Why Owners Need a Common Data Environment

why owners need a common data environment cde

Owners are facing a lot of pressure in today’s construction landscape. Project risk and costs seem to be at an all-time high — a concern even before the pandemic. 

Data from JLL Research indicate that total construction costs have increased between 3.5% to 5.5% per year from 2012 to 2019. This year, JLL is forecasting construction costs to increase within the range (likely towards the higher end). The company also is also predicting total costs and material cost inflation to exceed 2019 levels. 

Then there’s the matter of operating the facilities efficiently. Owners need to keep their buildings profitable and the majority of costs happen during operations. The problem is, many owners don’t have the insights they need to effectively run their facilities. 

A lot of that necessary information can be obtained while the project is underway but many owners lack visibility into the construction of their buildings. As a result, many don’t have the data required to own and operate their facility’s profitability. This issue is even more pronounced when owners are managing a portfolio of buildings, such as a campus or franchise. 

One way to solve this issue is through the use of a common data environment (CDE). A CDE enables owners to tap into valuable data and information throughout the construction process, so they can operate more efficiently. 

Read on to learn more about common data environments and how you can use them in your projects.

What is a Common Data Environment (CDE)?

A common data environment is a single system used to capture, manage, and distribute information and documents throughout the project. It also facilitates communication between stakeholders, so everyone is working using the same platform. 

Think of a CDE as a central hub where team members can find all the information they need about a project — including BIM data, plans, contracts, and more.  

How a CDE Benefits Owners

Adopting a CDE can put owners at an advantage in several ways. Consider the following. 

Enhances Project Visibility

Owners that promote collaboration and are actively involved in their construction projects tend to see better outcomes. 

As such, rather than handing off plans to contractors and reconvening at the end of the project, forward-thinking owners are now taking an active role in constructing their facilities. Many owners now have in-house construction and real estate teams consisting of project management and construction management roles. 

These owners realize that by influencing the construction process from end to end, they increase their knowledge and familiarity with their properties, which then leads to a smoother handover process and more efficient operations.

A CDE paves the way for better owner involvement during the construction phase. You get increased (and real-time) visibility into all construction activity, and since everything is facilitated through a single source, you can trust that the information you have is up-to-date and reliable. This results in lower risk and allows you to gain predictability so you can continuously improve.

Improved Decision Making

Having accurate data in one place helps you make better and faster decisions. For starters, a CDE eliminates the need to hunt down documents or information, which means you can find the information you need quickly. 

Since the entire purpose of the building is to operate, each decision or day delayed could mean millions of dollars lost in profits. Flights aren't scheduled, apartments aren't rented, and  products aren't manufactured. A common data environment brings multiple components and tools — including project management, communication, and collaboration — into one platform. This helps owners stay aligned with all project stakeholders throughout the entire project to mitigate issues and make decisions faster.

All that leads to smarter and more confident decision-making. When you know what’s going on across all teams and phases of the project, you get valuable nuggets of information that can help you operate and easily iron out things like ongoing capital planning and renovations. 

Then there’s the advantage of having access to aggregate construction data. A CDE enables owners to view projects at a dashboard level using data visualization tools. This high-level view of construction information makes it easier for owners to spot trends and gain insights that can inform portfolio-wide decisions. 

Operate Buildings Upon Handover More Profitably

The benefits of a CDE can also be seen after the handover process, all the way through building management and maintenance. Common data environments provide access to connected data as well as comprehensive as-builts — a set of documents by the contractor that show any changes made during the project. 

When a facilities team has access to accurate data from construction, they’re able to operate the building more efficiently and profitably. When facilities teams are involved in construction, or have access to data throughout the project, they are more knowledgeable about the building they are taking over. This equips them to manage the facility immediately, on day one - reducing the learning curve and ensuring speed to efficient operations.

When facilities teams have data at their fingertips on a mobile device, they can quickly identify and resolve issues, instead of running back to their office for a binder of papers or contacting their contractor via email for documentation of plans, warranties, and other asset specifications. In fact, with this kind of information, they can be proactive about maintaining their buildings and assets instead of only responding when something goes wrong. 

The construction data that’s handed over after the project can also be used to gain knowledge that can be used in ongoing capital programs and future construction projects.

What Owners Should Look for in a CDE

Now that we’ve covered what a common data environment is and the benefits of having one, let’s look at the factors to consider when selecting and setting up a CDE. Here are the key attributes of an effective CDE.

Provide Easy Access to Data

Your common data environment should work in the cloud, so stakeholders can upload and retrieve documents and information from anywhere. As the owner, this gives you the ability to access the data you need whether you’re in the office or at the jobsite. 

Plus, your CDE should consolidate the necessary documents and info in one place, so you can access documents submitted by various stakeholders without having to look in different places. This includes access to data from the design phase in construction and operations. For instance, built by the leader in design software, Autodesk Construction Cloud brings all project data starting in design into one common data environment. This includes model and asset data that can be used for design reviews and identify constructability issues and to also quickly begin building operations. 

Works with Your Tools and Workflows

No owner should have to wrangle with disparate platforms, which is why a CDE must work with your existing systems and procedures. Your common data environment should be able to connect with tools such as your CMMS, PMIS, or ERP systems and enable seamless workflows. 

Having a CDE that’s tightly integrated with your current systems results in better collaboration, ensuring that owners and team members are working from the same data and are on the same page at all times. 

Standardized and Scalable

A great CDE helps you standardize workflows so that all your procedures remain consistent across multiple projects. Whether you’re an owner with a small but growing portfolio or you’re already managing several projects and properties, having standardized and scalable systems will enable you to save time, increase productivity, and ultimately be more profitable. 

Prioritizes Data Security

Since your CDE collects, manages, and distributes all project information (most of which consist of confidential business documents and data), it must have tight security features. The CDE must comply with the latest standards and protocols. Ideally, it should come with multi-factor verification and enables integration with SSO authentication solutions. 

User permissions are also an important consideration. While owners should have the ability to access all project data, the CDE must be able to restrict access so other stakeholders can only view information relevant to them. 

Unify Your Building Lifecycle With Autodesk Construction Cloud

Autodesk Construction Cloud brings together all your construction project data, workflows, and teams into one common data environment. Serial building owners can rely on ACC to serve as a single source of truth and gain full visibility into the construction of their capital projects so you can facilitate data rich handover and operations.  

Thanks to Autodesk Construction Cloud, you can rest easy knowing that everything you need to build and run your facilities are at your fingertips. 

Request a demo of Autodesk Construction Cloud and see how you can use it to stay connected and in-the-know throughout every stage of construction.

Grace Ellis

Editor in Chief, Digital Builder Blog, Autodesk