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Sharing The Digital Space

BY: David Philp, global BIM/ MIC consultancy director at Aecom


Construction is seen by many commentators as slow to adopt technology innovations. The past decade, however, has seen the information economy rapidly transform every facet of the way we live and work. It is crucial that construction grasps this digital opportunity if we are to solve current productivity and sustainability challenges facing the sector globally. 

It is forecast that over the next decade, existing technologies such as BIM will converge with the internet of things (IoT), which provides sensors and other dynamic information, as well as geographic information systems, advanced manufacturing and data analytics. 

The combination of these constructs and integrated data sets will enable effective planning of new investments, assemble assets faster and most importantly operate and maintain them much more efficiently. 

Digital will enable us to make better use of the built assets we already have, with linked data supporting performance and experience.

At the foundation of this change is well managed and secure information.

This information ultimately enables project, and increasingly programme teams, to collaborate and work more efficiently. Additionally, those who own and operate built assets are using information to create and leverage a digital estate across their portfolio. 

Supporting this transformation has been the use of common data environment (CDE) technologies and workflows, which supports the sharing and coordination of information using clearly defined operating procedures for a consistent approach. 

At Aecom, we have at any given time thousands of people collaborating in our cloud based CDE on models and project data for hundreds of projects, representing billions of dollars in construction. Our CDE has generally two key fundamental objectives: 

  1. Ensures all approved users on aproject have access to up-to-date,reliable information in a structured and easily accessible format about a bui
    lt asset: single source of truth;
  2. Supports the management, creation,assurance, sharing,dissemination and coordination of information generated during any design, construction or maintenance activities  

Increasingly, information models are being developed across the project lifecycle within the security of the CDE. This essentially has two distinct states as illustrated in figure 1. 

We recommended that the client (as the appointing party), and consistent with international standards, shall establish the project’s CDE to serve the overall requirements of the project and to support the collaborative production of information. 

In certain cases, the client will appoint a third party such as the lead designer or contractor to provide and host the PIM CDE on their behalf for sharing and publication of project information (note: work in progress, uncoordinated information, is often still hosted within organisations such as design teams own server environments). The AIM CDE is generally established by the asset owner at an organisational and strategic level. 

It is recommended that the appointing party defines the CDE’s functional and non-functional requirements specification as early as possible. 



It is most likely that where an AIM CDE is being procured, there will also be an element of integration with other enterprise systems such as an asset register or computer assisted facilities management systems (CAFM).  

Additionally, some more mature clients are using the CDE as means of supporting digital twinning and connecting a digital representation of an asset to a unified operational layer within the CDE. This layer may include data from sensors, building management systems, SCADA etc. 

It is important that while determining an integration strategy, consideration is given to what key decisions each person in the client’s organisation needs to make as they navigate a typical life cycle pathway, and what data and information they need to support their evaluations. It is also important to understand how different persons interact and what collective decisions they may make as this might be answered by unified data sets. 

Prior to CDE being established, especially the AIM CDE, the benefits must be clearly articulated to any provider. Typically, these include: 


During design and construction stages

 Greater reliability of information and reduced risk; 

 More efficient (semi-automated) processes and workflows with the creation and management of information; 

 Reducing time and effort required to check, version and reissue information; 

 Reducing time and cost of producing coordinated information; 

 Improved collaboration and outcomes including BIM viewing and reviewing within the CDE 


During operational stage

 Saves time required to transfer accurate and complete information from construction to operational stages; 

 Improved accessibility to relevant and reliable information in the event of an asset failure or trigger event; 

 Improved estate planning, procurement and maintenance; and 

 Improved analysis cross portfolio benchmarking of built assets  

 The CDE and a robust information management system is therefore the foundation to any modern construction organisation. However, there are often challenges which should be addressed including: 

 Multiple CDEs within a project causing confusion; 

 CDE not properly specified as part of a tender or commission; 

 Multiple tendering vendors with varying technical offerings which make tender comparison challenging; 

 Poor information management processes to support the technology; 

 Lack of information managers to manage and curate the CDE; 

 Poor consideration of security; 

 No AIM CDE for the information to transfer to at handover; and 

 Compatibility and integration with other asset management systems and databases within an organisation 

 The more we collect accurate and secure information about our projects and assets, the better we can create and maintain them. The real value is derived in how we share it and use it. We will increasingly see sharing of information not just across projects, but across organisations and sectors as new ontologies emerge along with greater insights through high performing computing and advanced data analytics. 



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