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7 Best Practices for Using a Common Data Environment on Complex Construction Projects

Managing the data that large construction projects generate is a gargantuan task. Teams need centralized data access and transparency to extract the information they need when they need it. A common data environment (CDE) an invaluable tool to streamline the complexities inherent in large-scale building and infrastructure projects and improve the full lifecycle sustainability of these assets.

But like any tool, you need to set it up and use it correctly to experience its advantages. Read on to learn seven best practices to help you get the most from a CDE.

Want to learn more about CDEs? Get an overview here.

7 Best Practices for Using Common Data Environments to Streamline Complex Construction Projects

1. Give the right people the right access at the right time

A common data environment allows project stakeholders to start collaborating sooner, but sharing project data too soon, or too late, can create confusion.

The ideal CDE solution should allow you to segment users into groups so you can control who has access, what they have access to, and when they can view it. For example, you can set up a group for owners, another for architects, and another for trade contractors. You can then determine which data each group needs to be able to view and when, adding and removing them as the project schedule unfolds.

2. Support the need for individual CDEs

It may sound counterintuitive, but there’s a case to be made for maintaining separate CDEs in some situations. 

Subcontractors who have to perform intensive design, estimating, and cost analysis work may want to maintain their own CDEs to protect their cost data and streamline the amount of information they provide to the general contractor or owner. 

In this instance, they import the released design model into their own CDE, perform their analyses, and submit their detailed models back to the general contractor. Taking this approach reduces the amount of data clutter involved in the larger project while enabling the subcontractor to centralize data management and sharing between internal teams.

Learn how one steel company is using CDE capabilities to reduce sequencing time to < 1 day.

3. Map your data

A good CDE maintains the quality of your data, regardless of which program was used to build the original model, and which systems various team members use to make revisions. The CDE model viewers shouldn’t strip data away from the original. Instead, they should translate it so that it’s always available to view in a high-fidelity format. In order to do that, fields must be matched between systems, a process known as data mapping.

As a byproduct of the process of mapping data, you’ll have a better understanding of the information you collect. Data mapping forces you to think about the information you truly need to extract from various files and which attributes you will assign to it within the CDE. 

4. Automate workflows using APIs

A CDE that supports application programming interfaces (APIs) allows you to create connections with any number of systems––from ERPs to document management tools. With that connectivity, you can set up automations to improve efficiency and data accuracy. For instance, using a tool like Trimble Connect, you can automate workflows with your ERP and CDE to trigger payments to surveyors once they complete items on their to-do list within the CDE.

The API connectors also allow you to scale your technology investments. Whether you purchase new tools like robotics or mixed reality devices, or decide to change vendors for your core applications, you can still take advantage of all the features the CDE offers. 

5. Capture only the data you really need

After design and construction, project data can be used by owners to more efficiently operate and maintain built assets, as well as by designers and contractors when doing retrofits and upgrades. But this data is only valuable if it’s easily accessible and relevant. To prevent falling prey to data overload, configure your CDE to capture only the data that is required for the project and useful to the teams involved. 

For example, you can create your own property sets made up of the inputs used to build your model. Within those property sets, you can create fields or properties that can be assigned with certain attributes. If the new field requires a numeric input, you can set that as a parameter, and you can even limit the minimum or maximum value that can be entered in the field. When users interact with your CDE, they only see the property sets that are necessary for your project, and the data they enter must fall into certain parameters, limiting errors and visual clutter.

To learn more about how to use digitizing project delivery, download the guide

6. Leverage open sharing standards

To truly benefit from centralized data, you need a CDE that treats all data equally, regardless of the program or tool it originates from. Otherwise, you invite the risks that come with manual data entry and poor data integrity. A CDE that supports open sharing standards allows you to facilitate workflows from any design tool without losing or corrupting data. And that’s what allows for a truly software agnostic project. Open standards enable each firm to use the technology that best suits their needs and budget and still collaborate fully without the need for workarounds.

As construction becomes increasingly digitized, and more technology solutions become available, the need for open standards for data sharing and quality becomes more apparent.

BuildingSMART International is addressing this challenge with the OpenBIM initiative. Stakeholders from throughout the construction ecosystem –– project owners, technology providers, regulators, contractors, and designers –– are collaborating to develop Industry Foundation Classes (IFCs) for software agnostic file formats that don’t compromise data integrity.While those efforts are still underway, using a CDE that allows for open sharing between systems is an important step in that direction.

7. Work from a single continuous model

Version control can be a problem when each stakeholder is working from their own models. An object-oriented CDE allows you to share information directly between the model and your own internal design tools via APIs. 

When every collaborator works on one single continuous model, instead of uploading new files every time a change is made, version control is no longer an issue. As an added bonus, the learning curve for adoption is even shorter than most other CDEs because users are making updates from the tools they currently use. This enhanced model interactivity also supports Level 3 BIM maturity.

Set Yourself Up for Success with a Robust Common Data Environment

Some CDEs provide more functionality than others, allowing you to create a single source of truth about each project and extract greater value from your data. If your CDE provides data storage and little else, you might be missing out on all of the benefits — including increased productivity, efficiency, and sustainability, as well as reduced risk — that having a single source of truth can provide. When you and other stakeholders have access to the right data at the right time, you can:

  • Implement new automated processes to increase productivity
  • Increase data transparency to reduce risk
  • Give stakeholders the right data at the right time to make better and faster decisions
  • Extract meaningful insights and drive efficiencies throughout the project lifecycle.

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