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    Software for Environmental Engineers


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 1/2001

    The overall environmental software market was estimated at about US$ 1.8 billion in 1995, of which US$ 1.14 billion for consulting and services. So what IT tools does a consulting engineer in a developing country need to compete in the market for environmental engineering services? This article provides a quick checklist.

    The use of personal computers (PCs) has become essential for international architects, consulting engineers and contractors. Most successful engineering firms in developing countries, for example, have invested heavily in information technology (IT). Many of them are using it for plant design, project management and control, and market development. Many clients requesting tenders for complete plants will specify that the supplier should use designated software. Many leading consultants will require all potential subcontractors to have compatible software.

    What computer applications do firms need to be competitive? Here is a quick checklist.

    Project management software

    Project management software permits accurate forecasting of timescales, budgets and completion dates; resource management; cost control, baseline and bid tracking; risk management; database integration; networking and critical path analysis. It is used in all sectors of general engineering.

    Estimating software

    Windows-based estimating and bidding software packages for PCs are available from Australian, European and North American sources. It is often possible to preview these packages from the vendor's web site before purchase, since most of them have web sites on the Internet. Estimating software includes modules for calculating and analysing total project quantities; calculating volumes of dams, channels, trenches, etc.; and making spreadsheets, specifications and cost estimates. Using a single database, these database management systems make it possible to create specifications and cost estimates from drawings. There are programmes available for multi-bid comparisons. These can interface with project management programmes to track construction expenditures, giving early warnings of cost overruns or delays. Automatic adjustments of specifications and estimates following project revisions are possible.

    Computer-aided design

    Computer-aided design (CAD) has now become mandatory for any engineering company wishing to market environmental or infrastructural engineering services. There are now at least 140 CAD systems available. The connectivity of systems is extremely important. Most engineering firms have access to a large number of basic CAD systems for architectural design; for designing building services and civil engineering, drainage and hydrological facilities; for facilities planning and management; and for designing roads, piping, and heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems. Every CAD system database contains a vast amount of data to support the system.

    Specialized environmental software

    Environmental software commonly used by environmental engineering firms includes specialized software for coastal protection; land remediation; air quality management; pollution control of noise, air and water; and environmental and pollution management.

    Today there are several thousand specialized environmental software packages available globally. Many bilateral assistance programmes on the environment promote collaboration among developing countries on environmental software. In the United Kingdom for example, the Joint Environmental Marketing Unit, a joint venture between the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of the Environment, has produced a directory of specialized environmental software products. These products can be made available for joint ventures with firms in developing countries through the United Kingdom's Technology Partnership Initiative. The Australian International Development Assistance Bureau, the Canadian International Development Agency, the German technical cooperation body, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit, the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the United States Agency for International Development have supported similar partnership initiatives.


    Demand for accurate, up-to-date information for natural resource management, environmental and disaster management and biodiversity has stimulated the development of geographical information systems (GIS) in particular. These systems integrate computer software, hardware and data-handling procedures with spatial analysis and digital mapping. They support capture, management, analysis and display of spatially referenced data to solve complex planning and management problems by using data and information from satellites, aerial photographs, paper maps and statistical tables.

    With a market worth between US$500 million and US$ 1 billion, GIS makes up one of the fastest-growing software areas in the world. The number of software packages available for GIS analysis is increasing at both the high and low ends of the market. GIS is being used increasingly as an analytical tool to enhance the design, implementation and supervision of projects, and to assist in policy formulation in the management of natural resources, and in environmental, urban and industrial development and planning.

    Environmental applications, which continue to make up a large part of the GIS market, include: site assessment and clean-up; pollution monitoring; risk analysis; management of natural resources and man-made assets such as forests, electrical or water utilities; environmental analyses; vegetation management; and public information.

    Many engineering firms from developing countries have been able to obtain substantial subcontracts in terms of man-hours from international consulting firms for data preparation, digitization of maps and drawings, etc. These services are often performed more cost-effectively in developing countries. Many environmental impact assessments have a GIS component, which could be subcontracted to local and regional firms.

    As GIS is increasingly used in environmental and other applications, it is being incorporated into more mainstream types of software. The latest versions of CAD and database programmes, such as AutoCAD and Oracle, include the ability to ana-lyse and manipulate GIS data. Programmes are being designed specifically for environmental use. One programme, for example, has been tailored for assessment and reporting at hazardous-waste sites.

    Standard CAD systems are now designed to incorporate automated mapping and GIS tools with CAD software to enable engineers and planners to map and manage assets and infrastructure.

    The Internet, a valuable research tool

    The Internet is an essential tool for environmental engineers - a tool for finding and retrieving large amounts of information, for both marketing and managing. Many small government departments offer valuable online information on environmental technology. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) provides a searchable bibliography on water research, which contains more than 265,000 abstracts. USGS also operates the Geospatial Clearinghouse (http://nsdi.usgs.gov), an electronic network designed to help users "determine what geospatial data exist, find the data they need, evaluate the usefulness of the data for their applications and order the data as economically as possible".

    This article draws from the ITC publication, Environmental Engineering and Support Services, by Jeremy Wells (currently out of stock). For more information on environmental services, contact Doreen Conrad, Head, ITC Trade In Services Unit at conrad@intracen.org