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CAD, GIS… or both?

… Selling capabilities of what free software does is more difficult than to convince an official to commit a felony punishable (piracy) for what expensive software clip_image001doesn’t do.

Bentley has recently launched a campaign to promote Bentley Map, using as an argument, it is not necessary to be thinking separately if they can be handled by a single tool. On this, many say that we are very close to narrowing the gap and stop using the CAD / GIS words separately.

There are different points of view, some for economic, others for expertise reasons, others for stubbornness, but in practice with all of the technological advancement, we are still struggling with the same problem.

1.  The case study.

It happens that to implement a cadastre (to use an example), the vector construction of lines that are stretched, cut, rotate, drag, load images, etc. continue to be made in AutoCAD or Microstation. If we ask why the technicians prefer these tools, they will say:

ArcGIS is impractical for that

gvSIG has tools but runs very slow (on Windows)

Manifold is very unknown and does not have enough tools

Line editing easier than the polygons’

Support for IntelliCAD is not equal

So we must make the whole spaghetti construction, in their respectively levels, colors and thicknesses, to pass it to ArcGIS and there build polygons. When we do this we find topological errors (which denies the CAD), we make modifications and returned to make the changes in the vector, with a cycle that in massive process ends someday. But in the daily routine of updating, be changing the CAD and GIS is a nuisance that eventually becomes inconsistent data.


Then, if we want to do something beyond, we put it to a spatial database (again, as an example), the CAD coordinates we see with three decimal places but have an accuracy of more than 10 decimals, acquires only three, which forces the vector to be no longer exactly the same, so as not to affect the speed of processes in the database. Here the update without topological criteria is much more complex.

As for economics, a small municipality should invest in software to build precise vectors and another to make pretty maps. If the municipality is stingy or (believes that) it does not require an engineering program will use at least AutoCAD Lite and ArcGIS plus two extensions; but for cheaper it seems, it’s over $ 4,000 (not including training). Those who have worked with municipalities will know how much it costs to sell this amount to a treasurer who commands more than the Mayor.

It is, there are municipalities that do not have these barriers, but the generality of the Hispanic context… lives that reality for reasons of wanting to do GIS and CAD without astral smoking.

2. The GIS should have CAD capabilities

I understand that when ArcView 3x existed, it was not possible to implement vector construction tools with topology management, but at this stage, I don’t understand why we don’t have GIS tools that only do what the CAD (30 things)

  • 12 buttons that serve to create (lines, arcs, circles, polylines, points…)
  • 12 buttons to edit (parallel, copy, move, rotate, extend…)
  • A practical snap control (excuse my insistence, as well as in the CAD)

Surely they already have these things, but we complain about the procedure. It should be similar with the way are made popular use programs, with user-friendliness managing for bearings, distances, coordinates, size, drag, trim … nothing complicated (Spanish idiom: “astral”, difficult), just as it’s done by AutoCAD or Microstation. Here, the best we have seen has been the effort of gvSIG, that instead of reinventing the way of doing vectors, has settled in the way to work with AutoCAD, with millions of users worldwide who do so (conscious that AutoCAD has archaic procedures). It’s left work for mature in working speed when loading heavy or large file images; sure that on Linux runs better, but not in Windows and a strong challenge to convince the world that the Open is not to belittle.

3.  There’s CAD that GIS already do

The case of Bentley Map and AutoCAD Map, the position has been to create GIS capabilities to the tools that were used for engineering. Progress has been significant, there is no doubt about it, but for now, many display and publishing (painted maps) capabilities are weak in what GIS does well (or better). I also believe that the implementation’s practicality for simple jobs is still being… rather crazy (Spanish Idiom: “tirada de los cabellos”); if not, let’s see how many are AutoCAD users (millions) and how many (or wishing to) are AutoCAD Map (or Civil 3D) users; not for matters of prices, therefore the comparison might be equal if we make the contrast with users who use pirate form licenses. Almost equally behaves with MicroStation and Bentley Map, without getting involved in interoperability and publication aspects (please).

4. CAD and GIS are two separate issues.

There is a position (grounded), which states that both items are two specialized areas and that never will be capability to do both with the same tool, part of this position inherits our perception of a few years ago:


… The CAD is to make accurate vectors and the GIS for beautiful maps.

But this stance of specialty, to the extent that standards have being matured and being appropriate for non-free software, has lost stiffness; initiatives as the OGC by the GIS side, the implementation of the topology concept, the xml exploit that advances to BIM concept by the CAD side, among others, have made the CAD not to be seen as the drawing board but part of work from real specialties (Architecture, Civil Engineering, Surveying, etc).

The trend said the specialty shall not be in the software (CAD / GIS) but in the application area. To take one example, designing roads should be specialty for software doing that with the CAD’s precision and capabilities to serve towards programs that will use the axis to create cartography under a GIS context. As well, the shape-file should be released (Spanish Idiom: “pasar a la historia” to be forgotten) and the GIS data should be a graphical or tabular representation of the reality which geometry can be edited from GIS side, consulting its attributes, knowing its connections to other data; while from the GIS side shows its wonderful representations, linking to data and can be edited with the precision done with CAD.

But to do that … honestly we are far, not because it has not yet been expressed, small tools already do much of that, but you have to move the major brands of software to implement it practically.

5.  The way I see it

I believe that for a time, we will continue using two programs to represent the same premise: editing your vector in CAD, analyzing in GIS and modifying it in both. I think many things we do we’ve loaded so much smoke that had lost the simplicity of its use for practical purposes and technological marketing (a problem) has made us forget the reason for the human inventiveness (troubleshooting).

The drawing table had its glory, because nobody invented another way to make drawings by hand, most electric erasers were added but the systematization of their practice was not in the material of the table but what we were doing there. Cartography was to make maps under systemized standards of scale and relevance, we thought on printing it but never doubt its use for human purposes.

We should not lose consciousness, because now the technology should make life easier and enhance ITS USE. So, it should come a time where investment stop being about formats, processors, pixels, labels and brands, to invest time in reason for which they were created: ITS USE. As a consequence, the same as before, we should dedicate to generate business, wealth and benefit to people.

But the idea is illusory, and in my opinion, the next 5 years for the generality of projects of the level raised at the beginning, we will continue doing the same things (note we do not end up doing with Google Earth). And producers of CAD / GIS:

  • By ESRI side, perhaps we may see improvements in CAD’s construction; hopefully there is no need to learn how to use the drawing board again.
  • By AutoDesk side, popularize Civil 3D to view the mapping as part of the engineering. Idea which I think is right.
  • On the side of Bentley, promote PowerMap so as cheap CAD have GIS capabilities and perhaps facilitate a smoke (Spanish Idiom: “fumada”, in this case a creative idea) implementation.
  • By low price software side: Manifold, Tatuk GIS, Global Mapper, IntelliCAD, should gain ground by doing what the brand software does not make.

If Open Source software (sustainable) crosses this barrier, secure all of us will look there, not only by the economic aspect (already seen), but for the solution of common problems (which is already doing) and a more global aggressive marketing than piracy.

Pessimistic, perhaps; dreamer, surely. And you: How do you see it?

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