The Common Data Environment: the digital space where BIM data flows

Combining a collaborative process with enabling technology tools, the CDE brings about the opportunity to work from the most recent information or single source of truth, delivering production information right the first time.– Stefan Mordue

Stefan Mordue, co-author of BIM for Dummies, architect and consultant at NBS Business Solutions, offers his guide to setting up and using a Common Data Environment, in the latest article in a series explaining BIM topics from first principles.

The Common Data Environment (CDE) is simply a digital place in which the information comes together. With vast amounts of digital data being created and shared during a project’s lifecycle, the CDE becomes an ideal environment in which to promote a collaborative working culture.

It should be the foundation from which you facilitate, manage and disseminate data and project information between multi-disciplined teams in a managed process throughout the project lifecycle.

A place for everything

The CDE is not just for a place to share geometric information. Other information such as registers, schedules, contracts, reports and model information is all shared, building on the concept of a “federated” model by bringing everyone’s information together in a virtual space.

PAS 1192:2 states that for the avoidance of doubt all project information, whether in BIM environments or in conventional data formats, should be shared using a single collaborative data environment.

Establishing the CDE should be a main software priority within your organisation. It could take the form of a project server, an extranet or a file-based retrieval system, but the thing to note is that it is digital.

Document and data management systems solutions range in price and functionality. While some file management systems such as DropBox offer a “freemium” service, they may not be PAS 1192:2 and BS 1192 compliant. Other CDE solutions may include features such as document control, instant messaging and the ability to mark up and review model files directly within the CDE.

Working in the cloud

If you think about a bank or building society, they protect the customer’s privacy but at the same time provide a service that is both reliable and secure. On-demand, web-based, hosted, pay-as-you-go services, more commonly known as software-as-a-service vendors (SaaS), have developed over the years as cloud storage, processing and internet speeds have increased. The term SaaS did not become popular until the 2000s, before which it was referred to as Application Service Provision (ASP).

These collaboration platforms date back to the late1990s, and work by giving you access to software or an application via the internet which runs on the SaaS provider’s server. Gone are the days of slow dial up internet connections and expensive storage. With 4G connections and inexpensive secure cloud storage, SaaS vendors are offering CDE solutions to support the government BIM Level 2 mandate.

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As they are web based, there is usually no software to install or costly IT infrastructure to purchase. Many readers will remember when you had to rely on the postal service when sending or receiving information, which traditionally was a costly and time-consuming process, but uploading or downloading information is almost instant. In a global world, team members can participate from anywhere in the world (with an internet connection).


The Avanti project, established by the UK Department of Trade and Industry in 2002, demonstrated that significant advantages, namely efficiency and cost savings, can be derived by working in a collaborative way. Since then, significant savings have been confirmed and demonstrated through the use of BIM trial projects such as HMYOI Cookham Wood.

Combining a collaborative process with enabling technology tools, the CDE brings about the opportunity to work from the most recent information or single source of truth, delivering production information right the first time. Shared information reduces times and cost by providing coordinated data, while the project team can generate multiple documents or views from different combinations of the central model files.


PAS 1192:2 and PAS 1192:3 provide guidance on the framework for how a CDE works, with BS 1192:2007+A1:2015 and Building Information Management – A Standard Framework and Guide to BS 1192 giving detail on the delivery process.

BS 1192 describes the four distinct phases of a CDE, which are Work in Progress (WIP); Shared; Published Documentation; and Archive. It also gives details on naming, numbering and identification of all data that is held in the CDE. Furthermore, BS 1192 has been made free to the industry as a digital download via the BSI website.

It is important to note, however, that many of existing issues surrounding process still remain. For example, questions arise around model ownership, intellectual property, security of sensitive data and information and getting everyone involved from the outset.

Ownership still remains with the originator. It is only the originator that can change, alter or update it, and it still relies on an old fashioned conversation between the different parties as to what course of action to take.

As the use of digital data increases, so does the threat of cyber security. To ensure that information is safe and secure, you should follow the principles set out in PAS 1192:5 and be mindful that sensitive projects and information will require a strict policy to be implemented regarding access and permissions.

Who pays?

There is some debate around who should pay for the CDE. A key task is to establish and clarify from the outset if the CDE is to be owned by the client, and whether it forms part of the overall project and whole-life costs of the project. At the end of the construction phase, the CDE is a useful tool for the client to base future decisions and learn from that will benefit future ongoing Post-Occupancy Evaluation (POE).

The Asset Information Model (AIM) is a product of the CDE only when information has been passed to the published area. A key role for the Information Manager  – a role defined in the CIC BIM Protocol – will be in the setting up and managing of the CDE.

The CIC Outline Scope of Services for Information Management suggests tasks such as establishing, agreeing and implementing the information structure and maintenance standards for the information model as well as receiving and maintaining information to meet integrity and security standards that are set out within the Employer’s Information Requirements.

Where processes and procedures do not conform, it is up to the Information Manager to advise the project team of non-compliance. Depending upon the scope of works, the information manager may be required to provide services to host the CDE.

ISO/TS 8000-150 states that a data manager should have the responsibility for accepting information into the shared area of the CDE, and for authorising it to the published area. This role may be shared between more than one person, depending upon the size and complexity of the project.

BIM for Dummies, published by Wiley, and co-authored by David Philp (@ThePhilpster), Stefan Mordue and Paul Swaddle (@paul_swaddle), is available now via RIBA Bookshop.

Follow the author on Twitter @StefanMordue

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