The current worldwide market for GIS (geographic information systems) is estimated to be around $3 billion. According to the scope of our research and in the traditional markets of government, public services and utilities, spending on GIS is expected to grow to just under $4 billion by 2020. But in an increasingly spatially aware world, are there opportunities for growth elsewhere?

The world of building information modeling (BIM), is growing too. Our latest research figures show the BIM design market also to be worth around $3 billion worldwide, but with a growth rate almost twice that of GIS, we expect the market to reach $6 billion by 2020. Can GIS providers step in and share in some of that growth?

Where GIS and BIM Work Together

The key is understanding where GIS and BIM work best together. Is it simply a question of scale? BIM is inside the building; GIS is between and beyond the building. We look at a transportation example here.

The Crossrail project in the UK is one of the biggest civil engineering projects undertaken anywhere. (See "Geospatial Tech Helps Keep London Rail Running.") It is the building of a new underground railway line below London – one of the largest and busiest cities in Europe. Begun in 2009, the new line will run for over 100 kilometers, connecting Reading and Heathrow in the west to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east, with a central section of 42 kilometers of new tunnels under central London. In May 2017, the first section (Liverpool Street to Shenfield) was scheduled to open to passenger service. It will be known as the Elizabeth line.

Crossrail’s GIS manager Dan Irwin has spoken about how GIS and BIM are fundamental to the project’s long-term success. Digital from the outset, the project faced multiple challenges, but the collection and management of information is planned to provide a smooth handover to the operators.

Consider the maintenance and operation of station and tunnel facilities. The new station at Bond Street, for example, will have a platform the length of two soccer fields along with two new ticket halls. There are shafts to the surface, signaling, maintenance and monitoring of the track itself. And that’s just one of eight new stations being built under the city.

There is a broad range of interfaces that need to be developed and maintained. Connecting the physical infrastructure is the interface between the new line, the existing stations and tunnels of London Underground, and the overground infrastructure of both the national rail network and the city’s streets and roadways. Then there are the system interfaces, such as signaling systems, SCADA systems and communications systems. And, possibly the most important group, interfacing with the public: signage, timetabling, wayfinding, evacuation plans. All of these are designed and planned using software tools handling everything from engineering drawings to site maps, and providing a huge data resource to ensure a successful handover to the eventual operator of the Elizabeth line.

It’s all About the Data

Crossrail sees BIM as all encompassing with GIS as a critical part. They have developed a single central data repository that supports a range of applications whether geospatial analysis, asset management or instrumentation.

The role of this data repository will be fundamental to the handover as Crossrail approaches its operational phase. Data collected in a Crossrail context will be handed on in a manner to suit the receiving systems. So London Underground will see the data it needs to coordinate timetabling, say, and the local fire service will see safe routes to site for handling emergency calls.

The systems themselves may or may not be part of the handover as the many organizations and agencies involved will have their own preferences and ways of working. But the data will remain. Relationships between data and systems may be casual but, as Crossrail sees it, the intrinsic nature of the relationships between objects represented by the data and their location means the contribution of GIS is fundamental to the mix.

So will we see a growth in BIM supporting additional growth in GIS? In my view, once the value of spatial analysis during construction phases and the importance of location data on project handover have been recognized, there cannot fail to be a link.