Common data environment (CDE): What you need to know for starters

August 18, 2020 | 4 minute read
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Many organizations in construction and engineering (and the related software space) recognize the need for a common data environment (CDE) to support collaboration across project participants. But what is a CDE, really?

Unfortunately, there is a fair amount of confusion and conflicting information around that question. In this post, we hope to outline the definition and characteristics of a “true CDE” and explore why such an environment is needed in construction information management.

The true CDE concept comprises two primary pillars:

Neutrality: Where all the information on the project is captured in a single platform but project participants only have access to what they are authorised to access. Each organization controls their data and what they share via secure, private workspaces.

Neutrality helps to build trust among the project participants. This leads to greater adoption that, in turn, yields more data and insights. It also creates an unalterable audit trail, helping to reduce disputes and drive faster resolution of any that do arise.

Security: Project information has to be housed in a secure CDE to ensure that all stakeholders can be confident that their data is safeguarded from threats through rigorous security protocols. Project users should have secure access with two-step verification support and security assertion mark-up language (SAML) for integration with SSO providers.

Very simply, our view is that a CDE for construction is a “space”—cloud-based—where information from construction projects is stored and is accessible to project participants depending on their requirements/level of authorization. Some of this information is required by and feeds into a building information modelling (BIM) model, and this opens up compelling new possibilities for BIM to become more central to how projects and assets are managed.

Why establish a CDE?

Operating within a CDE offers to greatly improve project collaboration and information management by:
•    Connecting teams, models, and project data in one environment, ensuring a single source of project truth where project participants have access only to what they are authorised to access
•    Providing a highly secure and neutral environment capturing a full audit trail of the built asset
•    Reducing the time and effort required to check, version, and reissue information
•    Enabling the extraction of selections of the latest approved data from the shared area when needed and based on authorization
•    Minimizing coordination checks—for example, ensuring models are correct and issues, like clashes between models, aren’t evident—which are a by-product of the detailed design production process
•    Facilitating reuse of information to support construction planning, estimating, cost planning, facilities management, and many other downstream activities
•    Reducing the time and cost of producing coordinated information

What is needed for effective CDE use?

People, process, and technology

Upskilled people are required to plan, implement, manage, and support this way of working. Investment in people will reap huge benefits to ensure success.

Employees will be involved in implementing best-practice processes and procedures for BIM and the CDE based on guidance from DIN SPEC 91391, BS EN ISO 19650 and PAS1192 documentation, which incorporates Employers’ Information Requirements (EIR). The EIR document outlines what information the team will deliver to the client on the project as well as determining what format that information should be in.

The technology should be supported by additional software solutions, which will benefit from integration with the CDE. These solutions include design software, clash detection software, cost/change management software, tender software, and asset operation software.

The data that is produced should be meaningful so that the client benefits properly from the use of BIM.

CDE, BIM, and standards

As previously noted, there are many interpretations of what a CDE is, and guidance has been provided in industry standards BS EN ISO 19650 and PAS1192. But our belief is that the definition of a CDE needs to be definitive, so Oracle spearheaded DIN SPEC 91391 in Germany.*  

Following the guidance given under BS EN ISO 19650 and PAS1192, a CDE is simply a collaborative environment that everyone uses to coordinate information with supply chain members on the project.

BS EN ISO 19650 is a widely accepted international standard for the organization and digitization of information about buildings and civil engineering works, including building information modelling—information management using building information modelling.

PAS1192, a series of national standards and publicly available specifications defining BIM Level 2 in the UK upon which the BS EN ISO 19650 standard was based.

DIN SPEC 91391 in Germany focuses on data environments of BIM projects and describing both the minimum scope and possible additional functionalities of a CDE. It focuses on the functional sets and the open data exchange between platforms of different manufacturers.

If CDEs from different manufacturers are used in the same construction project, a loss-free data exchange must be guaranteed. DIN SPEC 91391 therefore describes an interface concept for data exchange between project platforms and defines data structures for this purpose.

We’re now working closely with International Organisation for Standards (ISO) on the specific definitions of a CDE. We also lead the OpenCDE group in BuildingSMART International.

Learn more about Oracle Aconex and the true CDE.

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 controls, construction scheduling, portfolio management, BIM/CDE, construction payment management, and more.

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