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Understanding CDE and BIM

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A CDE, or common data environment, is a cloud-based data platform commonly used to store construction project information. As a centralized storage system, a common data environment can provide project participants access to this information based on their requirements, contractual obligations, and authorization level. This access depends on the participants' requirements or authorization level and their contractual obligations.

Originally used to store and manage access to building information modeling (BIM) workflows, common data environment usage has expanded to include a variety of documents used during a construction project, such as estimates, contracts, reports, project plans, drawings, material specifications, bill of quantities, and construction schedule.  

If managed well, a common data environment provides value far beyond each project.
Standards for a Common Data Environment

New standards have been developed to regulate the construction industry's use of building information modeling (BIM). The standards established by ISO 19650 define a common data environment and its expectations.

ISO 19650 3.3.15 defines a common data environment as an "agreed source of information (3.3.1) for any given project or asset (3.2.8), for collecting, managing, and disseminating each information container (3.3.12) through a managed process."

ISO 19650 requirements for a common data environment include the following:

-Using a unique identifier for every "information container" and a standard naming convention

-Assigning a "suitability status" to all data

-Controlling data revisions to ensure past revisions aren't actively being used

-Implementing an audit trail 

What Is CDE?

A CDE is a common data environment that consolidates project workflows for architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) firms to help them more efficiently manage projects and improve their bottom line. This all-inclusive data repository stores all data created and collected by project teams during all phases of a construction project—planning and design, pre-construction, procurement, construction, and post-construction. With a common data environment, all this information is available to project teams anytime and anywhere from a desktop computer, mobile phone, tablet, or a specialized system used in the field.

A common data environment can be found in various construction projects, from civil and infrastructure projects to commercial and large residential building projects. A characteristic that all projects that use a common data environment share is that they are large-scale construction projects.

Projects that require a common data environment also involve many different and distributed stakeholders, from designers to contractors to owners, who need real-time access to large volumes of data. Some information captured in a common data environment feeds into a building information modeling (BIM) model. This helps the BIM to become an even more valuable project and asset management tool.  

Another function of a common data environment is serving as a single source of truth. In this role, a common data environment can capture a complete project record with access controls to prevent data tampering. In this case, a common data environment instills confidence and builds trust among everyone involved in the project because it creates an unalterable audit trail.

How to Create a Common Data Environment?

Common data environment (CDE) requirements vary by organization, but the following are some best practices and considerations. These guidelines for creating a common data environment will help regardless of the size or complexity of the implementation.

Build a Team 
Before beginning to create a common data environment, assign an information manager. A common data environment will require vast amounts of data to be gathered from many different sources. Then, as projects progress, the data will need to be kept current, and data fidelity will need to be maintained. Having a dedicated information manager will ensure data quality and make it easier to support integration with other applications and systems.  

A team should be built to support the development of the common data environment. Team members should possess strong management and technical skills and the ability to work collaboratively.  

Define Roles and Responsibilities
Taking time to define roles and responsibilities clearly will help get the most out of the team. Specificity is essential both for tasks and functions and is also vital for security purposes, as this process should include the assignment of access privileges.  

Establish Conventions 
ISO 19650 requires the use of a standard naming convention. In addition to meeting compliance mandates, establishing a naming convention simplifies and streamlines the organization and storage of information. With standard naming conventions in place, users of the common data environment can find and share information more quickly. When defining naming conventions, it is worth the extra time to align them with those of partners and others in the ecosystem. 

The data architecture, such as file formats, must be included as part of establishing conventions for the common data environment, and it should also cover the file structure protocols. 

Create Workflows 
Every step for using the common data environment should be clearly defined and documented, with particular attention paid to the approval and sign-off process. Templates can be used to lay out requirements and clarify what information is required for each project phase and which team owns each phase, and this helps streamline handoffs between phases.  

Implement Access Controls and Data Security
To protect sensitive information, granular access controls should be used for a common data environment. Users should be granted access to the information they need and nothing more. In addition, access should have a time limit, and access privileges should be revoked when they are no longer required for the project.

Data security is also necessary for a common data environment, including encryption and data recovery.

Integrate with the Building Information Modeling (BIM) System
The common data environment acts in a BIM as the single source for project-related data. From here, architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) stakeholders involved in the project can store, manage, and modify the information.

Why Is a Common Data Environment Necessary?

A common data environment supports several critical workflows and tasks that support the day-to-day needs of project teams on a construction project. Following are several examples of how a common data environment works when implemented.

File Management to Share and Organize Project Data  
A central file management system built into a common data environment consolidates all project documents in a single storage location so they can be easily accessed and shared by authorized users on the team. Stored in a system of folders, files related to a construction project are readily accessible to all designers, engineers, contractors, owners, and operators. Permission settings control the viewing, downloading, and sharing of project data within the common data environment.

Streamlined RFI, Proposal, Contract, and Change Order Processes
Because it has a consolidated, document-centric workflow, a common data environment eliminates the errors and delays that come with distributed systems. Any document that an AEC team member needs can be quickly located and shared according to access control protocols. For approvals, documents can be sent from one person to the next and include email notifications with alerts that an action is required or an information message regarding the document's status.

Collaboration Real-Time with Centralized BIM Models 
A common data environment allows teams to have a collaboration hub for everyone in the project—from architects and designers to engineers and subcontractors. Using a common data environment ensures alignment across the complex web of individuals and firms involved in building and infrastructure design. In addition, in a project that can have separate BIM models, a common data environment helps maintain clarity about the latest design model.  

Ability to Access Design Data from BIM Models without BIM Software 
With a common data environment, access to data in a BIM model is not restricted to architects, engineers, and the few others who have access to pricey BIM software. A common data environment liberates BIM model data, making it accessible to any authorized user (e.g., contractor, subcontractor, owner). Using a common data environment allows them to find additional data in a BIM model that is not included in construction documents. They can tap into data needed for construction efforts or generate specific reports.

Integration with Field Applications and Equipment to Sync Data
A common data environment, acting as the source of truth, can be integrated with other systems to keep those in sync. This eliminates the time and expense of errors caused when information is not up to date. With a common data environment, applications and equipment can be synced in real-time, even in the field.

Why Is a CDE Essential to AEC?

A common data environment, or CDE, is essential for architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) firms for many reasons, including the following.

10 Reasons a CDE Is Essential to AEC

1. Capture a complete audit trail of an AEC project in a secure, neutral, unalterable, and undeletable environment.

2. Improves efficiency when producing coordinated information to reduce time and cost

3. Restricts access by project participants based on authorizations

4. Supports downstream activities by allowing the reuse of information for future estimating, planning, facilities management, and cost planning  

5. Enhances collaboration to improve coordination and teamwork, both internally and with partners and other stakeholders 

6. Reduces risk with better transparency and insight into the entire project landscape

7. Makes data available anytime, anywhere, providing stakeholders with access to the most up-to-date project information

8. Assures the integrity and quality of project information, acting as a single source of project truth 

9. Expedites asset data handover after project closeout 

10. Prevents lost or incomplete data

Who Is Responsible for the CDE?

Most architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) firms that use a common data environment appoint an information manager. The information manager ensures that the information generated, collected, and shared in the common data environment is clean and well-organized. Acting as a procedural overseer, the information manager monitors the usage of the common data environment and enforces established usage protocols that maintain data security and data fidelity.

What Is BIM?

BIM stands for building information modeling. It is used by architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) firms to capture the data created during projects. It also facilitates collaboration on design, construction, and operations based on standards and workflows. It also supports project planning by combining data to create contextual models, conceptual design, analysis, detailing, and documentation. The BIM data is also used for scheduling and logistics.

How Does CDE Support a BIM Project?

A common data environment, or CDE, supports BIM projects by providing project team members and key stakeholders with a digital representation of a building across the project lifecycle. Because it is a highly secured data environment, a common data environment offers BIM encryption and controlled user access. 

BIM, along with a common data environment, optimizes project delivery. Project teams can minimize project delays and costs when BIM is implemented with a common data environment. This is because the quality and volume of data provide insights that allow teams to reduce the rework by eliminating conflicts and revisions. Overall, a BIM, working within a common data environment, brings greater control and efficiency to projects.

Why Is CDE Important in BIM?

Building information modeling (BIM) with a common data environment plays a vital role during every phase of a construction project, including:

  • Design—providing access to all aspects of a project to ensure that designs align with all specifications.  
  • Planning—with access to all project data, contractors can provide more accurate cost and timeline estimates and streamline the planning process.
  • Construction—by having all project data readily accessible, construction workers can quickly and clearly identify tasks and receive updates about changes in real-time.
  • Operations—once a project is complete, the related information can be accessed to expedite subsequent projects.  

As an extension to BIM, a common data environment provides access to information beyond graphical models, such as documentation and other non-graphical assets. Combined, they bring value far beyond the sum of their parts.

The Magical Common Data Environment: Get More Out of Data, Increase Productivity, Reduce Risk, and Improve Analytics

Few software solutions can deliver the value of a common data environment. Using a common data environment effectively streamlines AEC projects, making them more efficient for all stakeholders. A common data environment provides value far beyond each project if managed well. It becomes a deep well of reusable information that expedites subsequent projects and prevents errors from being repeated. A common data environment should be a foundational item for AEC projects regardless of size and complexity. 

Egnyte has experts ready to answer your questions. For more than a decade, Egnyte has helped more than 16,000 customers with millions of customers worldwide.

Last Updated: 29th March, 2023

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