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How data publishing can speed up engineering projects

The open publication of government data has streamlined engineering project workflows and ultimately saved time and money.

When government agencies are thinking about data publishing, they often focus their attention on what is generally called ‘innovation’ — that is, the creation of new products and services using open government data.

Innovating on government data is great; and there are some great examples of innovative data reuse. But in our experience, the focus on ‘innovation’ overlooks a much bigger story: That of professionals across a range of industries building government data reuse into their high-value projects.

And we mean 'high-value': These professionals work on the projects that shape our planet, from those in the engineering and construction sectors to those in policy, research, planning, and insurance. On government Data Services on our platform — including the Land Information NZ Data Service and the Ministry for the Environment Data Service — the open publication of government data has streamlined project workflows, sped up their high-value projects, and ultimately saved them time and money.

Because these stories aren’t often told in relation to open data, we’ve decided to publish two short case studies on engineering firms that routinely benefit from the reuse of government data published on the Koordinates platform.

Holmes Consulting

Holmes Consulting is a leading structural engineering consultancy with five offices in New Zealand, an office in the Netherlands, and a sister company in the USA. For over sixty years, they have worked on a range of international projects, ranging from huge new high-rise developments to timber tree house restaurants.

Matthew Jaundrell is a Civil Design Engineer at Holmes Consulting, based in Christchurch, New Zealand. Like many engineers at Holmes, he is regular user of several sites on the Koordinates platform, including Koordinates.com and the Land Information New Zealand Data Service (LDS).

A great timesaver 

“Koordinates definitely saves us the information gathering time,” Matthew says. “It means you can get right into the design. Sourcing data really eats into the limited time that we have to complete our projects—and in this post-earthquake environment, anything we can do to spend more time on the design is incredibly important.”

“Koordinates definitely saves us the information gathering time,” Matthew says. “It means you can get right into the design. Sourcing data really eats into the limited time that we have to complete our projects—and in this post-earthquake environment, anything we can do to spend more time on the design is incredibly important.”

Matthew says that getting open government data from Koordinates is useful throughout a project, from searching and appraising data during the initial research, to exporting the data in the DWG format he needs for his CAD software.

“It’s really helpful from a research perspective, when you’re doing a concept design. It’s easy to open up the site, layer on the data you need—it’s a great timesaver to be able to see what’s out there.”

Reducing risk

This helps de-risk projects, making it easier to cost out projects and predict delivery timeframes. As Matthew explains, “The more information about a project site that we can gather easily at the preliminary stages of the project, the easier it is to identify the risks and gauge the complexity.”

In the past, sourcing the data needed for a project had been a laborious process.

“It really takes quite a long time,” Matthew explains. “I’ve done some scopes for jobs, and you’ve got to ring the agency, request the data, and then ring various other organisations, such as the telcos, and request data from them. And you’re generally waiting two or three days to get what you need. It can definitely slow things down.”

“Accessible open data changes that. And the quicker we can get the data we need, the better for our projects—otherwise, we’re spending a day ringing various agencies and companies for the data we need.”

Automated format translation

Matthew is also able to save time by exporting the data he needs to DWG. “I’ve imported DWG cadastral surveys in Revit (Building Information Modelling software from Autodesk) from LDS, and it worked really well. It’s an amazing thing to have—to be able to find cadastral boundaries, and just download and import them.”

“Data exports have been really helpful with drawing set-ups, especially with post-earthquake imagery. Because it’s freely available, it’s been really good to pull that out and use in our documentation. And then getting data like property boundaries, anything that’s down at that survey precision.”

More data, please

Matthew looks forward to seeing more government data released for open reuse. “It’s been great to get data from Christchurch City Council—like wastewater, water supply, stormwater, and get them drafted into your drawing—rather than tracing from a PDF that you’d get sent from the Council.”

“The government’s released quite a lot of data that’s Canterbury specific, which is useful for a lot of our projects. We look forward to more data appearing.”

Aurecon

Aurecon is an engineering consultancy that works to bring ideas to life. They provide advisory, design, delivery and asset management services on projects across a range of markets around the world.

Adam Miratana is a GIS consultant with Aurecon based in Wellington, New Zealand, and is a regular user of both the LINZ Data Service and koordinates.com.

It becomes second nature

“We do a lot of work in Wellington, so we rely heavily on Wellington City Council data available through Koordinates.”

“I sit in a group where we have water modellers, the civil team, and people that do a bit of visualisation. This means we need a range of different types of data, including aerial photography and topo maps.”

Adam and the team at Aurecon regularly save time using the data services on the Koordinates platform. As he explains, “it’s just easier to do it through the platform you guys have created. It’s super-easy. After you’ve used it once, it becomes second nature.”

Open licensing is crucial

Adam stresses the importance of clear licensing and metadata. “At Aurecon, we’re very big on licensing. It’s crucial to have that clarity when you go to use the data. You don’t want to be thinking, ‘can I really use this?’”

“It’s important to know that it comes directly from that authoritative source.”

Closed data is a hassle

Adam says that, before data was published on Koordinates “we were compiling lists of where to get data from, and who the contact person was at various agencies. It’s something that you developed over time.

“If you were doing a lot of work with a council, you’d develop your contacts, and then maintain a list of what data they had available.”

The problem with this approach, says Adam, is that contacts in government agencies change over time. If you come back five years later and do another job there, that contact might not be there anymore, and your list is no longer up-to-date. So you have to repeat that whole process again.”

In terms of requesting data, Adam notes that making a request was easy enough. “But in terms of how quick it turns up? Some councils were better than others. It can depend on how big they are, who held their data—i.e. whether the data was held by the regional council, rather than the city council. You can just go around in circles.

“And eventually, two or three days later, something turns up. Or they send it out to you on a DVD, which is another hassle."

All the data, in one place

“We do a lot of work with smaller councils, and the projects cross multiple council boundaries. Some of these councils don’t have GIS staff. This can create big delays, as you really do have to wait to access that data. You can’t progress much without the data.”

Data platforms like Koordinates solve this problem, Adam says. “When it’s all stored in one place like Koordinates, you know where to go to first—and you can get the data pretty much instantly.”

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