Solution – Q4: Where best can the effect be accomplished? 

Taking the high-level synch matrix and delving further down into the detail, the information management team can gather an understanding of the structure, access and security required in the Common Data Environment (CDE).

The best fit for most situations is for the CDE to be owned by the client organisation, overcoming legal, data ownership and security issues that come with allowing others to control your data. At this stage a CDE can have all the usual templates inside it, delivering your drawing borders, metadata headings, coordinate systems, layer/object/file naming conventions, workflows and folder/data structure.


It doesn’t necessarily have to be one piece of software but, could be many linked together to form a holistic network covering “best of breed” databases. A course of action needs to be developed, so that the procurement of a system that meets the needs of all delivery partners and also how that data will be transferred into the Asset Information Model.


Common Data Environment (CDE)

At the heart of this PIM is the Common Data Environment it is the central repository for project information whatever its format, authoring tool or source.

In many of the BIM/ Digital Twin protocols and standards the CDE is key to improving the creation, sharing and issuing of information that will support the delivery of the project. One of its central principles is collaboration between all project parties to improve the quality, efficiency and delivery of all information.

When asked to describe a common data environment or even an EDMS in simple terms, I always liken them to a well organised warehouse. Racks of shelves full of empty cardboard boxes. Each box has a label on the outside that tells you what’s in it and what other boxes it is related to. You can then place anything you like in the box be it a document, a piece of information, a drawing or 3D CAD model. At the beginning of the project the box might be empty, but that’s ok, as it still has an ID that will hold the space until the box is filled!

It should be accessible in a controlled and secure manner by every participant of the project team. This will allow every member of the delivery team including the supply chain to be able to receive trusted information through it and to be able to submit information that goes through automated quality control back in. Allowing every discipline to be able to coordinate the interfaces between their information and others to ensure minimal clashes and mismatches when the time comes to physically build the project.

The CDE itself can be owned and operated by anyone involved in the project, however in my experience if it is held by one of the delivery partners rather than the client, access and legal issues can arise.

This situation was highlighted in 2017 when a major UK Government client organisation engaged their delivery partner and they in turn engaged their supply chain to host the CDE. Part the way through the project the delivery partner delayed payments their supply chain, who promptly cut access to the CDE. This meant that the entire project and all the information (designs etc) paid for to date by the client were being held ransom. Eventually, after the client took them both to court, they were forced to restore access. But this delay cost the project a significant amount in time and money.

This situation brought out some interesting points.

Location – where is the CDE situated?

Having the CDE in the client network controlled by their own IT, may seem like the best course of action, but allowing a large supply chain access into this network to interact with the CDE solution may prove very difficult especially when it might be required quickly as the project unfolds.

Having it inside one of your supply chain or delivery partners networks, as proved with the above situation could prove just as fraught. In my experience the best solution is to find an external service provider who will work direct for the client, whose business is to provide access across many systems and networks alongside backup, security and update support.

Ownership – Who should own the CDE?

The data that is being authored, authorised and issued from the CDE is being paid for by the client and so it makes best sense for them to hold the contract for it. This is also highlighted by an issue on a current major project where all delivery partners have their own CDE’s where some of the supply chain are working for multiple delivery partners. All these different systems have various workflows, formats, delivery mechanisms and quality control, alongside many different ways of accessing for all the project team. It may seem like a good idea as a client to push this IT risk onto the delivery partners, but they will pay for multiple CDE’s rather than just one and also increase the risk at the same time!

Quality control

The information stored inside a CDE is only as valuable as the quality control systems put in place to verify information follows the project standards. If information is not of a good quality, following the correct templates, libraries, coordinate systems, naming conventions and a whole host of other rules, then when others try to use it, they will quickly learn to not trust what is in there. It only takes one duff piece of information to pollute the lake of data and one person to tell another of their mistrust and the whole CDE becomes valueless. Quality control and gatekeepers must be very strict indeed!


A famous quote from a BBC comedy program declares that “Security isn’t a dirty word! Which is very true, as it needs to be at the heart of everything, we do in the Information Management and Modelling world.

The UK has been fortunate that the standard PAS 1192- 5 is being released as an updated ISO 19650 which will help to create a consistent security baseline when working around the world. Especially when so many consultants and clients use teams from multiple continents on single projects.

Good security protocols ensure that the right information is seen, actioned by and utilised by the right people at the right stage in its development. This not only keeps information safe, but also stops participants from getting overloaded with information that will confuse and significantly reduce efficiencies.

The first part of achieving good security is relatively simple, and that’s having a good CDE that can allow or disable access to information depending on their state, status, relevance, purpose and lifecycle stage. Most systems will support this kind of a requirement.

The big issues come when supply chain and delivery partners try to circumvent the CDE and develop, store and transfer information outside the system. This habit must be stopped and specifically listed in the EIR as a forbidden activity.

There is a chapter on the BS and ISO later in this book that will cover more aspects on security.

DIKW Hierarchy

In 1934 TS Elliot produced a play call “The Rock” it is widely acknowledged that this is where the DIKW hierarchy originated. This lists Data at the bottom, followed by Information, Knowledge and finally Wisdom.

Your CDE will contain much data, to make it information it needs to be given meaning through good standards, libraries and metadata. To make that information knowledge it needs to be given context through linking pieces of information into the various functional systems until we reach the top of the breakdown structures (Asset, Financial, Maintenance, operations, political, HR etc.) To take this knowledge to a level of wisdom it needs to be applied to the plain language questions and outcomes driven by the business.

So, if your CDE can deliver on the DIKW hierarchy, you are truly getting the most from it!