What Is a Common Data Environment in Construction?

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What Is a Common Data Environment in Construction?

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Construction projects, particularly large-scale ones, generate an incredible amount of data that must be organized, managed, made available to those who need it, and analyzed for decision-making purposes. The larger the project team and the number of separate stakeholder entities involved, the greater the need for a common data environment (CDE).

What is a Common Data Environment?

A common data environment, or CDE, is a digital information platform that is the central point for data storage and access for a construction project. The concept originated as a central repository for BIM (building information modeling) workflows, but has since evolved to include any information and documents related to the design and construction of a building—estimates, contracts, change orders, reports, specifications, and so on. Post-construction, operational information can also be housed in the CDE.

Project participants can access data in the CDE in real time, via computer, cell phone, tablet, or other device, from any location. Data that is proprietary to only certain stakeholders (for example, to the architect or engineering firm, or financial data proprietary to the prime contractor) can be stored and managed in the CDE, but permission settings can be implemented to control access.

Tasks Supported by a Common Data Environments

These are a few of the tasks and workflows that can be accomplished when a Common Data Environment is in place:

  • Centralized file management—Project files are stored in the CDE in a system of folders using unique identifiers and file naming conventions established by ISO 19650.
  • Streamlined review of submittals, RFIs, and change orders—Users receive automatic email notifications alerting them to documents requiring review or approval for distribution. Outstanding questions or comments are stored with the documents to which they pertain.
  • Real-time design collaboration—Centralized file management enables project owners, architects, engineers, contractors and specialty trades to collaborate in real-time through multiple design iterations, ensuring that everyone is working from the same model and facilitating clash detection. Data can be viewed and extracted without access to BIM software.
  • Integration of office and field teams—Data generated using field apps and equipment, such as survey data acquired using drones, or real-time jobsite status information can be sent directly to the CDE for analysis.

Benefits of a Common Data Environment for Construction

Explaining the following benefits can be helpful in making the case for purchasing and implementing a Common Data Environment.

  • Anyone who needs project data can access it at any time from any location or device. All data is updated in real-time, which reduces the opportunities for error and supports data-driven decision-making. For this reason, a CDE often is referred to as the single point of truth for a construction project.
  • Centralized data storage in a CDE reduces the chance of lost or incomplete data, which can be a problem when exchanging files across different types of software or different software versions.
  • A CDE maintains workflow integrity because of collaborative review of submittals and change orders by multiple stakeholders.
  • It’s easy to compile data for analysis, making the results of data analytics more reliable.
  • A CDE provides accurate data to support on-time, under-budget project completion as well as continuous improvement of design and construction processes.

On-time, under-budget project completion is the ultimate benefit that helps ensure a construction company’s reputation for quality, which is essential for being awarded future contracts.

With a history of successful projects, contractors should have no trouble obtaining the construction surety bonds required for working on most government-funded projects and, increasingly, for larger projects in the private sector. Performance bonds are required as financial protection for project owners in the event that the primary contractor becomes insolvent or defaults on a contract without completing the work—and that is an unlikely outcome when a CDE is in place and fully utilized.

With a track record of successful project completion, a construction firm will be viewed favorably by performance bond guarantors, earning the lowest premium rates and increasing its bonding capacity to support multiple projects. In short, making the most of a well-designed and implemented CDE platform  is key to the long-term health and growth of construction firms in today’s highly competitive construction industry.

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