Common Data Environments (CDEs) – common problems and solutions for the handover phase

Common data environments (CDEs) have gradually become more common within both large and medium scale projects. These are effectively third-party databases that are used to coordinate data on what is being installed within a project, as well as information on how to operate and maintain the applicable equipment.

Below are a few CDEs that you may come across, although by no means is this list exhaustive:

  • Zutec
  • Aconex
  • Dome Connect
  • CDMS Apex

In this article we are going to touch on problems commonly encountered when working with CDEs at the handover phase, as well as solutions to help you get the most out of what they can offer.

For Principal Contractors, often the problems arise when working with CDEs not from the software itself, but the data being input. As with anything, the useful data coming out of a CDE is only as good as what’s been put in.

This means that data has to be both high quality and, most importantly, consistent. Without data that ticks both of these boxes, you will end up with swathes of information, but it may lack structure and therefore not be useful for the lifetime of the building.

High quality data relies on information being accurate over anything else, as well as covering all the required fields. These requirements should be clearly communicated at the beginning of a project and will rely on which CDE has been chosen for the project, as well as the client’s preferences.

Consistent data means that however it is input, it should all done in the same way. Like high quality data, this should also stem from clear communication at the beginning of a project over what is required and sticking to it. Always consider that too much data can be just as problematic as too little data.

Why is this a problem?

The biggest challenge for a Principal Contractor is not just getting high quality, consistent data, but getting it from a range of people involved in the project. By relying on individual subcontractors to make their own submissions, you will often end up with a mix. There will be those who have an understanding of CDEs, along with the time and resources to commit somebody to the task, and those who have little or no experience with CDEs and may lack the necessary time and resources. The result of this scenario will be a blend of some high quality data, some not-so-high quality data and, most of all, a lack of consistency.

A reason for this could be because of the difference amongst the CDEs available. Each one has its own unique interface, format requirements, data fields etc.. Whilst the underlying functionality of them is typically quite similar, learning a new system can still prove overwhelming to somebody who doesn’t have much experience with CDEs, nor has the time to commit to learning each one.

What is the solution to this?

The first way to solve this is to train all the parties who will be contributing to the CDE. This can be done through PowerPoints, conference calls, training guides etc.. This ensures that everyone will have been given a baseline understanding of how the CDE works, the project requirements and how to upload submissions. It is also crucial that there remains at least one person who can be a port of call for any queries regarding the CDE.

However, training alone can often fall short in guaranteeing submissions to the CDE will be up to scratch. Everyone learns differently and it’s more likely than not that training in the ways mentioned will not suit a portion of those participating. Training sessions can also be hard to coordinate and take a lot of time which could be better used elsewhere.

Not only this, but with different trades on site potentially weeks, months or even years apart, CDE training at the beginning of a project may be long forgotten by those whose works take place later on. Should a Subcontractor get employed midway through a project, too, this could mean they miss the training altogether.

The alternative to this is to employ a project coordinator like ourselves. This means that there will be someone with experience in working with CDEs who’ll be responsible for gathering the necessary information from the Subcontractors and inputting into the CDE.

The first benefit of this is that the Subcontractors will need to supply only their standard O&M information to the coordinator, before it is then adapted to meet all the requirements of the CDE. Not only does this simplify the whole process for the Subcontractor and free up their time to do what they do best, but it ensures that the submissions will be both high quality and consistent, as they’ve all been input by the same person who has experience in working in CDEs.

This also frees up time for the person responsible for overseeing the CDE. Not having to conduct lengthy training sessions and attend to constant queries means that more time can be spent reviewing the information submitted. Not only this, but the submitted information can be trusted for the format to be accurate and meet the CDE requirements, meaning less comments and amendments will be necessary.

The most obvious downside to using a project coordinator, though, will be the upfront cost. Despite this, the time and potential hassle it will save will often more than pay for itself. Additionally, employing the use of a CDE for a project can be a significant outlay and will be a recurring cost throughout the lifetime of a building. Spending the time and money getting it right at the start will guarantee the CDE is used to its full potential once the facilities management teams start to use it.

As a Subcontractor, being asked to make a submission to a CDE can prove to be inconvenient at best and overwhelming at worst. It means pulling someone away from other work, firstly to learn how to use new software and then having to spend time adapting your usual O&M information to meet the requirements.

To make this process easier, below are a few points to consider when making your submission:

  • Take time to learn the CDE – before inputting any information into the CDE, make sure that you are confident in navigating the software and making uploads. Each one is unique in its interface, format requirements, data fields etc.. Even if you have experience in using other CDEs, this means it’s important to read the separate rules when uploading on a new one. Common differences when uploading are in what file types are needed for the system to accept it. Should you encounter problems when learning a particular CDE, there is likely to be somebody overlooking the CDE and reviewing the information being contributed. Make sure to consult this person(s), as they should have the relevant experience. Asking questions before making your uploads will give you more confidence in your submissions and save time in the review process.
  • Be accurate and consistent – a CDE will have layout requirements that need to be stuck to. These will often include font styles and sizing, spacing, abbreviations and file types. Like any software, these requirements are necessary for the CDE to properly pick up the information. This means that your information needs to be input exactly as described by the CDE. If your submission doesn’t meet these rules, it will be flagged up at the review stage and need to be redone. It’s worth spending a little extra time to ensure that your submission is accurate and consistent, as this might save a lot more time down the road.
  • Don’t leave it late – submissions to CDEs almost always have to go through multiple reviews. Should you get comments back that require amendments, you don’t want to be caught short on time to action them. Especially if the amendments revolve around formatting issues, this could result in having to go back and relearn the CDE requirements, before spending time to adapt your whole submission to meet them.

Alternatively, you could hire someone like ourselves to make submissions on your behalf. This means you would only have to produce your standard O&M information for the project, before it would then be adapted to tick all the criteria set out by the CDE. This means that you both free up your time and are confident in the knowledge that submissions made on your behalf are up to standard.

Whether making submissions yourself, or employing somebody like ourselves to do it on your behalf, getting them right has a whole host of advantages:

  • You can tender for jobs that specify the use of a CDE, knowing that you have the skills or resources to hit and surpass all the requirements.
  • You won’t be the reason a handover is delayed, due to incomplete or inaccurate information.
  • It will boost your reputation. Being known as a company which can be trusted when dealing with CDEs can be a major plus for Principal Contractors. It means your submissions are unlikely to cause delays and issues down the line, when the facilities management team takes over and starts to use the CDE.