One-Sided Collaboration

October 10th, 2012

We all like to think collaboration is currently possible. But is it a reality? Most collaboration is still one-sided, meaning that one party does work, then ships the data to another party to use. We call this collaboration; I call it one-sided collaboration.

Technology hasn’t yet provided us the means to have an instantaneous feedback loop. When the architect moves an exterior wall five feet towards the parking lot, the civil engineer still needs to do an extensive amount of work to reflect the change in the site work. The architect doesn’t have instant feedback telling him that he has run out of property and needs to move back in the wall three feet to make the building fit the site. Is everything done quicker than it was in the past? Definitely, but we still are working in a vacuum, on our own.

One example of this one-sided collaboration is the current utilization of geographic information systems (GIS). Today, the collection, storage, and distribution of data are fairly painless and cheap. Gone are the days where the main choke point of getting the data was the size of the data—whether that be the reams of paper needed or the number of floppy disks required.

Numerous agencies have taken the opportunity to use this technological benefit to provide GIS data to the public at little to no cost. Unfortunately, other agencies put up large pay walls, making getting the information both expensive and difficult to obtain on short notice.

In southern California, Los Angeles County and Orange County provide an example of this stark difference. Los Angeles County provides the information free of charge, or, in the case of parcel data, there is a small charge for the CD. Orange County, on the other hand, has third-party providers funneling the data to the requesters of the data at quite a large penalty cost.

This available data provides a one-sided collaboration. The agency provides the data and it gets consumed by the public. For the most part, consumers of the data outside the agency have little to no input on the content of the data being produced. If not well-documented, one must prospect the data, looking for the “gold” needed to get the task in question done. Once collected, the data may be utilized in the GIS program of choice. My product of choice is AutoCAD® Map 3D 2013 (Map 3D).

Like most Autodesk products, Map 3D provides a plethora of ways to process GIS data. Data may be imported by inserting the information with object data as AutoCAD objects. The more complex option is the importation of data using Autodesk Feature Data Objects (FDO). Both options have their plusses and minuses. If you are more comfortable with AutoCAD objects, then you will probably be more comfortable the first option. The object data is conveyed utilizing annotation templates, which are blocks with extended functionality. The annotation blocks are then easily moved and adjusted to convey the required information to the consumers of the created exhibits.

FDO, on the other hand, utilizes dynamic styling, which is a combination of how the data looks in the form of objects and labels to convey the information. This takes a level of knowledge to create queries of the data, which may be a struggle for most individuals if they don’t have training. Building labels can be difficult—the process is almost like programming to construct labels.

As you zoom and pan through the drawing, the labels move and adjust to show correctly. When interacting with the drawing, this can be a great attribute. Unfortunately, if you are creating outputs to maps or exhibits, this can present problems. The inability to pin the location of the labels can become problematic when trying to prevent overlapping labels. It is possible to export the labels to AutoCAD; unfortunately, this prevents the dynamic nature of the labels.

Another benefit of the FDO is the ability to set up a map for the analysis, which can be used on other projects. For large county data, you most likely only want to query a small area for a study. Map 3D provides the ability to come back in and change the location query. This makes it easy to reuse the styles and map styles already created. This may be done by going into the Data Connect palette and modifying the queries for the data sources and seeing the map data update to the new location. I’ve found this feature especially helpful in the past. I guess I could say I was collaborating with myself on projects.

With the data stylized, it is possible to convey the information back to the agency. One way I do it is through sanitary sewer studies. By consuming the GIS data, the information may be processed to demonstrate the expected flow through the existing system and the adequacy of the system to handle the flow from the proposed development. By using parcel data combined with land planning information, it is possible to determine the estimated amount of waste generated from the occupants or processes of the occupants. By using the sewer line data, the existing sizes and material types may be determined. This provides the factors needed to determine the capacity of the system. The collaboration is then passed back to the agency for concurrence on the findings. While the agency may have provided the data, the collaboration is one-sided in the sense that the analysis of the data is what they get in return. The agency doesn’t get my GIS map, but gets a paper copy or a PDF.

A significant downside I found using Map 3D for the analysis is the inability of the product to provide summary quantities of the data. I created a nice map with a legend indicating what all of the colors meant. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way to collect the linear distance of sewer network being analyzed or the parcels broken up by land use and area.

I was disappointed to realize that to get the data, I need to destroy the dynamic map styling to grab the data from the resulting hatches. Thankfully, my study area was relatively small with nearly homogeneous land zoning. It would be nice if Autodesk collaborated with its users to provide a solution to this impediment.

The workflow is useful, and does provide a benefit to both parties. I often stop to think of how the process could be improved. For sanitary sewer systems, it would be nice if the data were easier to analyze. I spent a few hours trying to figure out which areas ended up flowing to the point of connection for the development I was working on. Using a combination of GIS data and as-built plans, I think I got the flow areas correct. The challenge may have been caused by the person between the chair and the keyboard not knowing how to use Map 3D to do the analysis, the lack of sufficient pipe information to do such an analysis, or the specification writers of Map 3D for not creating the feature.

Map creation feedback would also be useful. If the agency could review the map during the report creation, it would help save time—especially if you assumed a flow was going in the wrong direction or if the sewer system in the field had changed. This would provide for closer collaboration between the stakeholders of the project. For the engineer it would mean less time redoing work due to incorrect assumptions. The agency would benefit by being assured the analysis was done correctly.

If you aren’t participating in this one-sided collaboration, hopefully you will see the benefits and embark on the journey. I found that taking the time to understand how to use the tools in Map 3D to be worthwhile in doing sewer studies for proposed developments. It was an improvement over using assessor’s maps and as-built plans to determine the areas and flow direction of the sewer lines.

I hope the process is improved in the future, and until then, I plan to continue to utilize the tool when the opportunity presents itself.

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