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Choosing The Right CDE

By Nilesh Varu, Associate at Amodal

When choosing the right CDE (common data environment) it can be difficult to see the wood through the trees. Nilesh Varu, Associate at Amodal gives clear insight into the top considerations to make when searching for a CDE that complements your business’s needs.

I’ve worked with CDEs for just over 15 years so I have a reasonably solid understanding and awareness of what makes a standout system. As I have had exposure to different applications, I’ve seen various and significant changes in the marketplace certainly around standardisation and BIM. When I started out in the early nineties, BIM as we know it today wasn’t around. Standardisation has also evolved. In terms of naming documents, there wasn’t a consistent approach per se; all people wanted to know was how to find the information, who uploaded it and why it was needed.

But times have changed radically and so has the demand for CDEs. Projects now require far larger amounts of data. It’s why my first consideration when choosing the right CDE is standardisation. Whichever CDE is adopted, it is crucial for it to be in line with the ISO standards. The ISO 19650 suite provides an important framework for information management, and offers principles and requirements that can be used to define consistent approaches.

Standardisation is vital on construction projects. Everyone has to be singing from the same hymn sheet for things to work, and standardisation puts you on good footing to achieve this clarity. The key thing to bear in mind here is that every CDE has to have the capabilities to enforce these parameters within the system.

You also need to understand workflow processes too, which have to be in line with UK standards and go hand in hand with documentation. Highlighting the processes that will be followed within a common data environment is fundamental.

CDEs must have a forms element too. Forms, including RFIs (requests for information), are important vessels to capture information. You can have transmittal and submittal forms, and technical requests for information. Change management has their own specific change forms that denote a process.

Many CDES will offer these. The element which gives extra depth however, is configurability within these forms. If I wanted a form for a process that was quite obscure, can the software give me this flexibility to do more? Is there scope, or are there too many system limitations? If it’s the latter, tread with caution as it can be a huge drawback.

Whilst a CDE is a single entity, in some cases it can be beneficial for it to communicate with other systems. In order to achieve this, APIs and integration are key enablers which offer an interface or meeting point between a CDE and another system. This added layer gives you improved access so you can have the best of both worlds. 

In amongst all the data being generated and exchanged between different parties, reporting plays a key part in bringing all this data together. It allows the project teams to really get to grips with where they are with the submissions of crucial documents, drawings and also any forms that may be used to: manage change; exchange any queries in the from of RFIs; and change and contract management by way of using NEC Contract to name a few.

Having the ability to interrogate this date and produce meaningful reports to identify pinch points through the life of the project is instrumental.

With all the data that is stored on a CDE, it is key to have traceability and transparency. You need to know why things have been approved or rejected. Any shortcomings or mistakes must be addressed to keep the project on an efficient trajectory. It is why insight reporting pays in dividends, streamlining delivery and enabling you to make changes when needed.

Although transparency is essential, hosted information has to be stored safely. Where will data be held? Is it safe? Is there a disaster recovery plan? These are a couple of useful questions to begin with. Data is gold matter; therefore, security is an absolute must on all projects particularly confidential ones. Data has to be kept in the right hands.

When choosing the right CDE it is very natural to get swept up and taken by all the technology’s bells and whistles. Cost and reliability are real buzzwords when we talk about CDEs, but what about the people in the business that are going to make it happen? People are resistant to change, meaning that when you adopt a CDE, they need to be brought onboard fully. With any CDE, staff have to be trained and supported continuously for it to work.

Having a good support mechanism to all users of a CDE will enhance all the aspects mentioned.  A comprehensive helpdesk is a start, but the communication between the CDE Consultants, Project Information Managers, Success Managers & Sales Teams really aids that constant momentum to help address the needs of the users, the project manages, clients and stakeholders.

There are many factors to consider when choosing the right CDE. But the top areas to keep at the forefront of your mind are standardisation, security, people and configurability. These are the key elements that you’ll need in order to take your CDE to the next level. 

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