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American Society of Landscape Architects


June 2006 Issue

Getting Efficient with Data
Landscape architects can save time and money if they know how to get digital data in the form they need and organize it so itís easily accessible.

By James L. Sipes, ASLA

Getting Efficient with Data Joyce Hesselberth/

Landscape architects use digital data in every phase of the design and planning process. We use computer-aided design (CAD) to develop base maps and construction drawings, geographic information systems (GIS) to analyze the natural and cultural characteristics of a site, illustration software to develop high-quality graphics, 3-D modeling to help visualize design ideas, and web-based applications to share information with others. It is a little surprising, then, to find out how little we know about the value of digital data, the best sources and methods of acquiring data, and the importance of organizing it so itís easy to find.

It is safe to say that landscape architecture firms lose tens of millions of dollars a year because of their mismanagement of digital data. The ways that landscape architecture firms can lose money as a result of poor data management are numerous. Searching for data can take time, and in our profession time is money. More times than I care to admit, I have spent a lot of time and energy downloading data from an Internet site, only to discover that the data was not what I expected, or it was in a format that I could not use.

And once we find the data, too often we wind up using outdated data. For a recent project, I spent a lot of time tracking down, downloading, and formatting data for a project, only to find out a coworker had already put together the data for a different project. In a recent survey, the Data Warehousing Institute estimated that problems with data quality and data management cost U.S. businesses more than $600 billion a year.

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