What’s a Common Data Environment and Why It Matters [Infographic]  

what is a common data environment construction

It’s fair to say that a typical construction project generates a colossal amount of data. Any project – from a small retrofit to a 100-acre tech campus – requires the creation and sharing of untold data during the lifecycle of the project. Unfortunately, many teams struggle to manage and disperse this information effectively. The poor management that inevitably results for companies that don’t have a system in place can lead to errors, rework, missed deadlines, cost overruns, bruised feelings, and even litigation. 

The good news: there are ways to resolve construction’s data overloadOne of the best ways to address this issue is to create a standardized way of structuring data and collaboration – or, more specifically, by adopting a common data environment (CDE). 

What is a common data environment, and why should you care? Let’s explore in our infographic and blog below. 

what is a common data environment (CDE) and why important to construction industry

Defining a Common Data Environment  

“The common data environment (CDE), is the single source of information used to collect, manage and disseminate documentation, the graphical model and non-graphical data for the whole project team,” says the BIM Wiki. “Creating this single source of information facilitates collaboration between project team members and helps avoid duplication and mistakes.”  

In other words, a common data environment is a digital hub where information comes together as part of a typical building information modeling (BIM) workflow. In fact, it was originally developed and popularized as a component of the UK BIM Level 2 standards. Today it extends beyond BIM data and information, and it can include anything from project contracts, schedule, change orders, and more. 

Basically, if it involves information created during a project, it’s available to everyone who is given permission from its inception through to the end of the project and beyond. Nevertheless, some key hurdles make it difficult for firms to create a CDE for their projects and businesses.  

Current Challenges in Today’s Construction Software Ecosystems 

The idea of a common data environment is quite appealing, but the reality of what most construction teams are working with can be less than ideal. Many existing challenges make the execution of projects on-time and on-budget, without siloing and with seamless collaboration across niches, more challenging to achieve. Hurdles include: 

  • Technologies that don’t talk to each other: Like people, different pieces of software must work together to achieve the common good. Too often, that isn’t happening on construction projects. While each piece of software might have a unique purpose or benefit, those don’t amount to much if the information is not shared and integrated across channels or platforms.   
  • No central hub: Again, when software systems don’t integrate and without a central hub, project information becomes unreliable and unactionable. Without a single source of truth, details can become unclear, opinions start to hold more sway than facts, and a project can experience high cost and schedule overruns.   
  • Loss of data:  Throughout a project, information needs to be passed from team to team – and phase to phase – as the project progresses. These handover points pose many risks, including file compatibility, loss of detail as information moves from one application to another, and the risk of errors and omissions through manual processes Due to these factors, it’s easy to see why over 95% of project data captured is going unused today. 
  • Inconsistent workflows and processes: Often, project processes and workflows are dependent on individual project teams and stakeholders. When systems don’t talk to one another, the problem is exasperated as different tasks inevitably call for different workflows and processes. All of this contributes to misinformation, confusion on the part of employees and contractors, and potential disputes.  
  • No standardization: The same goes for standards. When workflows and processes are different, then the standards by which they are executed and evaluated also differ. That leads to siloed standardization, which in turn means that some departments are calling a project (or a step within it) successful while others disagree.  
  • Disconnect with the company culture: Large-scale technology and data initiatives often fail without direction and buy-in from leadership. To build a base for connected construction to thrive (including common processes, workflows, standards, and data access), it needs to part of an organization’s culture.    
  • Lack of trustConfusion, duplication, and missing information are frustrating, and make people look for blame. When they’re not placing it on one another, they then turn to blame the software. And if people can’t trust their colleagues and tools, then what’s left 

A common data environment, fortunately, goes a long way toward solving many of these challenges.   

Connected Construction - Guide to Autodesk Construction Cloud

Why Adopt a Common Data Environment?   

Beyond addressing the challenges above, there exist many compelling reasons to implement a common data environment on construction projects:  

  • Enhances collaboration: Digital technologies have proven time and again that they can improve collaboration if used correctly. That means that all project data and information needs to flow into and be updated in one centralized system. This leads to improved coordination and teamwork, both internally and across teams. 
  • Creates a single source of truth: Never underestimate the power of one single source of truth on a projectOne reliable place for team members to access real-time plans, changes, and data leads to better decision-making and insight across projects and even company-wide. 
  • Improves efficiency and quality: Common data environments reduce the need to manually recreate data, which leads to reduced input errors and lost information. Consequently, the entire firm has improved access to information that empowers teams to make decisions faster. 
  • Lowers risk: A CDE lowers risk with better transparency and insight into the entire project landscape. Over time, this enables continuous improvement and predictabilitycrucial for excelling a business forward. 
  • Strengthens security: With a CDE, administrators and IT professionals have better control of data and information, creating more security. 

Attributes of a Common Data Environment 

Now that you’re convinced a common data environment is worth it, it’s important to be able to recognize one. Some construction firms believe they have a common data environment, but it could be missing key features that are essential to reap a CDE’s benefits.   

An effective CDE has the following attributes: 

  • Easy to Use: User experience is an essential component of a common data environment. To be effective, it needs to be easy to use, meaning it’s intuitive with minimal to no training to get teams working in the system. 
  • Accessible: Cloud-based means access is open (with adequate controls, of course) to anyone who needs the information whether they are in the office or out on a jobsite. 
  • Integrated: A CDE must work with current systems and processes. The goal is to break down silos and increase collaboration overall. 
  • Standardized and Scalable: A CDE should allow businesses to standardize workflows and processes. This works for large, small, and growing companies at any phase. 
  • Secure: In a well-functioning common data environment, data is never compromised. A common data environment is a secure for confidential business documents and information.  

The above traits are the hallmarks of the system that you need to bring more consistency and collaboration to your projects. Now, let’s look at the steps your company can take to start implementing a common data environment.  

Questions to Ask When Considering Implementing a CDE 

It’s essential to not just jump blindly into a new system. Companies that ask the right questions, and implement the right processes, get it right. Some of the most important things to ask when considering whether or not to implement a common data environment in your company include:  

  • How do you build company buy-in?:As mentioned above, without buy-in from key stakeholders, attempts to implement a CDE could likely fail. Make sure you address this question beforeintroducing a common data environment to set your company and projects up for optimal success. If staff buy-in appears to be a challenge, look into areas and projects, you can run pilot programs to showcase its success. Keep in mind that choosing a CDE that’s easy to use will also increase adoption of the technology.  
  • Where should you start the rollout?:This is a more important question than you might think. The truth is, with any new technology and system, it’s difficult to implement it full-scale at once, and it can lead to friction if you try. Accordingly, it’s important to ask yourself: Does this start at the leadership level or field level for your company? Where do you experience the most resistance, and where can you make the most impact? Do you need to invest in training to communicate an effective roll out? One step at a time is always the best bet. 
  • How are you going to standardize?:Without standards, there’s little point in introducing a common data environment. There are huge benefits to standards, software, and otherwise. What processes and workflows will you be rolling out first? Where is it most effective and powerful to standardize? How are you defining your process for distributing and sharing information for teams and across the company? All of these questions and more are vital to creating a framework where a CDE can be successful.  
  • Will there be an administrator to manage this?:The efforts of people make a common data environment a success. When thinking about setting up a CDE, start defining who will do what in your company. For instance, who or which team in your company is going to be the main point of contact for the rollout and setting up workflows?  
  • What does your roadmap look like?:Ultimately, setting up a common data environment helps you set the stage for tomorrow. It’s critical to ask questions like: how do you measure success; what are your future goals; and, how will you continue to improve?

A Common Data Environment for Today and Tomorrow 

Don’t let data slip through the cracks. A common data environment sets your businesses and projects up for success today by allowing your team to optimize and utilize the information when it matters most. Better yet, good data can empower future technologies, including machine learning and AI, to accelerate project delivery. Adopt a common data environment to ensure that your approach to projects and collaboration remains strong from design through operations.   

Autodesk Construction Cloud is helping to deliver on the promise of connected construction by building next-generation industry technology on a unified platform. Learn more about Autodesk Construction Cloud can benefit your business here.  

Joan Allen

Group Product Manager, Autodesk Construction Solutions