Common Data Environment or Collaborative Decision Making Environment?

by Sangcheol Jeong | November 3, 2022 |  5 min read

Common Data Environment or Collaborative Decision-making Environment?
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A Common Data Environment (CDE) is now indispensable for information management in the construction industry. Everyone knows what CDE means without explaining what it stands for, but do we really understand what a CDE is?

Even if someone knows the terminological definition, is CDE being used properly by them according to its meaning? Although the words that define CDE vary slightly from one word to another, CDE is defined in ISO 19650 as an agreed source of information for any given project or asset, for collecting, managing and disseminating each information container through a managed process. In other words, CDE is a process to consistently manage information with three keywords. Let’s look at the CDE’s current limitations and the ultimate directions to move forward based on those keywords.

How is CDE being used?

One single source of truth. This is one of the most emphasised concepts of why CDE should be encouraged for projects. Traditional processes have produced lots of duplicates in a one to one information exchange method, whereas CDE only allows everyone to access the unique information in one central repository. However, selecting one single platform does not mean that CDE will work properly. For example, if the architectural model has been saved in separate folders by naming with particular dates, this will move away from the ethos of CDE even though all the models exist in one shared storage.

Revision and status. These are the essential metadata that should never be overlooked in the CDE because the same information within the CDE must be a single file with the same name, even if it is updated or used for another purpose. All the history of the information also must be accumulated in one file and trackable. This is very common in the version control system among software developers, but it is still a big hurdle for architects who are accustomed to putting three or four *final*s at the end of the file name. So, design updates are still much more often delivered through attachments separately from CDE, or through emails with some snapshots and markups. This should cause everyday 2 hour workshop with each discipline or having a call every 2 hours.

Workflow. The essence of CDE is the process, not the platform. Information should be checked, reviewed and approved, not just uploaded and downloaded. Surprisingly, CDE is excluded from this process quite often. The reviewers download the files from the CDE, run through them one by one, and reply via email one by one if there is a comment. Otherwise, they set up a design sprint and have back to back meetings putting hundreds of sticky notes on the drawings in the entire day or week. Either way, the reviews and comments through these processes are likely to be lost, hard to track, and it takes time.

How should CDE be used?

Better to access one single source. Any person who wants to find the information in the CDE should be able to find the target file quickly and clearly. CDE should obviously provide a decent feature to search for the files and filter / sort them by metadata. If CDE allows the file viewer to directly open files from CDE or allows files to be synchronised from internal servers, it will prevent copying files and storing them separately. In addition to this technical support, the project stakeholders require a shift in their behaviours to manage information as a single file. UI/UX enhancement of the CDE to support this cultural change would be the icing on the cake.

Better to manage the revisions. Within the CDE, it should be clearly recognised by everyone what revision is currently being used for each file, and the previous revisions should be tracked. It would be perfect if there is a revision comparison function in the CDE. In particular, in the design stage which normally brings about numerous updates, it will be possible to quickly explore the difference between the revisions from other disciplines’ designs.

Better to be the approval process. Reviewers or approvers should be able to easily access the required information by project milestone, stage, or package. To this end, the function to bind files in an extra way other than a folder within the CDE will greatly help. Moreover, CDE should allow users to act immediately, such as leaving comments, creating markups, or requiring further information, which should be monitored in the CDE. If a separate platform inevitably needs to be used, it should be synchronised seamlessly with the CDE so that it does not separate from the CDE.

CDE is just a part of the information management system, yet it is all encompassing at the same time. Perhaps we should consider that CDE does not stay as simply common data environment but become a collaborative decision making environment.

Share your thoughts on how to best use CDE with Sangcheol at [email protected].