Tech Must be Used to Eliminate Silos

The other day someone observed that WhatsApp now included a payment option and wondered why. The reason is simple. If one can use it to order online, it makes sense for the app to also have an online payment option. The name of the game is ‘convergence’, though few use this term nowadays. The principle behind convergence of technologies is “the whole is more than the sum of its parts”. In other words, convergence of technologies enables a better solution to a problem than if each technology was applied separately to address the problem.

In those early days, integrating GIS with CAD and IT was considered to be convergence of technologies. It avoided having to shift from application to application with attendant data transformations and other hassles. But why would one want to integrate such data in the first place? We need to look at the history of spatial information creation. Databases were the first attempts at digitizing data, but they lacked spatial referencing. CAD was the way to digitize graphics, and soon maps were being turned into CAD drawings. But CAD lacked the ability to include spatial attributes, which had to be placed in a separate database, making linking an issue.

GIS solved this problem by bringing together graphics and databases and adding a crucial element of spatial analytics. Veterans may remember ArcInfo, ArcCAD and many such hybrids, which were essential in those early days to be able to work together with GIS, CAD and Databases. Today, technology has moved far ahead but applications still tend to remain in silos. CAD has advanced to 3D and BIM. GIS has moved to advanced graphical models and closer integration with relational databases. Meanwhile, relational databases have added means to include graphical elements giving rise to object-oriented databases. However, applications continue to address each technology separately. In a scenario of increasingly limited resources, such an approach is inefficient both in time and resource utilization. What is more, unforeseen problems arise, which require expensive workarounds that leave the end user dissatisfied. The field of Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) is a case in point. These three fields address a common task, but each has its own practitioners who use different applications, each with its own set of rules which may conflict with other application requirements, resulting in a sub-optimal solution.

The answer is to take a holistic approach to architectural and engineering design with a view to optimize the solution and not maximize individual parts. Thus, integration of GIS with BIM allows for a design that satisfies both the geographical requirements and architecture. A common data environment is essential for such an integration. Digital twinning enables a better understanding of the design in relation to the environment as construction progresses. Many other elements like automation of construction through robotics, the inclusion of AI for predictive analytics and IoT for optimization of services also need to be integrated into the system.

As we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution, technology must be used in a way that silos disappear and solutions become all-inclusive, so that they provide a sustainable world for the people to live in, now and in the future.

Author Bio

Prof Arup Dasgupta has been involved in geospatial systems since 1976 and has made significant contributions in satellite imaging, Geographical Information Science and convergence of information and communication technologies for spatial planning and development through spatial data infrastructure. A former Deputy Chief of ISRO’s Space Applications Centre, he is a founder member of the Indian Society of Geomatics. Prof Dasgupta is the recipient of several awards and has many papers and articles to his credit.

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