Common Data Environment

What is a Common Data Environment, CDE & Who Needs It?


Recently I was asked by a customer what benefits brings the use of a Common Data Environment (CDE) and who needs to use it.

In a previous post, I had described the advantages of using a CDE as a strategic tool for sharing information and managing a team within a BIM / LEAN Construction Delivery environment.

This post focuses upon the roles and responsibilities of team members, with respect to CDE, throughout the life-cycle of a built structure… from Planning, to Design, Project Delivery, Operations & Maintenance, to Decommissioning/Recycling. 

From Big Data to CDE, BIM, and LEAN Construction Delivery

Big Data” has been discussed a lot, however, data must be in easily understood, common formats, in order to be assessed and leveraged for the benefit of an organization.   In today’s world, the issue not the lack of volume of data, but the lack of actionable information that will drive higher productivity.

BIM[1] is the efficient life-cycle management of the built environment supported by digital technology.  It can deliver huge benefits to all stakeholders.    It can do so, however, only if a Common Data Environment is present, in addition to LEAN best management practices and supporting technology.  The interrelationship of BIM, LEAN, and CDE is demonstrated in the below graphic.


Common Data Environment

Common Data Environment – The operational flow


A Common Data Environment is critical to delivering quality renovation, repair, maintenance, and new construction outcomes on-time and on-budget.

Current Status

Research shows that only 2% of construction projects globally are delivered on-time, on-budget, and to the satisfaction of all participants and users.[2]  To flip this traditionally negative outcome upside down, and consistently drive 98% satisfaction levels requires that timely and accurate information be shared transparently and as quickly as possible, without interruption, among all participants and throughout all asset life-cycle activities.

Information must be in clear, common terms, which can be aggregated, distributed, updated and modified for all the varied participants, purposes and goals.  This information is can only be cost effectively created, stored, and maintained within a CDE.

The core objective of creating data in a BIM life-cycle management environment is to provide better information, knowledge and wisdom to allow us to make better decisions, and drive higher efficiency.

No one wants to change their work process needlessly, fill out the same information multiple time,  waste time searching for information,  or pay for new technology expenditure where claimed benefits are not clearly defined.

Making the necessary changes within an organization to adopt common data architectures and collaborative work practices is nontrivial.  It naturally leads to higher initials business costs, and requires a significant learning curve.   Thus, there is an acceptance barrier for many owners, architects, contractors, and business product manufacturers.

BIM Collaboration

BIM Collaboration

Clearly organizations will not shift to requiring a Common Data Environment until overall investment costs in technology and training, and associated benefits can be quantified.

However, the world of construction is changing and those that don’t take the path of innovation will be left behind.

CDE Players

A Common Data Environment will impact all participants within the construction value chain:

“The Owner”
Owners are becoming increasingly aware of the waste and productivity associated with traditional methods, and are demanding change.   

In order to increase productivity, early and ongoing sharing of standardized information within common data environment is now recognized as a requirement.  

The Common Data Environment drives greater renovation, repair, maintenance or new construction project efficiencies through improved availability of current drawings, BIM models and associated project documents.

Technology embedding LEAN collaborative best management practices,  is important in managing the enormously wide range of complex data.

Cloud-based systems are faster to implement, less costly to maintain, relatively simple to use. Building Information Modeling software-solutions, including CAFM (computer-aided facility management for space planning), CMMS (computerized maintenance management software for routine maintenance under $10,000), CPMS (capital planning and management software for physical and functional condition assessment and reinvestment planning/decision-support, LEAN Product Delivery software (job order contracting and integrated project delivery),  and 3D visualization tools integrate to deliver benefits to stakeholders throughout every part of the construction process.
“The Designer”

In my opinion, a high level of pressure will be put on architects and designers because owners/clients currently see 3D visualization as the answer to saving resources and ensuring that budgets are not over run.

This, of course, must change to BIM.   You must protect yourself by maintaining an internal CDE to run and record the processes with your clients.

Assure that all aspects of life-cycle management, especially that of collaborative LEAN project delivery are considered.

The designer needs to manage ongoing changes in real time as situations require, and be sure that the document available is the most current version.

Sharing the same information, in appropriate formats, with Owners structural and MEP Engineers, and Contractors is critical for validation of work scope and minimizing errors, omissions, and miscommunications.

The later all result costly, yet largely avoidable, changes during the construction stage and legal disputes.

“The Contractor”

Constructors should be active part of the proceedings from the earliest planning stages in order to take advantage of their field experience and knowledge.

All stakeholders must offer their contributions and experience as early as possible in order to more efficiently meet objectives for quality, time, and cost.

The importance of using LEAN collaborative construction delivery methods can’t be overstated.  LEAN methods such as IPD and JOC require early and ongoing collaboration among project participants.

The traditional and problematic “transition between the design phase and the construction phase” is eliminated. The builder obtains all the information needed to complete the work per standards and specifications required by the Owner concurrently with other project participants.

“The Facility Manager”

The Facility Manager as well as the Energy Manager, and related colleagues, can depend upon a CDE to assure available access to historical, current, and planned  operations and maintenance management activities, costs, and impacts.

Within the CDE, a wide range of standardized information is stored and immediately accessed: BIM models, locations, buildings, horizontal infrastructure, movable assets (equipment, furniture), major building systems, major equipment, and people (internal, and external).

This information is always available, at any time,  in the office or in the field.

Real time maintenance management activities can be costed, scheduled, and tracked on demand.

The CDE stores BIM models, warranty information, building plans, permits, conformity certificates, data sheets, etc…  This information allows the operator to increase the utilization of all available resources, while reducing risk and avoidable delays.  Space use and energy efficiency can also be monitored locally and enterprise-wide.


Integration of BIM models in Building in Cloud and model category management

Integration of BIM models in Building in Cloud and model category management


In Summary

A Common Data Environment is central to improving productivity and quality across the AECOO industry (Architects, Engineers, Contractors, Owners, and Operators) and associated supply chain participants.   Common terms, definitions, and data architectures allow access of current, standardized, easily understood, detailed, and timely  information across all stages of the life-cycle of a built structure.

To get acquainted with the typical environment of a CDE you can try for free our solution Building in Cloud for thirty days or watch the video (in Italian) on the document management.


[1] BIM is not a single vendor software tool.  BIM is the life-cycle management of the built environment supported by digital technology, and includes models, modelling, and management using shared, common, and transparent data leveraged by LEAN construction best management practices.

[2] McKinsey Study

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