What is CDE (Common Data Environment)?

..And what does it contribute?

We live in a society that increasingly runs on and is driven by digital data. This certainly applies to the construction industry as well. Construction projects generate enormous amounts of data. Think, for example, of dimensions, building materials, colours and building costs. This data is often spread across systems and databases of different stakeholders (project developer, architect, contractors, subcontractors) and other parties involved in the project.

Working in such a fragmented information landscape is not efficient. Because not everyone has a full understanding of all the data, duplication of effort and misunderstandings are lurking. How wonderful would it be to work from a shared data landscape, that guarantees a ‘single source of truth’? Fortunately, this is perfectly possible nowadays, with a common data environment (CDE). But what exactly is a CDE? How do you create one? And what does it offer the parties involved in a construction project, in concrete terms? We will answer all these questions.

What is a CDE?

A common data environment (CDE) is a virtual environment, for example a combination of a DMS and CMS, in which you collect, maintain, manage and distribute all data concerning a project (graphic models and documents, but also non-graphical information). Within that common data environment, you define how you store and share information. The CDE describes the conditions that apply to the collaboration. In this way, you guarantee security, but you also know for sure that the parties involved have access to all relevant data at the right time.

In this way you guarantee security, but you also know for sure that the parties involved have access to all relevant data at the right time.

What does a CDE look like?

You can set up a CDE in different ways. But there are a number of elements and functionalities that almost always recur in a good common data environment. 

  • A clear and well-organised folder structure for efficiently storing, managing and sharing documents. For example, folders with statuses such as ‘work in progress’, ‘shared’ and ‘completed’. 
  • A good role and access system for all folders and files. This ensures that all parties and persons have access to information relevant to them, but at the same time prevents unauthorised persons from accessing company or project-critical data.
  • Notifications and workflows that are largely automated. That way, you always find what you need and stay abreast of current developments. 
  • A BIM viewer that allows you to view BIM models. A good BIM viewer allows you to view models both separately (so you can zoom in on individual objects) and on top of each other (an overview of the entire building).
Opzichter in de keet checkt informatie in CDE

Security of a CDE

Security is an important element when setting up and using a common data environment. You should therefore map out which data you store where, and how. You must be aware of the requirements that the GDPR and ISO 27001 place on your CDE. For example, the servers on which you store sensitive information must be located in an EU country. 

With the right tools and measures, you can easily regulate who has access to which data. Examples include multifactor authentication, setting IP restrictions, encrypted data transfer and advanced firewalls and antivirus software.  

What are the benefits of a common data environment?

Setting up and using a CDE brings various benefits to everyone involved in a construction project. Time for an overview of the most important benefits.

All information in one place

With a CDE, you manage all the information about a construction project in one central location that is accessible to everyone in the team. Moreover, you determine which external parties have access to the data and which rights (read only or edit) they will have. BIM models, drawings and additional documents such as bills of materials, quotations and invoices: you manage and validate them in one and the same environment. This way, all project information remains together and easy to find.

Less chance of errors and misunderstandings

Because you have access to a common gathering place for information, project members only have to pass on data once. Smart automation and system integration reduces the number of manual tasks. This has a positive effect on the error proneness of processes, such as data entry and version management.

Accessible, always and everywhere

A modern common data environment is in the cloud. Perfect, in regards to the increasingly popular hybrid way of working! Both people on the construction site and employees back in the office have quick access to all current data. It makes no difference whether you work from the office with a classic desktop, or walk around on the building site with just a smartphone or tablet. CDE is available independent of device or location, which ensures smooth communication and better coordination of work.

Separation of concepts and final project information

With a CDE, you can separate drafts from final project information. Teams and stakeholders edit data in a protected and secured environment. The edits are only publicly accessible after approval. The result: a clear separation between documents that are ‘under construction’ and files that have been definitively approved as execution documents. 

As a subcontractor or supplier, you have the possibility to reuse published information in a special ‘in-process’ environment. Do you switch to a new phase of the construction project? Then you can move already published information to the archive. This way, you build a strong documentation and always have references available.

Higher efficiency and lower costs

Using a common data environment brings more structure to your project information. This leads to greater efficiency and lower construction, delivery and failure costs. The delivery of a construction project also goes a lot faster thanks to the optimisation of the information environment.

Set up your information landscape more efficiently with a CDE!

With a CDE, you can organise your information landscape much more efficiently. Every party involved in a construction project with the right rights knows where they can view and retrieve data. Centralised editing, sharing and storing of drawings, BIM models and administrative documents is now the norm. The result? Streamlined processes, better communication, fewer errors and lower failure and project costs. 

Read the next article: “What is BIM?