Joined-up data needs joined-up CDEs?

Mature BIM use in future will increasingly require owners and their supply chains to share both legacy and real-time data about multiple assets. Being able to extract data held across multiple CDEs will be increasingly important. 

thinkBIMYesterday, I attended the final ThinkBIM conference of 2015 (“BIM outside the Building”, organised by Leeds Beckett University’s CKE); today, I’ve attended a Construct IT for Business conference in London on the “Future of BIM”. Before, during and after these events, I’ve also been talking to attendees (and tweeting to one or two others) about how the industry’s adoption of cloud-based common data environments (CDEs, a fundamental of BIM Level 2) will change as organisations look to share data drawn from multiple assets held on multiple CDEs.

BIM London Environment Agency slideThe Environment Agency’s Karen Alford spoke at both conferences, highlighting their use of Asite‘s platform as a CDE for their projects; Rob Jackson of architect Bond Bryan showed how his company has used the 4Projects platform (being rebranded ViewPoint for Projects) as their CDE; and in one of the ThinkBIM workshop sessions I heard Highways England’s David Owens talked about his frustrating experience trying to use multiple CDEs (this was developed further in a Twitter conversation this morning also including Shaun Farrell of Turner & Townsend).

A suggested basic requirement was the ability “to pass information from one system to another without needing to re-upload multiple times”. With clients sometimes specifying alternative CDEs, users can end up using multiple CDEs, none of which they can be expert in (“multiple systems equals lots of training every time and little opportunity to improve processes.”). Wouldn’t it be better, we discussed, if we could simply use our chosen system, and then (accepting relevant security provisions – the developing PAS1192-5 security standard was mentioned) be able to use its interface and tools to navigate to information held on other platforms?

From extranet integration to CDE connection

NCCTP new logoThis is a familiar suggestion. The concept of integrating different ‘extranets’ was something discussed at least 10 years ago when the Network of Construction Collaboration Technology Providers (now long-defunct) talked about having some common approaches, not just to construction information naming and numbering conventions (building on the Avanti principles that underpin BS1192:2007), but also extending to metadata describing workflows, reports, etc. The NCCTP objective then was to develop a common foundation to vendor platforms so that, if a vendor went bust, past and current projects held on that system could be easily recovered and set up with minimal fuss and business interruption on another vendor’s system.

BIM Level 3 Technical infrastructure - Mark BewViewpoint’s Ben Wallbank spoke at today’s London event, and included a brief mention of his company’s involvement in an Innovate UK-funded project to help project teams share information “tier2tier” (see 4Projects to develop ‘satellite’ CDEs). I understand this project still has another year to run, being mainly focused on small constellations of CDEs. I asked Ben about when we might, for example, be able to use our favoured CDE (hosted by Conject, say) to connect to and access legacy or real-time data held on, say, a Viewpoint-hosted CDE. He felt it might be 10 years before this became possible.

Part of his justification was an explanation of the importance of PAS1192-5 given earlier by UK BIM Task Force chair Mark Bew. Talking about Level 3 BIM, Mark had highlighted the importance of protecting the security and provenance of data, so that only authorised users could access relevant information. However, such an apparently simple idea would, he said, require significant changes to construction contracts, to intellectual property arrangements, and even banking processes (providing ways for the IP owners to micro-charge for reuse of their data by other users, if required). And all this in addition to the software development challenges…..

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    • Steve Eglinton on 3 December 2015 at 8:08 pm

    Sounds like data integration solutions for CDEs is in demand. Good job we have one: In my opinion very limited value will be gained if a ‘CDE’ is one project – I’m focused on the real whole life management of assets, and their data.

  1. hi Paul. Good discussion!!

    Just wanted to add to Bens comments on our T2T project. This investment is targeted at how a T1 will engage more effectively with T2+ using the same CDE provider ie Viewpoint for Projects through the PAS1192 information stages (Wip, Share, Publish).

    Im guessing Sean F’s comments were more about moving data between CDE vendor solutions?

    I lived through the whole NCCTP thing and there were logical reasons for why that failed at that time, namely lack of API, interoperable file formats or data schema and a lack of desire to really make it work by the software vendors of the day.

    Thankfully – Things have changed a lot since then, thanks in part to the industry waking up to what L2BIM really means.

    API is not optional for CDE vendors any longer. CDE’s are the “bit in the middle” between an organisations in house tech stack and their supply chain/supply chains teck stack. An open API is essential if CDE vendors what to make everyone’s life easier and empower the supply chain to use specialist software solutions for specialist tasks and then distribute/consume data quickly and easily with their colleagues and supply chain per group.

    We talk a lot about “silos” of data. At Viewpoint (4Projects) We have and will continue to invest very heavily in our API to enable our customers to integrate our offering into their teck stack. We developed our own .rvt plug in a while back and there are some great examples of our customer base using our API to integrate what we offer into their overall technical strategy.

    In short, it is very logical that project teams that use CDE’s will want to quickly and easily move data between solutions. That’s pretty simple today if your CDE supplier has a decent API and you just need to move some drawings or documents. The future however is much more exciting and I suspect that we shall see the ability for CDEs to help project teams federate IFC data and integrate into their wider tech strategy will be much higher up the technical requirements list than today.

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