Common Data Environments In The AEC Industry

PAS 1192, and the recently released ISO 19650, sets out that you need to have a Common Data Environment (CDE) to comply with how building information is collected, managed and distributed during a BIM project. This article looks at what exactly is aCDE and what it means for the workflow of an AEC project by addressing some key questions.

What does PAS1192 Tell Us About Using a CDE in AEC?

PAS 1192 was introduced as a suite of specifications that aids the information management in the delivery phase of construction projects and the lifecycle of assets beyond the design and construction phase. The first document of the PAS suite was introduced in 2013. It was built on previously existing codes of practice, principallyBS1192 (Collaborative production of architectural, engineering and construction information).

PAS 1192-2:2013 (Specification for information management for the capital/delivery phase of construction projects using building information modelling), outlines that data is to be shared using a single, collaborative, Common Data Environment (CDE).

Each project in the AEC industry typically features a new blend of parties assembled inmost cases by the client that must work together to deliver an asset in lines with the client's requirements.

Why is a CDE Important to Architecture, Engineering & Construction?

The architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry is a highly fragmented sector that has historically suffered from low productivity and high failure rates in comparison to other industries. Unlike the automotive industry or other seemingly more efficient industries, the AEC sector has, and mostly still is, heavily criticised for poor collaboration with actors seemingly preferring to work in silos ahead of taking a collaborative approach to asset delivery.

Each project in the AEC industry typically features a new blend of parties assembled inmost cases by the client that must work together to deliver an asset in lines with the client’s requirements. Currently, in the AEC industry, a typical project will involve the input of many different companies, including architects, structural engineers, mechanical engineers, specialist design consultants, contractors, and sub-contractors.

A Common Data Environment (CDE) is a collaborative space where the various parties involved in a project can store, share and coordinate project information as it is generated. It acts as a single source of information on a built asset, where the various stakeholders on a project can collect and disseminate information. Unlike the traditional approach that we might have typically seen in the AEC industry, adopting a CDE dictates that information is shared with all actors in the design and construction process at a much earlier stage.

What are CDE Roles and Responsibilities in the AEC Industry?

A CDE should include all information about the project or asset, including graphical and non-graphical data. Above all, it is essential to realise that a CDE contains not only files created in a BIM environment but also those in conventional format. Examples of non-graphical data include product documentation, specifications and execution plans, which are typically in PDF format.

The Construction Industry Council (CIC) BIM Protocol, outlines that somebody should be appointed by the client to set up and manage the common data environment. This role is referred to by the CIC BIM Protocol as the Information Manager.

The Information Manager is a procedural gate-keeper. Primary responsibilities of the role include policing the CDE to ensure that agreed protocols are followed and data is secure. Not to be confused with the BIM Coordinator role, in their role as InformationManager they have no design responsibility or other project related responsibilities.

To eliminate confusion, we would suggest that the Information Manager is appointed in the early stages of a project and defined within the employer’s information requirements(EIR).

Does a CDE Affect Existing AEC Workflows?

Storing project information in a shared environment within your company is probably nota new thing. It’s likely that you already store project files on your companies intranet, making it easy for your colleagues to access the information should they need to. The adoption of a CDE inlines with PAS 1192 is somewhat similar, however as you will be sharing information with all of the parties involved in a project it’s crucial that you each follow the same protocols for organising the information.

There are variations of this, and it will be the responsibility of the Information Manager to dictate requirements in lines with the employer’s information requirements; however, there will generally be four areas of information within a CDE:

Work in progress (WIP) area – Each organisation involved in a project and thus contributing to the CDE will have a WIP area. This area is used to hold the unapproved information of each organisation. The folder may or may not within the CDE.

Shared area – After the information has been approved to share with other organisation within the CDE it can be moved to the shared space. This area may or may not be shared with the client at this stage. In cases where not shared with the client, an additional area should be created for the time when information is to be shared with the client.

Published area – The information contained in this area will have been approved or signed off by the client or the clients representative. It can generally be considered as final and suitable for use by all stakeholders in their various roles in the lifecycle of the asset.

Archived area – This area is used to archive published information at key milestones during a project or asset lifecycle.

What Software Should Be Used to Create a CDE?

While a common data environment may sound complex, depending on the project, the CDE might be as simple as a set of folders on a shared drive. It might simply be a case of creating the 4 folders mentioned above (WIP, Shared, Published, Archived).

At REBIM we have created a digital asset management system that can be used for creating a CDE, whether your project requirements are simple or complex. UsingREBIM you can be sure to access your asset’s information within 5 actions or less, no matter how much data has been stored by you or the other parties contributing to a project.

REBIM has been designed explicitly with asset management in mind, and thanks to making 3D models viewable within your browser it makes for the perfect common data environment software to use on a BIM project.

What is the Future of the CDE in the AEC Industry?

While vendor-specific file formats and access to technology skills may continue to holdback the overall goal of a truly collaborative AEC industry in the short term, the CDE has cemented its place at the heart of a digitisation movement and is something that can be acted upon now giving its limited technological requirements.

Going forward it is clear that all forward-thinking companies will look for improvements in how they share and store information. This will be brought about not only by a movement towards BIM in lines with PAS 1192 and ISO 19650, but by the cultural shift in our general appreciation of digitisation and collaborative tools.

AEC collaboration requires getting the right information to the right people at the right time, a CDE in whatever form it may take depending on the project, or actors involved aligns with this ethos.

Moreover, thanks to the implementation of BIM processes we are increasingly seeing AEC firms evaluate their technology strategies alongside their processes and personnel strategies. In the future with the advancement in technology skills, AEC companies will be hampered less and less by technological know-how and access to technology.Technology strategies will instead be based on interoperability and collaboration, with a CDE central to this.

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