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How to Manage the Common Data Environment and why it matters?

July 6, 2022


Graphical representation of traditional information sharing and Common Data Environment ( CDE ), image

The construction and infrastructure sector is the second-largest unorganized sector after the agriculture sector which is the backbone of every country. In the present world ‘Data’ is the next fuel. The AEC industry is generating a lot of data in every project but it is fragmented at multiple locations with multiple people. So the only way to collate all the data related to a project is to have a Common Data Environment(CDE).

The British Standard Institute(BSI) specifies a standard known as ISO 19650 that is specifically for the construction and infrastructure sector which talks about the implementation of Building Information Modeling(BIM) in civil and engineering works and information management using BIM.

The single platform where the information related to a project is stored, managed, and controlled through the entire life cycle of an asset is called a Common Data Environment(CDE). This is the platform where all the stakeholders of a project are collaboratively working.

What is a CDE and what data will come in the CDE?

A Common Data Environment(CDE) is a single solution or platform which has an organized workflow to store and manage all information regarding a project from its initiation stage and continues to the entire life cycle of an asset. The organized workflow happens only with the timely communication of quality information between the relevant stakeholders of the project. This workflow has to be defined properly in the CDE with the relevant access control. It also helps for structured information development, reviews, approvals, and authorizations of information created during the delivery phase of the project.

The CDE solution is implemented through a shared server or web portal. Autodesk construction cloud, Autodesk BIM 360, Google Drive, and Microsoft one drive are some of the examples. The CDE is set up by the appointing party or the third party who is a service provider appointed by the appointing party.

Graphical representation of detailed information about CDE, image

A CDE contains all information related to a project starting from the Design Brief Report(DBR), 3D models, Drawing sets, Request for Information(RFI), Tender documents, Contractual or Legal documents, Quotations, Time schedules, Cost estimation, QA/QC checklists, Closure and handover documents, Minutes of the Meeting, Progress Reports, documents as per ISO19650, operation manuals, warranty details, etc. It can also contain any reference information related to the project shared by the appointing party. But all of this has to be segregated and arranged in a disciplined manner.

Why does it matter to all stakeholders?

The first and foremost thing is that none of them has to think of where the files related to a project are stored. The relevant stakeholders can easily get to the respective project CDE and use the files that have access to them. The information in a CDE has controlled access and it is secured. All stakeholders don’t have access to all information in a CDE. Only relevant stakeholders have access to the relevant information. So the information generated by a stakeholder is not inherited or used by other stakeholders unless they approve it for sharing. The ownership remains with the relevant stakeholders themselves which means other stakeholders cannot make any changes to that particular information container.

Second thing is that the file naming convention helps the stakeholders to identify the right information container. The status code along with the file name helps the stakeholders to understand the purpose of the information being shared. This makes sure that the right information is being shared for the right purpose. Again the version and revision number in the file name helps them to identify the latest set of information that is being shared.

How does it help in your project management?

Graphical representation of time management, image

Even though there are many aspects when it comes to project management the main constraints of project management are Time, Cost, Scope and Quality.

In the traditional method of project management, a lot of time is wasted by searching for the right file. A properly managed CDE saves time of multiple stakeholders that are lost by searching the relevant file. One stakeholder might be using the other stakeholder’s model for clash detection and coordination purposes. For example, the architecture and structure model is used by MEP consultants for modeling purposes. If they use a previous revision of the architecture and structure file to generate the model it will lead to rework which affects the time, cost, and quality of the project.

Another important fact in project management is communication. Oral or electronic communication happening is a manual procedure. The chance for the occurrence of error is very high. For example, the client shared a set of drawings with a consultant to convert into 3D BIM models. The consultant started modeling it. Later the client realizes that the drawings shared were of older revisions. If the same process was happening through a CDE solution the consultant could have used the drawings that are in the shared folder or the client can easily shared the drawings in the published folder with the consultant. There is a loss of money & time due to rework.

According to the ISO 19650 framework for CDE three levels of communication happens.

Graphical representation of detailed explanation on how CDE works, image

Level 1: Communication within the task team

If two or more people are working on the same file using software or on a cloud, communication is happening between them as they are working on the same central file in multiple areas.

Level 2: Coordination through collaboration

The second level of communication is between the task teams. One task team is using the other task teams model for clash detection & coordination purposes.

Level 3: Communication in the project team

The third level of communication is between the lead appointed parties and the appointing party. Each of the lead appointed parties to submit their models to the appointing party for final approval.

All the above levels of communication happen through an automated process that avoids miscommunication and errors in communication. So it is really important to have a properly managed CDE as per ISO 19650 for a systematic approach for information management in the newly digitized world.

Concluding by looking into the benefits of CDE

  • Single source of truth related to a project with the right access to information to the right people at the right time.
  • Access to the latest or up-to-date information especially 3D models for clash detection and coordination purposes.
  • Brings transparency in the entire project environment that reduces the risk factor.
  • Efficiency and quality is increased by avoiding miscommunication, and thereby the duplication of information and rework in the model.
  • Identification of information containers makes life easier by using a proper file naming convention or metadata in the CDE.
  • Similarly, the suitability code helps in identifying the purpose of the information in the CDE.
  • The PIM can be easily converted into an AIM which helps in the procurement of spares, schedule for preventive maintenance, and other operational activities.
Right Data at right time, to the right person, in right form is the game changer.
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