraged in a multitude of ways to provide valuable support for engineering analysis, project planning, and effective decision making. The relationships that exist between various datasets, and the ability to perform geospatial queries facilitates understanding of our complex world.

Evolution & Maturity of GIS

In the early days of GIS, the focus of users was typically to create data and build a GIS repository as a “System of Record”. Over time, and with the advent of web and mobile applications, GIS matured into a “System of Insight”, where a broader user group could view and query data that GIS experts created. Today, GIS has evolved into a “System of Engagement”, where users collaborate to consume web mapping services, and add corporate content and their own data into a unique GIS product to support a variety of purposes and audiences. Many complementary technologies and software platforms now provide GIS integration and support. Mature GIS packages offer true “Enterprise Level” solutions spanning desktop, web, server and mobile platforms, allowing for the consumerization of GIS.

Leveraging GIS for Project Delivery

In undertaking engineering, planning, and environmental science projects, there are many facets of our natural and built environment that benefit from geospatial references. The relationship of these projects to other GIS datasets can provide valuable insight to guide planners, designers, and decision makers based on a wide range of considerations. For example, the impacts of a linear route selection can be evaluated based on its total societal impact by considering economic, social, and environmental costs. To complete this type of triple bottom line evaluation, relevant GIS datasets might include land ownership/tenure, environmentally sensitive areas, geohazards, and utilities. The combination and/or exclusion of information from datasets can be used to expand existing datasets.

More importantly, GIS can be used to organize large and complex datasets, and to leverage this information for use in other applications. For example, GIS data can be organized to interface with a diverse range of engineering software such as hydraulic or traffic modelling packages. Likewise, GIS can capture the model output to provide post-processing and graphical displays.

Data Management is Critical

Data management remains a critical step to organizing, creating, editing, and maintaining spatial information. Geospatial database models have evolved into sophisticated repositories, leveraging topology rules for geometric consistency, and data validation rules to ensure consistent information. Metadata standards and processes have been incorporated into mature GIS deployments, allowing indexing, searching, and triggers for updates to spatial layers. Sound data management practices provide assurance to the user community that the GIS is up-to-date and represents the authoritative starting point within the organization.

Although standardized GIS set-ups exist, to date user needs have confounded the development of a single standardized set-up. The GIS database should be set up in a manner that anticipates the likely questions that will be demanded of it. Standardized set-ups can be used to guide the initial development of the database. However, it is important that the GIS set-up be as flexible and expandable as possible. Skilled GIS users can often create specific, end-user data by manipulating GIS datasets.

Clients often provide GIS data to professional service providers. It is extremely important to preserve clientsupplied GIS data integrity and to enhance it when possible. To this end, Associated Engineering developed a GIS Procedures Guide that protects the integrity of client-supplied data so that it can be confidently returned, knowing the nature of the data enhancements. These procedures capture a record as it is improved. Discrete GIS datasets such as clientsupplied data, record drawing data added, field survey data added, estimated/assumed data added, and post-processing data added (i.e. model results) are stored for future retrieval. By preserving these datasets, the client can decide which value added components they want to re-introduce to their GIS dataset.

Where do we go from here?

The applications of GIS are only limited by our imagination. Since GIS data can represent virtually all aspects of the world around us, and elements within the datasets can be assigned attributes that capture its past, present, and future, the possible uses of this data become increasingly diverse. Imagine looking at the world through the lens of a GIS. Everything in your sight would have deeper layers. With the click of a mouse you can be informed of an object’s age, the last time it was inspected and by whom, its replacement parts list, and record drawings. We could query its relationship to other things. How many similar objects are located in proximity? What is the nature of the elements? We can then leverage this information to populate other applications.

Associated Engineering’s GIS services have evolved, recognizing that many of our clients, in particular, those in the public sector, have made significant investments in Enterprise GIS. Associated Engineering remains a vendorneutral, trusted advisor, working with clients to leverage their GIS and IT investments through innovative approaches to borrow, update, and improve GIS layers before returning the layers to them in their format of choice for a variety of engineering, environmental science, planning, and public engagement purposes. For the future, our solutions using mobile, spatial ETL, agile and cloud-based services will keep us at the forefront of evolving client and industry needs.

About the authors:

John van der Eerden, M.Eng., P.Eng. is Vice President, Water Resources. He has almost 30 years of experience in hydrology, watershed management, stormwater management, flood control, dyking, drainage, and river engineering.

Bruce Irwin, B.Sc., O.L.S., O.L.I.P. is Manager, GIS, Data & Asset Management in our St. Catharines office. Bruce has over 25 years of public sector and consulting experience in the fields of geomatics, GIS, and information technology.