The key goal of the ISO 19650 series of standards (former BS/PAS 1192) is to help the construction industry to create and maintain structured repositories of information needed for making decisions during the whole life cycle of a built environment asset. Common Data Environment (CDE) is one of the cornerstones of the Standard which should help facilitate collaborative production of information for these repositories. As a result, many software companies promote their products to be the ultimate CDE solution which will make your project ISO 19650 compliant.

From unstructured data exchange to single CDE

Figure 1: From unstructured data exchange to single CDE

But hold on. What does the Standard actually say? It states, at the very beginning, that it should be applied in a way that is proportionate and appropriate to the scale and complexity of the asset or project. The ultimate CDE solutions tend to be expensive and you need to run them at least for the time you are involved in the project. The UK appendix and guideline to the Standard suggests, that you should analyse your needs first and choose the right CDE, which might not necessarily be a single piece of software.

Using multiple technological solutions allows you to build a distributed CDE where various functions of your CDE are provided by different solutions. Distributed systems are by their nature more versatile, flexible and resilient because there are fewer single points of failure. The disadvantages are that more effort might be needed to set up such an environment and run it.

Generic distributed CDE using several solutions as its components

Figure 2: Generic distributed CDE using several solutions as its components

The very base function of any CDE is essentially one of document management. While document management might be very complex, in the minimal form it might just be a file sharing solution. With most of the CDE providers you get a reasonable amount of storage space for free and you always get some level of control over the sharing and visibility of the content.

To achieve any level of collaborative production of information, you need to communicate with other people on the project. To be able to reuse the information in the process, it makes sense to maintain most of it as a structured data in BIM models. And then, it just makes sense to use these models for the communication itself, because that is why you create these models in first place. Graphical representation of the building is a language in its own right, but you need to use actual language to communicate various aspects of the design and to ask the right questions. And the best solution is to keep it all in the context of the building itself.

This is why we designed the xbim Flex application. It allows people to communicate in a stable context of the building and to use all of the context from the authoring tool. With stored views and rich message content, it is possible to bring everything in and use it for a simple but unambiguous communication. It has support for some of the most common file sharing providers to allow for easy referencing from these sources. So, you don’t need to search twice or re-upload the files. As well, xbim Flex deep links can be stored in file sharing solutions as a container cross-reference. Using this bi-directional linking integration makes it the perfect fit for use with one of the many possible distributed CDE configurations. It also plays nice with any established CDE as a complementary communication tool to ensure the communication is focused on the building.

Figure 3: Distributed CDE using file sharing service(s) and xbim flex for communication and model sharing

This is obviously only one of many possible configurations. You can choose more specialised document management systems with more document specific workflows. You can choose other tools to facilitate the communication (like email). You can use external workflow services to automate tasks and to enforce rules across your CDE. There is a whole world of choices when it comes to the set-up of your next project CDE. At the end of the day, it is your project and your choice.