A common data environment (CDE) is a centralized platform used to manage hand-store information. They offer cloud-based data storage solutions, which allow you to share and manage data. Construction architects, engineers, contractors, managers, and other project members will use CDEs to store data securely.
In addition, construction leaders can use a CDE to manage, navigate, and save data remotely. Users share information like cost estimates, measurements, contracts, and other documents. Many CDEs also offer version control. This allows users to track different versions of drawings, documents, and measurements during the construction takeoff process.
The best CDE programs offer full data management across an entire construction project. Construction employees will often use a CDE to access a project's general requirements and conditions and work agreements from the original construction RFI. Whatever way you use a CDE, it can help you complete safer, faster, compliant projects.
CDEs play a fundamental role in the construction landscape. They help construction employees collect data and visualize that data in new ways —making them essential for anyone in construction seeking greater control over their information.
However, a high-quality common data environment can do more than save information for later use. Instead, it allows all construction project stakeholders to access and change information as project details change. This creates a degree of collaboration between project members that isn’t present without a CDE.
Construction projects require a large number of documents. These can include permits, fees, contracts, proposals, charters, blueprints, and safety plans. Add in a full project schedule, and many construction project managers are left with too many documents to effectively navigate. An effective CDE can solve this problem by collecting documents under a single platform.
Like many industries, construction is subject to several laws and regulations that govern how projects operate. CDEs help construction crews maintain full compliance with building codes and regulations. For example, it may include environmental regulations to uphold health and safety standards.
To maintain compliance, CDEs include features like document management, auditing, and automated workflows. They also help to identify and eliminate any areas where compliance might become a future issue.
Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a design process for creating and managing all data for buildings. The process creates digital models with information about building materials, systems, and performance.
BIM is a process that can be used for the same building throughout its entire lifecycle. As the building ages, BIM decides which features receive repairs. It can also identify structures that need renovations. Many BIM programs help construction managers forecast which areas might need future attention.
The BIM process can also influence how CDEs are used within a construction environment. For example, BIM models contain large amounts of information about a project — including building dimensions, and characteristics — that can be stored centrally inside a CDE.
CDEs also provide tools for project auditing and reporting. These tools pair well with BIMs that check for errors in design. Together, a CDE and BIM maintain quality control for a project. They track compliance and identify data omissions from project documents.
A digital twin is a virtual replica of a building or other construction project. It is a digital version of a project that simulates construction steps. This helps construction managers visualize progress and identify errors before they occur.
Digital twins often incorporate BIM models and data stored in a CDE to create and use a digital twin of a building. For example, a construction company might generate a digital twin of a bridge before constructing it. This digital twin would be used to simulate and analyze structural performance and identify potential construction challenges.
CDEs provide several fundamental benefits during the construction process. These benefits can include:
These and other benefits to CDEs make them a strong ally to construction crews looking to save money, improve project accuracy, reduce errors, and maintain compliance.
Despite their importance for virtually any construction project, implementing a CDE isn't always an easy task. Construction leaders sometimes face an uphill battle when integrating and using a CDE.
Here are a few of the challenges associated with implementing a CDE for a construction project:
Despite the challenges related to CDE project setup and maintenance, once established a CDE more than validates its worth in saved time, energy, and other resources.
CDEs have numerous applications in the construction world. They help save time and money — whether a construction crew is building an overpass or a college campus.
Large-scale construction projects can immediately benefit from a CDE. For example, a construction manager building a high-rise building might use a CDE to distribute information. Architects, engineers, and contractors can access all the information they need through the system. Specific data access permissions will help ensure compliance.
As the high-rise building nears completion, project leaders can depend on a CDE for tools that can predict and mitigate issues. They can test for structural integrity, gauge energy efficiency, and manage project costs from a single platform.
Similarly, smaller construction crews can see meaningful benefits from CDE integration. For example, a construction crew building an overpass could share data. The CDE would also help improve access to architectural plans and BMI test results.
As technology changes, the use of CDEs for construction projects will likely evolve. Breakthroughs in information sharing and data management will likely affect how CDEs operate. For example, new data visualization capabilities might allow CDEs to provide even more informative reports to construction leaders.
The right CDE also represents a long-term investment, providing a centralized location for managing and sharing project data as it accumulates. The same CDE can inform future project changes after initial construction. New software updates can also mean that the same CDE also becomes even better in its data management capabilities over time.
Many construction leaders won’t use a CDE in isolation. Instead, they’ll combine a CDE with other supportive technologies in ways that help further improve efficiency and accomplish data management goals.
Here are some of the technologies that can support construction projects alongside CDEs:
All of these examples of technology can provide critical support to CDE that protect workers and help maintain project progress.
Construction managers have a variety of options when it comes to collecting and managing their data. Other options include shared network drives or cloud storage devices. These options are lower-cost but lack some features that construction teams might need.
Other alternatives to CDEs include standalone project management software. These platforms handle generic projects, allowing managers to create tasks and project progress. They also create communication channels that allow project contributors to speak with each other. This option provides some of the functionality of a CDE — but without data storage or sharing features.