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How a Common Data Environment Helps Construction Teams Increase Collaboration and Reduce Risk

Major construction projects come with major data challenges. Not only is there the sheer volume of data to corral, but there are also many different teams each using their own technology tools, most of which don’t communicate seamlessly. As a result, manual data sharing is common, requiring valuable time and resources that could be spent on more productive tasks, and leading to errors and omissions that trigger design changes and rework. 

With the pandemic accelerating the disruption of the construction sector, construction stakeholders need a better way to collect and consolidate data from various systems. By providing a unified view and single source of truth about each project, a common data environment (CDE) can help you rise to the challenges of growing sustainability pressures, tighter budget constraints, and labor shortages. Centralized and consolidated project information can be the catalyst that helps you realize improvements like:

  • Minimizing rework and RFIs
  • Using materials and equipment more efficiently
  • Reducing overall project risk

Using a CDE also enables digital project delivery, which is used to produce models for visualization, collect 3D survey data, create contract plan-sheets, record as-built data, and develop digital twins. A digital-twin is an accurate, up-to-date 3D model of an asset. Having a data-rich, accurate representation enables project stakeholders to monitor construction progress and manage resources more effectively. Post-construction, digital twins provide owners with insight into the design and construction decisions behind the asset. Sensors continually record information on utilization, weather, occupancy rates, and more, which is fed back into the digital twin. With this comprehensive data collected throughout the life cycle of the asset, owners can simplify and optimize maintenance and operations. 

How a Common Data Environment Increases Construction Data Collection and Sharing

A CDE hosts all data related to a construction project. A cloud-based platform, the CDE is accessible from a range of devices, including computers, mobile phones, tablets, and machines in the field. Project stakeholders can access BIM models, contract documents, estimates, work plans and reports from anywhere, as well as granular data like installation details and materials specifications.

The CDE is also vital to achieving better outcomes with BIM. Currently, most AEC firms use BIM primarily for design, leaving much of the potential value for improving project delivery  unused and teams still operating in silos. According to the JB Knowledge 2020 Construction Technology Report, the primary uses for BIM in the U.S. are coordination/clash detection and visualization. Firms are much less likely to use BIM for functions like estimating, takeoffs, and scheduling, meaning that duplication and manual data sharing are still all too common.

However, in the UK, where a government mandate has fueled broader adoption of BIM, AEC firms are starting to realize its true potential. In an analysis of multiple case studies, KPMG found that broader adoption of information management across the construction lifecycle could generate significant cost savings and productivity gains. 

For every £1 invested in broader adoption of information modeling, UK owners may see £5.10-£6.00 in direct labor productivity gains and £6.90-£7.40 in direct cost savings.

Source: “The value of Information Management in the construction and infrastructure sector,” KPMG

BIM helps stakeholders share information across construction disciplines. They can leverage the model to capture and retrieve data throughout all phases of the project, not just design. BIM becomes a shared source of truth for the various design professionals, engineers, contractors, specialists, and owner stakeholders involved in the project. With a CDE providing centralized access to accurate project data, multi-disciplinary teams improve collaboration, reduce waste and rework, and can share data with owners to inform ongoing management and maintenance projects. 

Five Ways to Maximize the Value of a CDE

A CDE is a powerful tool, but it has to be set up and used properly to truly reap its benefits. Implement the following best practices to ensure that you leverage your CDE to reduce errors, waste, and miscommunication.

1. Make the Right Data Accessible at the Right Time

With all project data centralized, it’s important to prevent the confusion that can arise from sharing project data too early or too late in the process. For example, if a contractor is granted access to a model before it’s ready for handoff, they may start their design review with inaccurate data, wasting valuable time and causing confusion between teams. Ideally, the CDE allows for project managers to segment users into groups and control which information those groups can access, when, and how they can interact with it. Throughout the course of the project, user groups can be added or removed, based on their involvement in each phase. 

2. Streamline Workflows with Automation

A CDE can do more than passively host data. Using a solution that supports application programming interfaces (APIs) allows you to connect the CDE with a wide variety of systems, such as ERPs and document management tools. You can use that connectivity to improve accuracy and efficiency by automating processes between systems. For example, an automated workflow between the CDE and ERP can trigger payments to surveyors once they insert certain documents within the CDE. An added benefit of the API connectors is that they make your CDE scalable. As you implement new technology, such as machine control output from field work can be tracked to automate reporting and administrative work. 

3. Ensure Data Integrity with One-to-One Mapping

With multiple systems from various technology providers feeding and extracting data from the CDE, it’s possible to lose some data integrity. The right CDE will maintain the quality of your data, no matter which programs various stakeholders use. It will offer one-to-one data mapping, which is the process of matching fields between systems without stripping or editing data.

4. Prevent Data Clutter

Having a single source of truth can easily cause data overload, where users struggle to find the information that’s most relevant to them. During the implementation process, configure your CDE to capture the data that is most useful to the teams involved. For instance, you can customize your property sets within the CDE to only include the inputs needed to build the initial model. The system allows you to use customized fields and attributes to provide guardrails for the information that users can enter, ultimately reducing errors and visual clutter.

See how data configuration works in Trimble Quadri.

5. Use a CDE that Supports Open Standards

AEC teams use dozens of technology products on any given project, most of which aren’t built to share data between one another. But a CDE that treats all data equally facilitates the sharing and exchange of data. Support for open standards also eliminates the risks that come with manual data entry and poor data integrity. You can share information between any tool without losing or corrupting data, making the project truly software agnostic. Individual teams can collaborate seamlessly while using the technology that works best for their needs and budget. 

How the Right CDE Can Help You Reduce Risk, Increase Productivity, and Improve Data Analysis

Selecting the right CDE is key to harnessing the benefits of data portability and access. Many tools are capable of performing the basic functions of a CDE but they often lack the sophistication needed to make meaningful progress in improving construction outcomes. CDEs should enable teams to send and receive data bidirectionally, view and interact with project models, and improve their data analysis capabilities. Otherwise, they can’t fully realize the benefits of the CDE or their BIM processes. 

Driving Constructibility with Trimble Connect

Teams working on construction projects of all kinds use Trimble Connect as their CDE, plus much more. In addition to integrating with a variety of Trimble products and third party applications, Connect allows all users to view project information and data-rich models in real time. Stakeholders can also assign and review tasks, monitor activity, and automate versioning so users always know they’re viewing the latest documents. These features set the foundation for the Constructible Process, an approach that connects all phases and trades of a project to reduce risk. 

See how the Constructible Process drives efficiencies throughout the construction lifecycle.

Connect’s integrations enable designers to composite multiple models regardless of the software used to create them. Instead of exporting the model from the designer’s software into their own system — and struggling to overcome the version control and data loss issues that come with it — Connect makes it possible to review the exact same file uploaded by the design team. With the Sync Tool, users can automate the bidirectional flow of data from their local servers to Connect, eliminating the need for manual uploads. Users can view the model in Connect to perform clash detection, evaluate constructibility, and complete design reviews with greater confidence.

Contractors can also use Connect to determine project phasing. For example, if the foundation for retaining bowls needs to be poured during the first phase of a project, the concrete contractor can access the exact information they need from Connect, perform the task, and log any relevant data and files back in the system. 

Real-Time Data Sharing in Connect Drives Better Efficiency and Value

Betset Group is one of Finland’s largest prefabrication providers, and like many construction stakeholders, they used to rely on email, 2D plans, and Excel files to share information. Then they decided to link Tekla Structures, which they use for structural precast design and detailing, with Trimble Connect. That connection allowed them to set up an integration that feeds cast unit information and plans directly from the model into their ERP. Using the Status Sharing Tool and APIs, Tekla models are pushed to Connect and production statuses from the ERP are automatically updated to the model. 

Designers can review revisions in real time, see the status of production, and make comments or reject the revision all within Connect. Jobsite crews can also view the precast design and production status within Connect. They can plan erection sequences and record when tasks are complete in the system, helping them realize additional time savings. Read more >> 

“By providing site teams with [design information and production statuses], they have significantly streamlined their processes and ensured that their projects have stayed on schedule.”

––Markku Räisänen, Head Designer, Betset

Streamlining Data Management on Civil Projects with Trimble Quadri

For complex infrastructure projects, Trimble Quadri takes the capabilities of a CDE even further by enabling the bidirectional flow of data directly between the model and your internal systems. Whereas Connect hosts project data within a filing system, Quadri is object-based. All information is appended to the model, which is updated continuously throughout the project –– there are no versions to manage. To drive productivity, Quadri is built around a task-based approach, enabling teams to manage their entire BIM execution plan within the system. Users are prompted to complete tasks which will contribute to the overall completion of the model. 

Watch on Demand: See how designers, contractors, and project owners are using Trimble Quadri to break down silos on civil construction projects. 

With data flowing openly, Quadri users gain an automated data aggregator. Machine control information, surveying data, and photogrammetry information is constantly being fed back into the model, automating the collection of data that can then be used to create a digital as-built, The as-built data can also be used in the operational phase of the asset when maintenance and repairs are needed. Utilities information, for instance, is stored in the context of the model. That as-built data can be fed into the digital twin to create a more complete data set for asset owners to use. 

Quick Read: Download the one-minute white paper to learn more about using BIM collaboration to deliver better infrastructure projects. 

Using Trimble Quadri to Save Time and Achieve Level 3 BIM

Duna Aszfalt Zrt is one of Hungary’s largest contractors, and the company relies on a large number of technology tools. To improve workflows between those tools and achieve Level 3 BIM, they implemented Trimble Quadri and Novapoint. After a quick implementation, the team has used Quadri to generate a 3D model built with tools from multiple vendors. The comprehensive model allows them to efficiently produce machine control data –– reducing the time by roughly 75% when compared to traditional processes.

“We have improved the analysis of technical challenges in the field, so we address them early [before] they cause any problems at the construction phase. And that is valuable because we avoid stops in the production.”

––Karolina Tiszavölgyi, Head of Surveying, and
Ervin Bakos, Head of the Design and Modeling at Duna Aszfalt 

To read more about how Duna Aszfalt and other leading AEC firms are using CDEs to improve project delivery, read the case studies

Close Data Gaps with Connected Construction

Whether used on their own or together, Trimble Quadri and Trimble Connect give AEC professionals the data they need when they need it. When everyone has access to accurate, up-to-date project information, they can:

  • Plan and coordinate workflows
  • Identify potential design issues before ground is broken
  • Minimize miscommunication
  • Automate processes to increase productivity
  • Reduce waste and rework
  • Improve budget and schedule compliance

This approach, known as Connected Construction, breaks down the silos separating project stakeholders so they can work collaboratively towards a shared end goal. To learn more about how to implement Connected Construction in your organization, read The AEC Professional’s Essential Guide to Connected Construction.