Common Data Environments

How much information should we share?

One aspect of BIM level 2 is to provide a common data environment. Common data environments are not the exclusive preserve of BIM and, as the name suggests, refer to the management of data.


In the context of the government target for BIM level 2, the common data environment is specified by the employer in the Employer's information Requirements.[1] It is also clear that the data referred to is largely, albeit not exclusively, concerned with the physical asset and decisions the employer has to make during the lifecycle of the facility.[2]  Even given that context the information gathered may contain cost or programming information and so it does not relate solely to the geometry of an asset or information about the asset. It also can include the information about the construction process. 


It is also clear from the implementation of BIM in practice that the tier one contractors are very interested in using data to better manage the construction process.  The software industry has not been slow to respond to this. In the past few months there have been numerous presentations by tier 1 contractors and multi-discipline industry players on the use of common data environment methods to capture and link data. The purpose of the data is to manage the construction phase as much as to produce information that will be handed on to the employer for the on-going management of the facility.[3]


The new construction record processes include generating and storing many of the traditional construction records in forms tagged and attached to a BIM model. Software originally developed for generating RFIs or snagging is now being modified to be interoperable with modelling software.  For the contractors of today snagging may be done by pointing a tablet at a feature that will generate a form tagged to a location or asset. Progress records can also be generated. Often this is information that is used to manage the supply chain but whatever its purpose it will now form part of the record of the construction phase.


Models are also being linked to programming software to generate 3D visualisations to model construction sequencing and clash detection. Versions of models may be updated but still contain their own history.


Most of the information recorded by tablet is date and location specific.  In addition to capturing the construction information models also retain the design development history. Models can be audited and interrogated for their data history.


In one sense none of this is new. Contractors have always kept records, design development is recorded through variations and contractors have planned their works.  When it comes to software, we are used to using software tools to present the comparison of as planned and as constructed programmes. We are used to the need for records to evidence the facts we assert.


But will BIM take us further?


A phrase which is embedded in the philosophy of BIM2 is the idea of "one source of truth". The phrase reflects the need for those collaborating to use reliable information. It is also understood in the industry that for collaborative contracting and risk management that transparency of information is important. However the reality can be very different. It is common practice in the industry where a party sees it as being in its own commercial interest to use information in a very non-collaborative "need to know" basis or to hide information.


It is difficult to see that we will change the existing dynamic and at present there will be a division between those records that the contractor requires to be kept and provided for its own purposes and the data which an employer may ask to be kept in the common data environment.  But as our ability to tag materials, plant and possibly people[4] increases, is there any reason why a record should not be kept and included in the common data environment?


If the source of data is reliable and data is readily available it may be that we can reduce the inconsistency of records and absence of records that often prevents us from establishing a clear and agreed picture of events when problems arise.


When specifying common data environments employers will now have to consider access to and ownership of data.  Employers can set the limits of the data to be included in the common data environment.[5]  The idea of huge amounts of records being transferred around the  supply chain that may never be relevant to anything seems mad but if these records are held in a truly common data environment with access granted to all of the project records the challenge is no longer a practical one but a commercial one. 


Is it too far-fetched to imagine a time when the record of a project is held in a common data environment with access being granted to any party to the project and any tribunal asked to resolve a dispute?  Could we start from one source of truth held in the common data environment and concentrate on resolving the liability and quantum issues from a common base?


For one off smaller projects using small tier 1 contractors then this information may not be captured. But if larger tier 1 contractors introduce these practices as standard to their method of construction and require their supply chain to follow them, the availability of data will become much more common and the question of who should have access to it and how it can be used in a dispute context will be a real question for the industry.


[1] A document included in the tender and contract documents setting out the Employer's requirements in terms of the BIM process.

[2] Common data environment is defined in PAS 1192-2:2103 as " Single source of information for any given project, used to collect, manage and disseminate all relevant approved project documents for multi-disciplinary teams in a managed process." See also BS1192:2007 +A1:2105.

[3] See for example the product  View Point, Field View  "Collecting site information to share with managers and project stakeholders ensures that transparency into project safety, quality and defect management is a part of every project, saving you and your client from headaches down the road" ( web page)

[4] There are unresolved issues with regard to location tagging of people.

[5] BS1192:2007 +A1:2105 provides a standard for collaborative production of architectural, engineering and construction information and includes reference to broad range of documents and all levels of the supply chain including reports, snagging lists, requests for information, programmes, method statements, correspondence, minutes, action notes.