How geospatial is powering a new era of CAD

The next generation of AEC is being powered by better access to geospatial data.

Over the last decade, we’ve witnessed an explosion in new geospatial applications — and these apps are radically expanding the reach of geospatial data. We’ve also seen other exciting developments, including BIM, UAVs, and LiDAR, each of which provides fascinating new opportunities to shape our planet.

What seemed improbable only a decade ago — such as autonomous vehicles, real-time satellite imagery from your browser, or 3D printed buildings — is quickly becoming a reality.

And underpinning all these developments is geospatial data from authoritative sources. With better technologies, we’re seeing more data being published, and more exciting projects built on geospatial data.

CAD users and geospatial data

As all CAD users know, geospatial data is a crucial part of any project. But accessing quality, up-to-date, and relevant data is a chore, and can contribute to significant delays in projects.

The good news is that there’s plenty of data on the internet. But most of the time, this data isn’t published in a reliable or accessible way. In fact, in many US counties, geospatial data is published directly to proprietary GIS servers.

These servers are somewhat useful if you’re a GIS professional with proprietary software—but they’re not much good for everyone else. In fact, it’s rare that government geospatial data is made available in the formats needed by CAD users.

The six things CAD users need from geospatial data

The geospatial revolution is good news for the AEC sector (that’s Architecture, Engineering and Construction), but ‘more data’ on it’s own isn’t enough. CAD users have specific requirements to make the most of geospatial data.

1. Geospatial data export in CAD formats.

Let’s start with the most obvious problem. Too often, geospatial data is published solely in geospatial formats. While AEC companies have developed processes to translate data, this is inefficient, and ought to be self-service and automated.

2. One point of truth

Many AEC companies waste a massive amount of time finding data to use in their projects. With one point of truth for all public and internal data, AEC companies can reduce their transaction costs and gain a competitive advantage.

3. Raster imagery in CAD software

With better bandwidth and cheaper storage, we are seeing the publication of more and more raster imagery. The problem for CAD users is that DWG is a vector format, and most CAD applications can’t handle massive files. A workaround we’ve developed at Koordinates is to insert polygons within DWG files that link to external JPEGs of raster images. This enables users to access large raster files (such as aerial photography) in their in CAD software without crashing their application.

4. Self-service geospatial data

To speed up projects and reduce friction, CAD users need the ability to find and export data, without relying on intermediaries. A self-service site — with the ability to search and preview across all available datasets — removes any blockers around data access, and ensures that professionals can get on with higher-value work.

5. Projection support

Most CAD software packages don’t support projection information — but re-projection of geospatial data is often crucial to ensuring that geospatial data meets the needs of specific projects. The translation of data to CAD needs to ensure that data is laid out as close as possible to the chosen projection.

6. Geospatial PDF

It can be difficult for draughtsmen to use geospatial data because CAD doesn’t support GIS-style cartography and thematic mapping. With geospatial PDFs — that is, high-resolution PDFs containing the underlying geospatial data — draughtsman and other CAD users can use a geospatial PDF of precise, authoritative data as their reference layer in their software.

The quicker, the better

So what does it look like when geospatial data is made easily accessible to CAD users? 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 treehouse restaurants.

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 Jaundrell Civil Design Engineer

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 and the Land Information New Zealand Data Service (LDS).

As he points out, “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.”

“I’ve done some scopes for jobs, and you’ve got to ring the agency, request the data, and then ring various other organisations, 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.

“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.”

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 the LINZ Data Service on the Koordinates platform, 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.”

The benefits of better access to geospatial data

Greater efficiency

With recent technical advances — including better browsers, better bandwidth and smarter portals — it no longer makes sense for AEC professionals to face delays in accessing geospatial data. Smarter workflows mean more rapid project completion and better ROI.

Less risk

As Matthew Jaundrell points out, “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.”

Better curation

With reduced expenditure on data provision, data managers and GIS professionals at AEC companies can spend more time improving the curation and quality of data made available to their colleagues.

Less format wrangling

Data translation from GIS formats is a pain — but it’s now possible to automate most data translation, to ensure that AEC professionals can get geospatial data from authoritative sources directly into their application.

Reduced silos

It’s a cliche, of course — but getting one point of truth for your data means that you can reduce the siloes operating in your organization. Instead of having multiple data sources — with potential duplication of assets — one source of truth enables everyone in the company to get on the same page, with no need for internal data siloes.

A data service is critical for AEC

The technology that brings geospatial data to CAD users is called a data service. More than a simple geospatial data portal or proprietary server, the data service is an API-enabled site that is designed and engineered to make geospatial data accessible to everyone working on a project.

The data service acts as a single point of truth, ensuring that all professionals can get immediate access to the data they need, exported in the precise specifications they need for their software of choice.

The quantity and precision of geospatial data available to CAD users is rapidly increasing. With more open data released by government agencies, and greater amounts of UAV (drone) imagery and LiDAR point clouds being produced and used, efficient data access is becoming critical to AEC projects—which is why the data service is becoming a fundamental part of every AEC project’s infrastructure.