Beyond BIM: Visualizing your Common Data Environment (CDE)

In the past five years, the prevalence of building information management/modeling (BIM) at the planning and early construction stages has taken off globally. Construction companies in some regions of the world are more consistent and demanding in their use of BIM, while companies in other regions are trying to decide what BIM means to them. Given its growth in popularity, people are already asking “What’s next?” Considering this, I think it’s time to explore where we see the trends in BIM heading. This means discussing the value of one particular item; the common data environment, or CDE.


Understanding Common Data Environments

What are some common buzz words you are hearing when it comes to current and future BIM capabilities? Model aggregation, clash detection, issue management, 3D quantity takeoffs, plus 4, 5, 6, 7 and even 8D as well. I don’t know about you, but I am getting lost in all these dimensions! While these are all powerful planning elements for construction programs and projects, they aren’t possible without a common data environment.

What is a CDE and what makes it a valued asset? A CDE provides an essential or single source of truth through a connected platform. Within this platform all key construction processes such as budgeting and forecasting, CPM scheduling, turnover, commissioning, earned value and many others are managed in their own “module” or in most cases “systems.” These are all part of one ecosystem that can seamlessly flow filtered data into one project model, acting as a hub that retains and then shares this information.

Doesn’t that sound like a perfect world? Just think about it. No more data silos requiring manual export and import plus manipulation of data just to get it into the right format or a visualization that is of value to the decision makers. By leveraging data from sources to create an information store through the model, you can provide visual and actionable insights into our business and processes, not just into our projects.


A New Level of Transparency and Collaboration

Traditionally, if you were even able to collect this data and overlay in on a project, it was probably a collection of huge spreadsheets becoming a source of reference for pro-active and reactive decision making, visually, at speed, and with a clear line of sight to the point of data capture and creation.

This meant it was almost impossible to see this data in a context that we could understand, and certainly we wouldn’t be able to share it with other stakeholders. Key point: there is little value in this siloed data in disconnected environments.

Now imagine, for example, your facilities manager being able to show mean time to resolve (MTTR) and mean time before failure (MTBF) data for key HVAC components compared to manufacturers’ claims. Or perhaps an industrial contractor having visibility into piping installation status while commissioning teams are monitoring system turnover and pressure testing status. The possibilities for improvements are almost endless.


A Better Closeout Experience

Another critical but less understood benefit of a common data environment is project closeout.  When a project is in the throes of construction, closeout is often the last thing on anyone’s mind. Between the constant shifts in crews, equipment and materials, it’s easy to overlook the end goal of not only delivering an on-time, on-budget project, but also delivering a facility that’s ready for use. This means complete documentation and everything the owner needs to feel comfortable signing the final check.

Haphazard or sometimes even missing project information can pose a major threat to closeout, not only jeopardizing payment for the current project, but also adversely impacting the owner’s likelihood to hire the same contractor for a future project.

Given profit margins are now often in the single digits and a typical retainage is often 10%, cash flow and profitability immediately become a huge concern for contractors. Owners need certainty that the project has been completed as agreed. And keep in mind, the impact of a poor closeout may not become apparent until years after the fact.


CDE Throughout the Entire Project Life Cycle

What is becoming apparent is that a common data environment is not just using the design models for the early stages of construction, as with BIM, or during the construction process like virtual design and construction. It is truly for the entire construction life cycle right through to owner handover and providing a project digital twin. All of these stages should be considered when you are looking for the best modeling tools.

Ask yourself; can this tool help me at each stage of the construction life cycle, and does it provide for a common data environment? The vendors you work with should be able to provide a hub for this information (this is the CDE), the modules or tools that help both collect and utilize this information and connection to other third-party systems if required, plus should be available for the owner when the project is complete. Remember, your project isn’t over when the construction stops; on average, the majority of an asset’s cost occurs after construction.


Looking Toward the Future

If set up and implemented properly, your CDE should permit the management of all key construction processes independently, while channeling selected data through a back-end bus, across modules or systems, resulting in a true common data environment. Project stakeholders, internal or external, should be able to simply perform their day-to-day task in the appropriate area of the platform and in real time — not the end of the day, week or even month — have visual key performance indicators (KPIs) visualized within the One Project Model.

The bottom line? The buzz words surrounding BIM can tend to lose their buzz without a true common data environment within which to shine. Owners, engineers and contractors having visibility and being able to make better and faster decisions — throughout all stages of the project life cycle enabled by a CDE — is truly the future beyond BIM.

Ready to take a deeper dive? InEight can help get your projects where they need to go and help you create a solution that matches your needs while leveraging your teams’ existing strengths. Let us show you how.

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