September 25, 2006
Autodesk Topobase for Infrastructure Design and Management
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Message from the Editor -

Welcome to GISWeekly! The acquisition of the company c-plan by Autodesk in 2005 has led to the release last week of Autodesk Topobase 2007, an infrastructure design and management solution, built on Autodesk Map 3D on the client side, and Autodesk MapGuide Enterprise. Topobase was c-plan's premier product and is now one of Autodesk's primary geospatial offerings. Read about this announcement and other trends in this week's Industry News.

GISWeekly welcomes letters and feedback from readers, so let us know what you think. Send your comments to me

Best wishes,

Susan Smith, Managing Editor

Industry News

Autodesk Topobase for Infrastructure Design and Management

By Susan Smith

The acquisition of the company c-plan by Autodesk in 2005 has led to the release last week of Autodesk Topobase 2007, an infrastructure design and management solution, built on Autodesk Map 3D on the client side, and Autodesk MapGuide Enterprise. Topobase was c-plan's premier product and is now one of Autodesk's primary geospatial offerings.

In some cases, an acquisition doesn't necessarily mean the immediate integration of the two product lines, rather, this process can take many years. c-plan was an Autodesk partner since 1996 and was already using MapGuide and Autodesk Map as their design platform. They had built a solid install base of 500 customers mostly in Central Europe, including municipalities, public works, private utilities and other large engineering and manufacturing organizations.

According to Stephen Brockwell, program manager for Infrastructure Solutions, c-plan is a highly verticalized framework for utilities, government agencies, communications firms, and survey or land management firms. “Obviously we have Civil 3D, a highly verticalized design platform, but Topobase is a truly vertical platform in the geospatial realm that spans all of the lifecycle aspects of an asset: surveying and design through construction and through the ongoing management downstream.”

Geospatial Strategy

Vice president of Infrastructure Solutions, Chris Bradshaw spoke about two major drivers in the utilities industry and very particularly in the water industry: 1) abundance on demand for services worldwide, which includes refurbishment of existing infrastructure in developed countries but also significant demand for water, clean water and the infrastructure to deliver it in developing countries, which are key to worldwide economic growth at this time.

2) Scarcity of engineering and technical professionals who can design and manage the construction and refurbishment of infrastructure, scarcity of the resource itself, especially with regard to water, and finally, scarcity of capital to be able to engage in a lot of these large infrastructure projects, i.e., the costs of building water systems. The costs of delivering new water services in a municipality or other government agencies are very significant. Many government agencies can no longer afford to manage those facilities in a cost effective way without impacting their tax rates and having some dissatisfaction among their customers. Aqua America, the largest publicly traded water
company in the U.S., is acquiring many local smaller water companies and managing them with a series of best practices. They are ensuring that infrastructure is of sufficient quality, that it's managed at the best possible cost effectiveness and the services delivered are of the best possible quality, at a rate that the customers will pay for and the government agencies can afford.

Five Components of Autodesk's Geospatial Strategy:

- data

- business integration

- Map 3D CAD client

- MapGuide web client

- How Topobase 2007 Fits In


Autodesk is uniquely positioned to model the infrastructure right through its lifecycle, according to Brockwell. “Civil 3D is part of our offering. It allows engineers to model infrastructure as it must be constructed. The construction industry is a big opportunity for Autodesk. We made the Constructware acquisition in our collaboration services group and the construction side is poorly served by the GIS industry today. It is better served by AutoCAD, Bentley and others. You can service the construction users because that's where the infrastructure actually gets built, that's where a huge amount of initial capital costs are spent, but you can move that 3D real world model of the actual infrastructure as it's built into a more network oriented, operational model. It's very important that our customers be able to go from the physical model of the infrastructure as it's going to be built with all the construction details AutoCAD provides, to an operational model that is network-centric that allows them to ask questions of the network, for example, if I shut off this valve here because I've got a leaking main that I have to maintain, what are the customers that are going to be affected, how can I backfeed those customers from another main and do some negotiation on that network to make sure to maximize the service during this necessary interruption? Those kinds of
questions require not just a physical infrastructure model, but a logical infrastructure model composed of topology and relationships.”

Additionally, the data elements from asset management problems really must be integrated into an informational view of the assets, which may or may not participate in any spatial asset at all.

Business Integration

Topobase is completely open, database-centric, and running on Oracle. Oracle Spatial 10g is integrated into Topobase. The customer can use whatever third party technology integration software they want to use to talk to SAP, Maximo, Hansen, etc.

Buzzsaw is an ideal platform for sharing out information across organizational boundaries, where you have a large number of multi-vendor participants.

Map 3D

Map 3D is an improved geospatial platform for both doing all the AutoCAD based design, drafting and construction detailing you need to do to get a job built, but it also allows you to access a wide variety of foreign data sources.

Feature data objects (FDO) provides a consistent interface to geospatial information based on Open Geospatial industry standards that allows end users to access ESRI, ArcSDE databases, Microsoft SQL Server databases, MySQL open geometry databases, Oracle Spatial databases, all in a completely transparent way. “It's platform independent, runs on Linux, it's been open sourced with MapGuide and both Map 3D and MapGuide use exactly the same database interfaces, so we aren't inventing a web data consumption tool and a CAD data consumption tool. FDO is one single data access architecture,” said Brockwell.


“From a geospatial point of view, we have had really great success with MapGuide 6 and its architecture, but it was very dependent on an ActiveX component on every user's desktop,” explained Brockwell. “For security reasons, that's really a non starter in the federal agencies.” AJAX and other web-centric, server-centric development technologies have been coming forward now. MapGuide leverages all those technologies, multi-platform, and runs on Linux and Windows, and allows developers to still have the efficient development tool of MapGuide, but have it all in a server-centric code environment based on standards.

Where Topobase 2007 Fits in

Topobase plugs in as a series of data model-centric vertical modules, and Topobase stores its information in an Oracle database. It has database-centric integrity and business rules that protect the data and makes sure it maintains its integrity. The CAD client user and MapGuide user are really using the same tool to manage their data, so when a customer changes to their water application to customize it to their specific conditions, they make those changes in the modeling environment at the database level. Map 3D users creating their design on the client and MapGuide users consuming and doing business functions on that data both get to see the changes to the application because all of
those are driven out of the database. It's not a code-centric environment. You don't write a lot of code to deploy a new Topobase application.

Topobase is a top tier solution, said Brockwell. “We will price it competitively but customers will have to make investments in data cleaning, data acquisitions, business process changes, etc. We understand that Autodesk customers really participate in what we are now calling a 'geospatial value chain.' Probably about 20 percent of our customers in infrastructure management are still using only AutoCAD to manage the documentation of their infrastructure. In some organizations, it will be the engineering group doing the finished drawings, perhaps using ESRI to get the data in or using some other
tool to integrate the mapping information, but they're using AutoCAD to get the final detailing and they aren't using Autodesk Map at all.”

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-- Susan Smith, Managing Editor.

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