Skip to main content

What Is a Common Data Environment and How Is It Used In Construction?

construction workers on jobsite look at laptop and paper drawings

 

Construction projects produce a massive amount of data, which is distributed across a large number of stakeholders, using a wide variety of software and tools. As architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) teams seek ways to reduce rework and waste, they often find that using a common data envrionment is key. 

 

What Is a Common Data Environment? 

A common data environment is an online platform that provides centralized storage, access, and sharing of all of the data related to a construction project.

This can include:

  • Traditional BIM models
  • Contracts
  • Estimates
  • Reports
  • Detailed material specifications
  • Installation details 
  • And more.

Multi-disciplinary project stakeholders can access the CDE from anywhere using a computer, mobile phone, tablet, or machines in the field. 

CDEs are used in a wide variety of construction projects, including heavy civil projects and commercial buildings. These large-scale construction projects involve a complex web of stakeholders and rely on the exchange of large volumes of data. A CDE facilitates this exchange by providing everyone from designers to contractors to owners easy access to real-time project data. 

 

Using Quadri, Trimble's civil common data environment and BIM collaboration software, to check project status in real-time.

 

Why Construction Projects Need a Common Data Envrionment

 

A Common Data Environment Is the Single Source of Truth for all Stakeholders

Before design even begins, survey data is collected. The amount of information and people involved in a project snowballs from there.

Common data environment stakeholders

Architects, designers, engineers, and contractors gather and share data to generate a constructible model and record relevant project information. Subcontractors rely on the model to provide their deliverables, and sometimes make edits to the design.In the field, machine guidance systems can connect to the model and then send as-built data and task statuses back to the database.

The CDE is the central connection point for all of these activities, serving as a single source of truth for all project data. 

 

Using a Common Data Environment Prevents Lost or Incomplete Data

Furthermore, duplication of effort, errors, and a lack of communication between stakeholders is all too common in construction. For example, designers and contractors often recreate their own versions of models and work in their respective software tools.

International Foundation Class (IFC) file formats are intended to address this disconnect by making models readable in any software, but that shareability comes at the cost of completeness. When design files are converted into IFC format, a significant portion of the data is lost. Also, non-design files, such as contracts and estimates, may be housed in multiple systems, making file sharing more time-consuming and prone to errors than it needs to be. 

 

 

The CDE greatly reduces this risk by providing project teams with real-time access to the latest project information when they need it.

 

Construction Companies Use a Common Data Environment to Gather Data for Analytics

A byproduct of this access is improved productivity and data analytics capabilities, which can help AEC stakeholders add value and be more competitive. For example, contractors say that better data gathering, analysis, and reporting capabilities have a significant impact on their ability to win new work, according to a Dodge Data and Analytics report. The CDE sets the foundation for those improved capabilities. 

 

Common Misconceptions about Common Data Environments

 

Misconception #1: Using a Common Data Environment Is Too Complicated to Be Productive

Resistance to adopting CDEs is often driven by the same factors that make technology adoption difficult in construction: inadequate expertise, resistance to change, and cultural barriers. There’s a perception that implementing and using CDEs comes with a steep learning curve. But the reality is quite the opposite. Most CDEs are easy for users to adopt, and the centralization of data actually simplifies their day-to-day workflows.

 

Using Trimble Connect, a common data environment and BIM collaboration software, to assign to-do's and make markups in the constructible model. 

 

Misconception #2: Common Data Environments Weaken Data Integrity

Another common misconception about CDEs is that they can weaken the integrity of your data. Many users assume that, in the process of making data more portable, it’s inevitable that some information will be lost. And it’s true that most CDEs aren’t truly open and data agnostic. However, a good CDE can offer the same level of data quality no matter where it originated. Otherwise, it undermines any efforts to truly maximize BIM. 

 

Misconception #3: Thinking Too Small When It Comes To a Common Data Environment 

As the construction industry continues to experience disruption caused by the digitization of business, ongoing labor shortages, new technologies, and the pandemic, it is important for AEC firms to deliver greater value to clients.

Connected Construction is widely recognized as the best way for construction companies to maintain competitiveness and take advantage of digital technologies. Using a common data environment is an important first step towards becoming a data-driven firm. 

For example, the CDE eliminates the need for duplicate progress reporting among subcontractors, contractors, and building/project managers. All parties have access to the same information in real time, reducing the likelihood of miscommunications and errors. 

Connected Construction also bridges the gap between construction and operations. A CDE that supports the bidirectional flow of data between the CDE and the various systems and tools involved in the project enables automated data aggregation. Machine control information, surveying data, and photogrammetry information is constantly being fed back into the CDE. That data can then be used to create a digital as-built and a digital twin of the asset, both of which empower operators to make better decisions about maintenance and future upgrades. 

According to Deloitte, a company that has embraced a Connected Construction approach should be able to:

 

  • Optimize time and resources to realize process improvements

  • Use real-time progress data to improve project performance 

  • Extend the lifespan of equipment by managing manage construction assets more effectively

  • Improve procurement and resource access to streamline design changes

 

Realize the Value of Project Data + Deliver Better Construction Outcomes with a Common Data Environment 

With all of the information, people, and processes in motion on any large construction project, it’s important to choose a CDE that allows you to do more than simply store information. The CDE has the potential to close the information loop for all parties involved throughout the lifecycle of an asset. Data management is just the start.

Learn seven best practices to get the most from a CDE.

About the Author

Rachel is the Content Marketing Manager for Trimble Construction. She's written for finance, SaaS, manufacturing, telecom, and healthcare companies for 16 years. Writing about construction is her favorite gig yet.

Profile Photo of Rachel Jones