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What is a common data environment (CDE) in construction?

A CDE is a cloud-based space where information from construction projects is stored and accessible to project participants. This access depends on participants’ requirements or level of authorization, as well as their contractual obligations.

Neutrality and data ownership

Many organizations in engineering and construction, as well as the related software space, recognize how a CDE can enable more effective collaboration across project participants.

The project’s information is captured in a single platform. Project participants can only review what they have authorized access to. Each organization has a secure private workspace, which can’t be taken away during the project. Organizations can control their data and what they share with other project participants.

Some of this information feeds into a building information modeling (BIM) model, which opens up compelling new possibilities for BIM to become even more central to how projects and assets are managed.

Conceptually, the industry considers the integration of several software components as a CDE. However, in practice, organizations are looking for a genuine single source of truth, including a robust audit trail through a simple-to-use platform where data is secure and data ownership can’t be cut off during the project.

A true CDE consists of two primary pillars: neutrality and security.

Neutrality creates confidence and helps to build trust among the project participants. This trust results in greater adoption of the CDE, which yields more project data and insights. Neutrality also creates an unalterable audit trail, helping to reduce disputes and drive faster resolution.

Project information must be housed in a secure CDE that utilizes rigorous security protocols to ensure all stakeholders’ data is safeguarded from threats. Project users should have secure access with two-step verification support and SAML for integration with SSO providers.

Why is a CDE important?

A CDE is an essential part of an engineering or construction project. Two of the key outcomes of using a CDE focus on project collaboration and information management including:

  • Capturing a full audit trail of a built asset through a highly secure, unalterable, undeletable, and neutral environment
  • Finding efficiencies in producing coordinated information, reducing both time and cost
  • Connecting teams, models, and project data in one environment, ensuring a single source of project truth where project participants only have access to what they are authorized to have access to
  • Based on authorized access, project teams can extract selections of the most recent approved information and data from shared areas provided by a true CDE
  • Supporting downstream activities by allowing reuse of information. This helps with construction estimating, planning, facilities management, and cost planning among other activities
  • Minimizing effort and reducing the time it takes to check, review versions, and reissue information
  • Finding efficiencies in producing coordinated information, reducing both time and cost
  • Providing greater certainty to coordination checks by ensuring models are correct without issues, like clashes between models. These are often a result of the detailed design production process

How do BIM and the CDE fit together?

Many professionals understand the value of using the BIM methodology on built asset projects. BIM is undoubtedly a useful way to improve construction project delivery. This methodology should feed into a CDE to provide key stakeholders with a digital representation of a building spanning the project lifecycle, often called a digital twin.

At its heart, BIM working within a true CDE—one with neutrality and security at its core—should enhance collaboration. Such an approach is the foundation for the next phase of digital transformation in our industry. To accelerate this change, BIM should operate through a common set of standards and values, uniting and empowering different project teams to collaborate in the same way through shared technology and processes.

Teams can reduce the cost of rework and poorly executed designs by creating an asset using BIM. For example, after reviewing the virtual asset, the client may decide they need something different from what was originally proposed.

A CDE provides a platform for these changes to be recorded, distributed, and resolved at a lower cost. The result: a more efficient delivery team and better informed client. Engineering and construction professionals rely on BIM working within a CDE to bring greater control and efficiency to projects.

What is a digital twin?

A digital twin is a digital representation of an existing or future physical asset, continually updated throughout the plan, build, operate lifecycle. The digital twin provides full and accurate information to enable better decision-making and interventions in the physical asset.

BIM is the underlying methodology for the digital twins concepts, and a CDE is necessary for the creation of a digital twin—a critical outcome to aid the handover between different phases of the project.

The digital twin is a key concept for the handover process between the different phases of the project. The next project phase will have proper information regarding how the project became what it is today—as well as what needs to happen moving forward—because the digital twin contains the overall story of the project.

The concept of the digital twin has been discussed for many years. But what owners truly desire—the dynamic exchange of data and information bidirectionally between the physical and virtual space—has only recently been realized.

What is openBIM and openCDE?

In brief, openBIM is a universal approach to the collaborative design, realization, and operation of buildings based on open standards and workflows.

Oracle is working to contribute to the standardization in the industry and leads the openCDE initiative as a working group within buildingSMART International. This initiative is focused on smart data exchanges between online data environments, authoring, and quality tools.

What is the future for BIM and the CDE?

Oracle is working to contribute to the standardization in the industry and leads the open CDE initiative as a working group within buildingSMART International. This initiative is focused on smart data exchanges between online data environments, authoring, and quality tools. The importance of being open, neutral, and willing to collaborate will continue to proliferate across the built asset industry.

As a result, we expect to see a much stronger focus on information exchange requirements, such as Exchange Information Requirements (EIR) in 2020 and beyond. In the future, we will see improved guidelines about what should be captured in dynamic information exchanges.

More organizations and people in the industry will realize that there has to be an agreement upfront about what classifications and properties are required during data exchanges in projects.

APIs will also continue to grow in importance for the industry. We’ll see much greater acceptance for and use of APIs to help the industry truly collaborate instead of managing data through containers, which tend to be closed. APIs will be the new way to access data.

Overall, the future of BIM—and the digital transformation of the industry—lies in greater openness and the use of true CDEs.

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