Rajan Aiyer MD Trimble

Interview: Rajan Aiyer, Managing Director, Trimble Navigation

“A very flexible, scalable, and easily customizable collaboration platform is absolutely key to transforming this industry into an efficient one like the manufacturing industry…The integration of BIM and GIS in this regard will have a synergistic impact on the construction value chain.”

This interview was originally published in AGI’s Sep-Oct 2021 Newsletter Edition on the theme of BIM+GIS. To download the full newsletter, click here.

Trimble has been quite vocal about the importance of a “connected construction workflow” involving architects, engineers, contractors, specialty contractors, and labour forces. How does one ensure such seamless collaboration for on-field operations on a larger scale?

Trimble is the industry-leader in Connected Construction Solutions for all stakeholders involved in the construction workflow. We see this as an all-new way of executing a construction project, as it simultaneously connects the digital world of modeling, imagery, measurement, and data with the physical world of contractors, workers, equipment, and the jobsite at each stage of construction.

Connected Construction Solutions Trimble
Connection Construction for System-Wide Productivity; Source: Trimble

We strongly believe that all these stakeholders, including owners, must always be connected via data that has been transformed into meaningful information for directing optimal real-time decision making. Thus, a very flexible, scalable, and easily customizable collaboration platform is absolutely key to transforming this industry into an efficient one, like the manufacturing industry. Today, all information exists but in silos, and is therefore sub-optimal until connected.

The integration of BIM and GIS, though much talked about, seems poised to be not just a consolidation of these two, but of various other advanced developments including AI/ML, Blockchain, Big Data, AR and so on. What pertinent challenges of the Indian construction industry could such a development solve?

The penetration of digital technologies in Indian construction industry is at a very nascent stage. All stakeholders operate in siloes and somehow think that it is the “other guy’s” responsibility to deliver quality, on-time and within cost projects without any continual monitoring/measurement of crucial parameters. What cannot be measured can never be improved! That’s the reason 90% of projects are delayed and significantly over-budget and is almost an expected outcome which is not good use of taxpayer monies!

The integration of BIM and GIS in this regard will have a synergistic impact on the construction value chain, that is, 1+1 is not 2 but 4 or 5! But the key here is to create a constructible BIM and not just a design BIM and combine it with GIS to drive efficiencies during construction and O&M. The power of AI/ML, AR/VR, robotics etc will truly be unleashed during the construction and O&M phases and not in architecture or design phases. This is an area of active R&D for Trimble and its partners!

Both GIS and BIM are heavily reliant on field data collection and processing, and yet both reckon entirely different types of coordinate systems, number/types of sources, and data standards, especially in the Indian context. What, in your opinion, is the way forward for a smooth convergence of the two?

The integration of constructible BIM and GIS is an emerging concept even in developed countries and the issues described are common to all not just Indian construction industry. The collaboration platform alluded to earlier will be the key to the smooth convergence and transformation of construction workflow. Key characteristics of this platform include flexibility to dove-tail data sources, formats, and coordinate systems seamlessly and customize it for various stakeholders. The goal is efficient use of design and construction data using a myriad of data collection systems and capture real-time status for input into the digital as-built.

Will there still be any room for traditional practices in areas such as surveying, asset management and project monitoring, if and when BIM +GIS is adopted in the mainstream for Indian projects?

All the practices you refer to will continue to exist because they are the under-pinning of any construction workflow. Their form, format, relevancy and usefulness will change for the better. For instance, instead of 2D drawings we will be using constructible BIM in xD (x=3,4,5…); we would have GIS with millimetre level accuracy; we will have extensive attribute sets for each and every asset for predictive maintenance as opposed to reactive maintenance and use of AI/ML will enhance all these capabilities. Indian construction industry will have little choice but to accept and train its personnel on these changes which will make better use of taxpayer monies.

Trimble has already disrupted the construction and infrastructure management industries with 3D Laser Scanning, full BIM workflow and Mixed Reality solutions, to name a few. What are some other futuristic applications that we can expect from Trimble in the next few years?

In spite of all these advances in technologies, challenges in real-time collaboration, use of AI/ML for predictive O&M, project bidding & monitoring, robotics in construction, 3D printing are exciting areas for advancement. The goal again is to make construction much like manufacturing in terms of quality, cost and time efficiencies.

BIM and GIS for Connected Construction
Comprehensive BIM and GIS Integration for Connected Construction; Source: Trimble

 An important goal of integrated GeoBIM is to be able to synergise the physical and digital twin information for better construction management. This needs to be done across the entire construction workflow in real-time, starting from conceptual planning up to O&M. Thus, the stakeholders will be well-served to initiate the digital twin paradigm at the earliest stage of the project rather than as an after-thought or in the middle of awarding the various contracts.

Lastly, in the wake of the new and conducive policy environment for the geospatial industry, what is the way forward for a faster and inclusive adoption of BIM+GIS in a rapidly urbanizing India?

The new Geospatial policy framework is a big step forward in adoption of geospatial technologies in public and private sector projects which will definitely result in better utilization of monetary, labour, and natural resources. Similar guidelines for adoption of constructible BIM in large infra projects and others such as Smart cities are needed. Many advanced countries for example mandate submission of 3D BIM models for any project approvals. India can leapfrog into constructible BIM and further offer project incentives for adoption of BIM and GIS synergistic practices.