GISCafe Special News Report: Homeland Security, Civil and Infrastructure Drive Autodesk's GIS Development

By Susan Smith

The Autodesk GIS Exposition held in San Francisco at the Argent Hotel on October 1, drew a crowd of 250 with 450 registered. This was the largest turnout to date in the event's 10-city tour. ( See press release )

This event was attended by GIS and some non-GIS professionals, such as structural and civil engineers, and some technology journalists. Autodesk has a strong history of engineering accuracy built into its tools, and with the heightened focus on Homeland Security, infrastructure and civil engineering, it has positioned itself well for the new tide of development. Attendees were invited to visit the "Partner Pavilion" during the pre-seminar and breaks, which provided the opportunity to see some of the Autodesk partners' technologies. The partners are a vital part of Autodesk's GIS direction, and were well represented in each break-out session as well.

Dan Berman, AEC/GIS Account Executive, provided the introductions and welcome for the event, evidence that those two disciplines have some overlap at Autodesk.

There is a move toward using intelligent objects in mapping and civil, as is the case in the AEC industry. GIS "lifecycle management" sounds remarkably like the process involved in architecture, engineering and construction these days:

Data acquisition design and maintenance analysis communication management

This process, Larry Diamond, VP of Autodesk GIS Solutions Division, assured us, is not only about managing data and processes in your own company but also managing it in others, with the use of such tools as ProjectPoint.

He said that only Autodesk integrates all phases of mapping, civil engineering, infrastructure management. Diamond said that Autodesk GIS addresses the needs of many different types of customers - creators of digital maps, designers and managers of infrastructure. Data integrity in the industry and maintaining data integrity throughout the workflow are primary for the company.

These basic facts about Autodesk were stated: it is a $947 million software company, with 83 offices in 160 countries, 3700+ employees (and 450 dogs and sometimes cats), 5+ million users. The company also trains over 2 million people per year.

Three major announcements came out of this event:

  1. Autodesk announced Autodesk Map 6, a new version of their software for map creation and maintenance. This application is the foundation for the company's suite of mapping software, Autodesk Map Series 6. The interface is designed for the non-GIS professional, has direct connection to Oracle and Oracle Spatial to centralize core mapping and design tasks. The Map Series combines Map 6, Autodesk Raster Design 3 and the new version of Autodesk Onsite Desktop 7.

  2. Onsite Desktop 7 was announced, a tool built on Microsoft's .NET technology, designed to give professionals the power to visualize in 2D and 3D, load multiple data sets from various sources to do analysis for the planning, execution and approval of projects. This standalone product has the potential to give a wider range of users access to spatial data, either on the Internet or on the desktop.

  3. Onsite Desktop 7 was also added to the Autodesk Civil Series, which will enable civil engineering teams to import LandXML, GIS and mapping data into project data and create "what if" scenarios with animated and 3D views and flybys.
Market drivers in mapping include:
  • China wants to change infrastructure for upcoming Olympics (there are 2.5 million inhabitants in Taipei) and is focused on urban planning.
  • Smart data (The Ordnance Survey has 400 mobile field staff - they are changing their mapping systems to support object data)
  • Security and emergency response - how do we secure our physical assets? Water, telcos, electricity are the assets we must track
Market drivers for civil include:
  • Upgrading - British Rail has a $48 billion plan; new Turin/Lyons rail tunnel
  • The euro has called for redesign of infrastructure because the infrastructure is old, and not designed for such a huge flow of goods and services created by the new exchange.
  • Asia is building out as fast as it can
  • U.S. - Drivers are around reduction of cost; must be more efficient & effective.
Market drivers for infrastructure:
  • Ability to use all data we have everywhere in the world.
Diamond cites 4 truths of GIS:
  1. Location information is valuable
  2. Storage, bandwith and computing are central technologies
  3. Technologies and constraints determine the size of the audience that can benefit from GIS
  4. Constraints are being radically redefined
Short term trends in GIS include:
  • Data interoperability
  • Engineering accuracy
  • Real time applications
  • Open systems
  • Ease-of-use and access
  • Standard applications, flexibility
  • Customization
  • Network architecture
Looking into the future, GIS requirements will include:
  • Collaborative workflow
  • Answers at point of work - any data, anywhere, any time on any device
  • Precision and accuracy - no data loss
The Autodesk GIS solution set purports to be simplified so data can flow through the continuum, making use of central data sharing AGDS. With Autodesk Map on Oracle, or the Autodesk GIS Design Server, you can store data at the object level.

There were breakout sessions on the topics of Civil, Homeland Security, Utilities, Mapping and Facilities Management. I attended the Homeland Security and the Utilities sessions.

Homeland Security

The Homeland Security session was very generic. Four exhibitors presented the discussion: Focus Geomatics, Kelar Corp., Transdecisions and Kanotech. The discussion began with the fact that if you bring enough different applications together, technology becomes important. In order for critical data to be useful, it must be integrated. Depending upon where you are in the government system, homeland security requirements change. The greatest impact of homeland security comes at the local level. Private industries such as the Golden Gate Bridge owners, PacBell, are all targets of terrorism, so the preplanning for security is nationwide and touches many businesses and governments.

Money is a big issue for all concerned: how much to spend, how many lives can be saved? Where will the money come from?

Planning, responding and recovering are the activities that all those engaged in homeland security solutions must address.

Three key activities for homeland security must be addressed:

  • Administrative - preplan and analysis (fire departments)
  • Tactical - in-vehicle and onsite (first responders)
  • Strategic - Intranet (emergency operations center)
The need to coordinate information from both GIS as well as architectural floor plans becomes painfully apparent in a case such as Columbine High School, where the police were outside for over an hour, and had no floor plans to the building. They had posted themselves right in the line of fire - fortunately, no one was fired upon.

Autodesk's Initiative Approach for Homeland Security

  • Most technology is 70% done today by Autodesk, with the partners providing the other 30%
  • Offer lower cost defined solutions
  • Custom solutions are more expensive even if the software is free - must consider total cost of ownership
  • Deliver fast implementation - get GIS working in the shortest amount of time inside and outside buildings.
Some of the usual complaints about communication and sharing of data arose: nobody talks to each other - utilities often won't hand over the floor plans. Intel's National Emergency Messaging System (NEMS) Initiative is in support of public safety. All the technology, regardless of its type, will ultimately be required to integrate into this system.

Because of the urgency of the Homeland Security Initiative, Autodesk has chosen to work with technology partners to provide cost effective solutions that can be provided by different modules and implemented quickly.

TransDecisions is responsible for writing Intergraph's GeoMedia Transportation product and creates transportation software that can now take advantage of AVL systems, Oracle Spatial, MapGuide, with real-time weather reporting from Meteorlogix. With traffic information available from TeleAtlas, GDT and SmartRoute, they can predict traffic flow, travel times and road conditions. Other use of data involves partnering with @road for AVL GPS, JD Locator - a high speed geocoder which can tie into an Oracle database. AVL is the largest MapGuide implementation in the world.

Kelar Corporation develops applications on MapGuide and Map GSP (for airports). Their applications allow you to disconnect data from the database and take it out into the field,then you can bring the data back and synchronize it.


Companies that presented the Utilities session were 4DataLink, SpatialInfo and Sophsys. 4DataLink cited reasons for the need to change:

  • Deregulation
  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • Competition
  • Demand for better services
Technical drivers:
  • PDAs
  • Web browsers
  • Enterprise wide security
A migration to a dynamic environment that has objects with timelines was recommended. Each object would have its own identity and the temporal component. The product 4DLCore rearranges events on the network chronologically, and can do trend analysis. It can also link into ERPs, GIS databases, and does all the mapping you would expect from a full GIS.
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