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Open Environments and Digital Twins

The GIS world has no idea how hard it is to work with data in the digital twin/BIM world. Most GIS formats are open, or at works readable to import into a closed system. But in the digital twin/BIM space, there is too many close data sets that makes it so hard to work with the data. The loops one must go through to import a Revit model are legendary and mostly are how you get your data into IFC without giving up all the intelligence. At Cityzenith, we were able to work with tons of open formats, but dealing with Revit and other closed formats was very difficult to the point it required a team in India to handle the conversions.

All the above is maddening because if there is one thing a digital twin should do, is be able to talk with as many other systems as possible. IoT messages, GIS datasets, APIs galore and good old fashioned CAD systems. That’s why open source data formats are best, those that are understood and can be extended in any way someone needs. One of the biggest formats that we worked with was glTF. It is widely supported these days but it really isn’t a great format for BIM models or other digital twin layers because it is more of a visual format than a data storage model. Think of it similar to a JPEG, great for final products, but you don’t want to work with it for your production data.

IFC, which I mentioned before, is basically a open BIM standard. IFC is actually a great format for BIM, but companies such as Autodesk don’t do a great job supporting it, it becomes more of interchange file, except where governments require it’s use. I also dislike the format because it is unwieldy, but it does a great job of interoperability and is well supported by many platforms.

IFC and GLTF are great, but they harken back to older format structures. They don’t take advantage of modern cloud based systems. I’ve been looking at DTDL (Digital Twins Definition Language) from Microsoft. What I do like about DLDT is that it is based on JSON-LD so many of those IoT services you are already working with take advantage of it. Microsoft’s Digital Twin platform was slow to take off but many companies, including Bentley Systems, are leveraging it to help their customers get a cloud based open platform which is what they all want. Plus you can use services such as Azure Functions (very underrated service IMO) to work with your data once it is in there.

Azure Digital Twins
Azure Digital Twins

The magic of digital twins is when you can connect messaging (IoT) services to your digital models. That’s the holy grail, have the real world connected to the digital world. Sadly, most BIM and digital twin systems aren’t open enough and require custom conversion work or custom coding to enable even simple integration with SAP, Salesforce or MAXIMO. That’s why these newer formats, based mostly on JSON, seem to fit the bill and we will see exponential growth in their use.

Categories
Thoughts

Automation or Scripting

When I think back to my first exposure to GIS, it is through ARC/INFO. Just me and a command line. Everything was written in AML which made everything I created a script or even an app if you take the parlance that seems popular these days. I’ve beaten the drum about scripting and GIS so much on this blog that I feel like I don’t need to rehash it except to say that if you ain’t scripting you ain’t living.

But is scripting as important as it once was? I scripted AMLs because that was the only way short of typing in commands one at a time to build anything, and you sure as heck couldn’t visualize anything without AML (well you could, but not in anyway that you’d share). Do we script as much anymore? I was looking at my automations in my life last night and there is so much that I use Zapier for that there really isn’t anything in my house that happens without a trigger. I think today we use works like “automate your workflows” rather than scripting but that is just the low-code ontology that permuted into our vocabulary.

Regardless, the future of GIS is not scripting. That is writing Python or JavaScript and then running that file to see a result. It will be taking triggers and attaching them to actions to see results. The best part of this is that it isn’t hard coded to anything, they just wait for something to happen and then do something.

A Rube Goldberg contraption.
You just take an trigger and attach an action.

GIS really is set up for this, almost everything you do is an action. The trigger is your mouse button but do you really want to be clicking your index finger all your life? But don’t be sad, this future doesn’t devalue your experience, it enables you to bring it to where it is needed. Output of GIS is more likely to be Salesforce or a BI tool than a PDF moving forward. That’s the biggest win for everyone.