What Is Data Federation and What Does It Mean for the Construction Industry? 

data federation in construction

As the saying goes, teamwork makes the dream work. This has never been truer than in construction where collaboration between multiple project teams throughout a project’s lifecycle is essential to moving projects forward through completion. Nonetheless, the “dream” is often not reality. In fact, 60% of general contractors see problems with coordination and communication between project team members as a key contributor to decreased labor productivity. Additionally, according to research from AGC, about 72% of construction firms say projects are taking longer than planned. 

To move projects forward, organizations need to constantly share the most current information with each other. If essential project data and information lives in separate environments, project teams resort to using manual processes to relay information.  

An effective way to achieve seamless data sharing and collaboration is through technology supported by a common data environment or a single platform to manage project information. This enables separate teams and companies to connect their workflows and transfer information from one phase to the next. The process that enables this is called data federation.  

Data federation is not a new concept in construction, especially when it comes to sharing model-based information across multi-trade teams. However, with new technology capabilities available, data federation is making a significant impact on how data is shared across a project’s lifecycle. So, let's take a closer look at data federation and how it can revolutionize collaboration in construction. 

What is Data Federation? 

Data federation is the process of collecting data from multiple teams and then converting it into a common output that can be easily viewed and shared. It uses a virtual database that takes data from different sources, then transforms it into a common model to provide a unified view.  

To better understand data federation, let’s compare it to how most organizations are currently addressing the issue of disconnected data.  

These days, many firms opt to consolidate project data and workflows by using a single account hub that houses everything. This account is usually owned by the general contractor, but it can also be placed in the hands of the owner or the party who carries the most risk.  

In any case, all other contributing team members plug into that same account.  

Here’s what that typically looks like: 

data landscape in construction


This model works, and it’s certainly better than manually sharing information; however, it also has some downsides, including: 

It raises privacy and security concerns. Because teams are all plugging into one account, there’s a risk that the wrong people can access sensitive information. Addressing this requires robust and flexible user permission settings, which can be challenging to enforce.  

It doesn’t entirely prevent disconnected data. Using a single hub for data consolidation doesn't eliminate the issue of disparate data and workflows. In many cases, what ends up happening is each team member plugs into the main account, while simultaneously running their own project within a separate account.  

As such, project information is still scattered across different sources, making data aggregation manual and time-consuming. This can lead to delays and potential rework. 

Other parties risk losing access to important data. This single hub approach also puts data ownership into murky territory. Since just one company technically owns the account, other stakeholders can lose access and control of pertinent information when the project ends.  

This means that users who don’t own the main account may not be able to use or extract data in a way that makes sense for their specific KPIs. 

How Data Federation Solves These Issues 

On the flip side, data federation doesn’t require all teams to work in the same account. Instead, every company has their own account, and the information from those accounts is voluntarily shared into a federated construction platform.  

As a result, each company can control the process of saving, storing, and sharing project information without creating data siloes. 

Here’s a diagram illustrating how data federation works. 

data federation in construction


The beauty of data federation is that each team owns and controls the data they need, so no one risks losing information at the end of the project.  

The Start of Data Federation for Construction Platforms 

Autodesk is paving the way for data federation in construction with the launch of Bridge—a capability within the Autodesk Construction Cloud platform that promotes better data sharing across projects and teams.  

With Bridge, owners, general contractors, and subcontractors can share project information with each other without raising privacy or data ownership issues. And at the end of the project, each team owns and manages their data in a way that makes sense for whatever standards they have implemented.  

When we built Bridge, we looked at workflows where sharing information required manual work. One of the things we found was that users often had to spend a lot of time sharing sheets between project teams. The process required uploading and downloading files, which proved to be tedious and time-consuming.  

That’s why we prioritized sheets and files as the first pieces of information that could be shared across accounts.  

Sheets and files are the foundational components of every construction project. By having this document management workflow as one of Bridge’s first capabilities, Autodesk customers can start implementing data federation immediately.  

This feature allows users to automatically share sheets, files, and folders across various projects and accounts. Bridge removes any manual work, so teams can rest easy knowing that they always have the most updated versions of their files.  

Bridge also creates a centralized view of all shares, so you can view and manage incoming and outgoing files easily. 

It’s a powerful capability, but it’s worth noting that sheets and files are just the beginning.  

We’re on a quest to bring data federation into all aspects of construction projects, so teams can further unify their workflows and data with the click of a button.  

For the immediate future, we’re building out a similar functionality for the design collaboration and project management workflows, so you can look forward to streamlining these processes in your organization.  

In the meantime, you can check out Bridge in action below.  


Make the Dream Work with Data Federation Today 

Stop grappling with disconnected data and manual workflows.  Try Bridge today and start automating sheet and file sharing to improve data control and collaboration.   

Matt Burness

Matt Burness, Group Product Manager, Autodesk Construction Solutions