Why a true CDE should be the foundation of BIM-driven construction projects

February 3, 2022 | 8 minute read
Matt Scroggins
Product Marketing Director
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In a recent interview with German publication Build-Ing, Oracle Construction and Engineering’s Frank Weiss discussed the importance of a common data environment (CDE), standards, and certifications for building information modeling (BIM)-driven projects.

Weiss has been campaigning for a continuous digital asset lifecycle for collaboration in the construction industry since 2000, first as a co-founder of the start-up Conject and now as senior director for strategy, new products, BIM and innovation at Oracle Construction and Engineering.

Weiss today works closely with buildingSMART International and has launched several standardization initiatives, and he most recently led Oracle’s work to obtain the BSI Kitemark certification for a CDE (Oracle Aconex).

The following is excerpted from Weiss’ interview with Build-Ing. You can read the full version here.

Frank, you co-founded Conject AG 21 years ago, what were your thoughts about BIM at that time?

In 2000, as founders, we were driven by the idea of advancing the digitization of planning, building and operating assets. Our Business Plan 1.0 saw internet-based solutions as an enormous lever to improve cooperation in our industry. After the first wave of digitization through CAD systems, it was all about holistic approaches. BIM already existed, but the challenge really existed in information management, i.e. a continuous flow of information across phases of the project.

Today you work for a global software company. Does your work still have to do with the original idea and BIM?

Yes indeed. Oracle is known for its database systems, middleware and cloud solutions. In the Construction and Engineering Global Business Unit, to which I belong, we are focused on further digitizing the construction industry in planning, building, and operating. This is especially true with our Oracle Aconex CDE product.

Let us get into more detail about common data environments or CDEs. What exactly does it mean?

The name CDE—common data environment—really says it all: It’s about working together, and it’s about data or information. In daily practice, a CDE platform is the environment in which this collaboration actually happens. The CDE is typically a cloud solution that includes data storage, project management functions, and workflow management applied to model-based collaboration. Processes in the workflow, such as the delivery and checking of information, can be greatly simplified and accelerated through automation. This requires model coordination, document management, workflows, mail, reporting, forecasts with dashboards, but also integration with BIM authoring or quality systems. The great majority of project participants need simple solutions for the exchange of information and collaboration without having expert knowledge. This is where a CDE can be of great help.

Our customers come from all segments of the private and public sectors. General planners, project management, and construction companies. Projects could include infrastructure such as roads, airports, waterways, or even hospitals, and oil, gas, and renewable energies such as wind farms.

The construction industry is highly fragmented. How does this impact the use and adoption of a CDE?

In Germany, for example, around 90% of companies have fewer than 20 people. And because of technical specializations, the construction industry is further fragmented. This contributes to isolated "information silos." Collaboration and transparent data exchange are therefore advantageous levers in projects. Active information management requires a CDE platform that acts as the only source of truth. If a platform is not accepted by the users as a trustworthy solution, they tend to create "backup copies." This leads to double and triple copies, which of course undermines the data integrity. We, therefore, need secure and powerful CDE solutions that actively integrate specialist applications into a single CDE.

The smaller companies also work on BIM projects. Does a CDE make sense for them too?

Our construction industry is strongly characterized by mid-size companies. In the industry, for example, SMEs play a very important role as subcontractors in larger projects. They must also be integrated into BIM projects. With a CDE platform, the integration of SMEs in BIM projects is very easy. Additional software does not have to be procured for this, because a true CDE is browser-based. General contractors and building owners can invite their subcontractors to the platform, who then can be integrated into the collaboration easily from the start.

Watch our on-demand webcast, “The Secret to Extraordinary Collaboration,” to learn how a true CDE helps power high-performance construction collaboration.

In this context, you have a brand new message for all involved with BIM. For the very first time, a CDE has achieved the BSI Kitemark certification for ISO 19650 and also the DIN SPEC 91391. What makes this achievement so special?

Yes, Oracle Aconex is the first project management solution to achieve British Standards Institution (BSI) Kitemark certification of the ISO standard and DIN specification for BIM software. This is important because the BIM market is growing very rapidly, but there still is uncertainty about the technologies to be used. Therefore, the market needs more clarity about the capabilities and quality of the solutions offered.

And this is where the BSI Kitemark certification comes into play: When making a selective decision, three things can help:

  1. Standards, because they can create more clarity.
  2. Declarations of conformity by companies and manufacturers.
  3. Confirmation by a neutral certifier.

This creates trust that you have made the right decision. With the certification, everyone knows that it's not only labeled CDE but there's a “true CDE” inside.

You're speaking about a “true CDE.” What's behind a “true CDE?” Can you give practical examples? What is important when choosing and using a CDE?

When it comes to CDE, three things are important: simplicity, security, and data ownership. What's behind it? A CDE is intended to promote the automation of processes; this is where the value-adding lever is located. Strong capabilities such as process support, model integration, business intelligence (BI), and AI create transparency and enable better decisions.

However, the best functionality is only helpful if it is easy to use and user-friendly. Data security and thus the consideration of regional requirements are also important. Securing data ownership and access is often underestimated or misunderstood, especially in the event of a dispute. It must be guaranteed that sent messages and documents (including models) cannot be manipulated or withdrawn afterwards. Received once, they have to remain with the recipient. This creates trust and security and avoids shadow data storage in parallel systems. This has been proven in thousands of projects and is a critical best practice.

Several important criteria have to be defined in projects: How do I specify information requirements, and how do I tender information deliveries? How do I specify information delivery processes for everyone in a BIM execution plan (BEP)? How do information deliveries take place, who checks them, and who approves them? In an end-to-end process of model coordination, the following happens, for example: Technical models from various trades are delivered, merged, and checked as a whole for inconsistencies, e.g. collisions. What needs to be defined is what standardized project communication should look like, such as information or change requests, model releases, etc.

And the current status of the project can be clearly displayed via dashboards and reports. These and other proven information management procedures can be found in ISO 19650 and DIN SPEC 91391.

And what exactly does the BSI Kitemark certification include?

It covers a very broad spectrum of test criteria. Not only the pure CDE functionality is being validated, in accordance with the DIN SPEC. The BSI Kitemark also includes hosting, and how secure data centers are. We were able to take advantage of the results of our ISO 27001 certifications and demonstrate that our data is stored in accordance with the respective local security requirements. Health and safety were also targeted by the BSI Kitemark auditors. It also highlighted how we involve our users in the software development process and how users get help from our global support team.

Another area included model coordination, how the partial results of the specialist planners are brought together and checked on the Aconex CDE, and how any errors found are corrected in a coordinated process. Lastly, the certification ensured that we use the open formats of IFC and BCF.

Where do you see the primary benefits for customers and users? What is most helpful for them?

Standards describe the much-cited best practices, that is, tried and tested procedures for BIM application. This is particularly important in a market in which certain topics such as BIM or CDE are not yet fully mature. If you can relate to what has been tried and tested, it is much easier to get started and this is precisely what is achieved with certification. However, it is a known issue that anyone can claim to be following best practices and standards with their solutions. But only a certified vendor, who verifies this seriously and competently, creates trust and security for customers.

It's a well-known problem that anyone can claim to be following best practices and standards. There is hardly a stronger validation than a confirmation from an authorized certifier, who takes the certification seriously.

The certification can provide guidance, specifically if experts in key positions have different opinions, for example during a rollout. The certification increases trust and commitment responsible for the rollout and can help eliminate any potential differences of opinion.

We often hear from customers, including public sector clients, how important certification is for the selection of a CDE product. It gives decision-makers the security that they can carry out their projects in accordance with the standards. This leads to higher acceptance and increases the added value for customers and users.

On a certified CDE, project managers can be assured projects are being carried out in a controlled way and with higher quality. By using a certified CDE, clients can rely on standard-compliant working methods and work results. The entire supply chain can create, deliver, quality-check, release and make information available for use in defined process steps. On the delivery side, subcontractors get clear information requirements and know exactly what information they need to provide. The delivery is irrevocably traceable in the CDE.

Many still consider BIM to be a “new territory.” What would you describe as best practices?

When I look at our customers who predominantly work model-oriented, they apply their best practices to BIM projects. This is where the much-cited aspects and advantages are put into practice.

If you look at the planning process today, you will find huge differences in the quality of information handling. Plans are often not coordinated well enough because important information is not exchanged between the planners. As a result, cost, quality, and adherence to deadlines are often unsatisfactory for the client. And that happens a lot even though the individuals are doing a good job in their “silos.”

Creating good 3D or BIM models alone is not enough. The many interdependencies between the trades and specialist areas require a well-thought through coordination process. In many cases, the client is quite helpless in this matter. They can only hope that the planners will sufficiently coordinate between themselves so that serious problems will not arise on the construction site. With established BIM standards, this “principle of hope” is increasingly a thing of the past. The building owner can now demand the application of BIM standards and the use of standardized products in his tenders with reference to these standards and certifications.

For more, check out the full version of Frank Weiss’ interview with Build-Ing, more information on our BSI Kitemark certification, and an on-demand webcast exploring keys to successful construction collaboration.

Oracle Construction and Engineering, the global leader in construction management software and project portfolio management solutions, helps you connect your teams, processes, and data across the project and asset lifecycle. Drive efficiency and control in project delivery with proven solutions for project controlsconstruction schedulingBIM/CDE, and more.

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