Thinking about BIM, SaaS and the Common Data Environment

A lengthy Twitter conversation last night and this morning has got me thinking about the Common Data Environment (CDE), BIM and the role of the various Software-as-a-Service collaboration vendors that operate in the architecture, engineering and construction space.

Common Data Environment

As many readers may know, the UK government has mandated building information modelling for public sector projects. By 2016, designers, contractors, subcontractors, suppliers and other project team members working on public sector projects will need to achieve ‘Level 2’ BIM. This means, according to a 2011 BIM Strategy Working Party report (PDF here), using collaboration platforms – eg: 4Projects, Asite, Conject, etc – as a “data management server” (since described as the CDE) to share data between multiple ‘federated’ models, with 4D construction sequencing and/or 5D cost information in linked repositories.

Since 2011, the BIM Task Group has coordinated industry efforts to create structures and methodologies to accommodate BIM. Earlier this year, on 28 February, the British Standards Institution published PAS 1192-2 which provides guidance on how the CDE might work, but other process issues remain, such as ownership of the model or data, intellectual property, commercially sensitive information, risk and insurance, contract forms, early involvement of supply chains, etc. Last night’s Twitter conversation saw some debate about who should pay for the system and how it should be managed.

CDE: taking online collaboration to BIM and beyond

CDE conversation on TwitterI have long held that SaaS-based platforms are the natural home for BIM data. However, at the moment, much of the BIM debate is focused on the design and construction phases, and less on the data requirements of the ultimate owner or operator of the built assets. But the Twitter conversation (like the ground-breaking discussions about BIM, FM and Government Soft Landings at ThinkBIM in Leeds in July 2012 and July 2013) included contributions from a facilities management perspective. For, once clients begin to benefit from the collation and re-use of data, and the addition of complementary information gained through asset operation, they will – I hope – quickly begin to insist on the use of a CDE to manage any future project(s) they procure.

OK, there are limits to the amount of detail that can be included in tweets, but a lot of useful points emerged. QS Dave Monswhite, for example, said the CDE should be in the business case or cost plan: “It’s a project cost, like design fees”.

Kath Fontana, MD of BAM FM, and BIM manager Olly Thomas, took up the theme of using the employer’s information requirements (EIR) as a starting point, but asked “who pays for the CDE?”. I jumped in and likened the CDE to current use of collaboration platforms: “Client ends up paying … either directly or indirectly [so] make CDE explicitly client owned.” Making information an indivisible part of the built asset is in the client’s best interest, particularly when it can feed data to future briefs, and become part of a “whole life cost” solution, enabling continuous post-occupancy evaluation.

A recurring theme in the Twitter conversation was the need to promote a collaborative culture to enable BIM to work, and how some project team members might be reluctant to take the risk of managing the CDE (thanks, Matt McCarter). I again took the example of SaaS collaboration vendors – their customers (contractors, clients, consultants, etc) transfer that risk to them as they are specialists in providing online data management services, with service level agreements in place to cover uptime, reliability, etc. This avoids budget silos, I said, as the third party SaaS vendors are trusted experts sitting outside the traditional project team (I also mentioned integrated project insurance as one way in which teams could be incentivised through gain/pain sharing mechanisms to collaborate and think in the client’s best long-term interests).

SaaS and CDE

2016 is now just over two years away and some SaaS vendors are moving more quickly than others towards supporting the CDE requirement. I have talked about 4Projects’ 4BIM initiative several times (eg: April 2013); Asite has long pushed its cBIM capabilities; Aconex’s CEO Leigh Jasper is talking about BIM as a key trend for 2014; and Conject is now blogging about its BIM plans too. I’m looking forward to hearing more from all of these vendors (and others!) about how they will be providing CDEs to support clients and their project team’s long-term data requirements.

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  1. Great blog Paul. It is heartening to see that other SaaS providers are starting to develop and market BIM capabilities. As you rightly point out, the concept of the CDE and the PAS 1192-2 standard that we developed at BSI makes the most sense when deployed as an independent service offering to the project. In today’s market this is a role filled by specialist SaaS providers and, as you know, we contract with clients and with contractors to not only provide technology but to provide services and process improvement which are designed to promote a collaborative culture in project teams.

    There are institutional owners and owner/operators who are today mandating the use of SaaS collaboration platforms as the CDE across their project portfolios. Since we launched Adoddle cBIM in 2006 as the the only open cloud-based model server which has moved beyond the file-based paradigm, we are now in a position to help teams running project portfolios get right to the top (Level 4) of the BIM-ramp. We should catch up on this soon.

  2. Thanks, Nathan

    But “level 4”??? Forgive me if I’m wrong, but we aren’t yet close to agreeing what Level 3 will look like compliance-wise, let alone thinking about Level 4 (whatever that is).

    A catch-up is long overdue – drop me a line and let’s agree a date.

    Best wishes – Paul

    1. Forgiven Paul! I will certainly drop you a line and look forward to catching up in some detail.

      All the best,

  3. Paul

    It’s refreshing to hear this message is starting to penetrate the ‘BIM Wash’. SaaS based collaborative solutions are the natural home of the CDE. PAS1192:2 isn’t just another BIM document, it is a genuine effort to address some of the fundamental issues of controlling information through the project life-cycle. Everybody involved in delivering projects should not only read PAS1192:2 but actively promote it’s contents.

    Thanks for fighting the corner for better collaboration in construction.

    Kind Regards

    John Adams

  1. […] collaboration systems (4Projects, Asite, etc) to provide the required common data environment (CDE; post), it delivers some functionality promised in August: what it describes as “first stage […]

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