What is a Common Data Environment and Why It Matters?

We are pleased to share this blog post from our Partner Autodesk.

The amount of data produced by a typical construction project is enormous. Throughout the course of 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, a lot of teams have trouble successfully managing and distributing this knowledge. Without a framework in place, companies will ultimately suffer from bad management, which can lead to errors, rework, missed deadlines, cost overruns, bruised feelings and even litigation.

The good news is that there are ways to resolve construction’s data overload. One of the best ways to address this issue is to create a standardised way of structuring data and collaboration – or, more specifically, by adopting a common data environment (CDE) with Autodesk Construction Cloud


What is a common data environment, and why should you care?


Defining a Common Data Environment

Autodesk Construction Cloud brings together all your construction project data, workflows, and teams into one 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.’  

To put it in another way, a common data environment is a digital hub where information comes together as part of a typical building information modelling (BIM) workflow. It was originally developed and popularised as a component of the UK BIM Level 2 standards. It now goes beyond BIM data and information, and it can include anything from project contracts, schedule, change orders and more. 

If it involves information created during a project, it is available to everyone who is given permission from its inception through to the end of the project and beyond. However, there are certain significant obstacles that make it difficult for companies to create a CDE for their projects and businesses.


Current Challenges in Today’s Construction Software Ecosystems

Although the idea of a shared data environment is enticing, most construction teams often find their working conditions to be less than optimal. The execution of projects without silos and with seamless collaboration across specialties is more difficult to achieve due to a number of current obstacles, such as:

  • Technologies that don’t talk to each other: Like people, different pieces of software must work together to achieve the common good. On construction projects, that doesn't happen all too frequently. Even while each piece of software could have a unique purpose or benefit, those things don't matter much if the information is not shared and integrated across platforms or channels.
  • No central hub: Again, project information becomes unreliable and unactionable when software systems aren’t integrated and there isn’t a central hub. Without a single source of truth, information can become unclear, opinions might start to outweigh facts, and a project may run significantly over budget and behind schedule.
  • Loss of data: As a project moves forward, information must be transmitted from team to team and from phase to phase. These transition points carry a number of risks, such as the potential of file incompatibility, loss of detail as information is transferred from one programme to another, and the possibility of mistakes and omissions due to human processes. These reasons make it clear why more than 95% of project data captures is being wasted.
  • Inconsistent workflows and processes: Individual project teams and stakeholders frequently determine how processes and workflows are carried out. The issue is exacerbated when systems are unable to communicate with one another because various jobs invariably require various workloads and processes. All of this results in misinformation, employee and contractor uncertainty, and potential conflicts.

  • No standardisation: The standards by which they are carried out and evaluated also vary when workflows and procedures are different. That leads to siloed standardisation, which in turn means that some departments may deem a project (or a step within it) to be successful while others may not.  
  • Disconnect with the company culture: Large-scale technology and data efforts that lack guidance and buy-in from leadership frequently fail. A foundation for connected construction must be established within a company’s culture to thrive, including shared processes, workflows, standards, and data access.

  • Lack of trust People become frustrated by confusion, duplication, and missing information and start looking for someone to blame. When they can't blame one another, they eventually resort to blaming the software. What is left if people can't trust their colleagues and tools?

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


Why adopt a common data environment?

Built by the leader in design software, Autodesk Construction Cloud brings all project data starting in design into one common data environment. This includes model and asset data that can be used for design reviews, identifying constructability problems and to swiftly start building operations. There are other compelling reasons to implement a common data environment on construction projects including:

  • Enhances collaboration: Digital technologies have repeatedly shown that, when utilised properly, they may improve collaboration. This implies that all project data and information needs to flow into and be updated in one centralised system. As a result, 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 project. One 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: By eliminating the need to manually recreate data, common data environments lessen the chance of input errors and data loss. As a result, teams now have better access to information throughout the entire company, enabling them to act more quickly.

  • Lowers risk: Lower risks, better transparency and understanding of the full project landscape can be achieved with a CDE. This eventually makes it possible for continuous improvement and predictability, which are essential for driving a business forward.

  • Strengthens security: Administrators and IT specialists have better control over data and information with a CDE, creating more security.


Attributes of a Common Data Environment

Now that you've come to the conclusion that a shared data environment is worthwhile, it is critical to know how to spot one. Some construction companies think they have a common data environment, however it can be lacking important components that are needed 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 implies that anyone who needs the information, whether they are in the office or out on a jobsite, may access it (with adequate controls, of course).

  • Integrated: A CDE must work with current systems and processes. The objective is to break down silos and boost overall collaboration. 

  • Standardised and Scalable: Businesses should be able to standardise workflows and procedures with a CDE. 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 system you need to increase consistency and collaboration in your projects has the traits listed above. Let's now examine the actions your business can take to begin implementing a common data environment.


Questions to Ask When Considering Implementing a CDE 

It is crucial 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 to implement a common data environment in your company include:  

  • How do you build company buy-in?: As previously mentioned, initiatives to implement a CDE could perhaps fail without buy-in from key stakeholder. To ensure the success of your business and projects, make sure to address this question before establishing a common data environment. If getting staff buy-in seems difficult, consider areas and projects where you might execute trial programmes to demonstrate their efficacy. Remember that selecting a CDE that is simple to use will enhance the technology's uptake.

  • Where should you start the rollout?:This is a more important question than you might think. It is challenging to deploy a new technology or system fully at once, and doing so can cause conflict. Therefore, it's crucial to consider whether this starts at the leadership level or the field level for your business. Where do you encounter the most opposition and where might you have the biggest influence? Do you need to spend money on training in order to convey a rollout effectively? The greatest strategy is to take things slowly – one step at a time.

  • How are you going to standardise?:  A common data environment cannot be introduced without standards. Software and other standards have several advantages. Which workflows and processes will you introduce first? Where can standardisation be most useful and powerful? How are you outlining the steps in your information sharing and distribution process for teams and the entire business? All of these questions are crucial to build a foundation on which a CDE may succeed.

  • Will there be an administrator to manage this?: A successful common data environment is the result of people's efforts. Start establishing roles within your business before you consider creating a CDE. For instance, which team or who inside your organisation will serve as the primary point of contact for the rollout and the creation of workflows?

  • What does your roadmap look like?: In the end, creating a common data environment helps in laying the groundwork for the future. It's important to address things like how you define success, what your long-term goals are, and how you plan to continue becoming better.


A common data environment for today and tomorrow

Make sure that no data is overlooked. By enabling your team to optimise and use the information when it matters most, a common data environment puts your business and projects in the best possible position for success right now. Better yet, good data may speed up project delivery by enabling future technologies like AI and machine learning. To ensure that your approach to projects and collaboration remains strong from design through operations, adopt a common data environment with Autodesk Construction Cloud.


Do you need help creating a Common Data Environment with Autodesk Construction Cloud for your business? Please get in touch with us via the details below: 


0345 370 1444