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How to choose your Common Data Environment (CDE)?

Choosing the right common data environment is a crucial step for the implementation of BIM in a project. The common data environment (also called CDE) constitutes one of the key factors in the success of a construction project since it has a direct impact on project management. Needless to say that you need to be very careful when you select your CDE, a wrong choice can quickly become very harmful for your financial health and delay your project construction for several months.

Furthermore, the number of CDEs has grown quite significantly in the last years and it becomes harder and harder to pick the right one for a project. This is the reason why we have built a small checklist in order to help you select the common data environment that fits perfectly with your needs. If choosing a common data environment is not easy, changing during the project is even less!

If you want to know more about the common data environment, you can read the article we wrote on this particular topic here.

1. The functionalities

The functionalities will certainly be the first thing you will analyze. The technical specifications constitute the heart of your project, so you will have to assess minutely the different common data environment to find the perfect fit. Most of the CDEs have common basic functionalities and provide a similar offer, however, some of them can offer the extra feature that you desperately need. As a piece of first advice, list all the CDE you have identified and test them if they give you that opportunity. You will then have to answer the following questions to determine the right solution for your project:

  • Does the solution allow me to respect the BIM execution plan of my project?
  • Is it compatible with the file formats that my team will use, especially the IFC? Native files?
  • Can access rights be configured according to the responsibilities and missions of the different stakeholders?
  • Does it allow the implementation of workflows that my project requires?
  • Is the CDE accessible on every device (desktop, iOS, Android, tablet)?
  • Is the CDE accessible without a network connection?
  • Does the CDE offer interoperability between the software used in the project?
  • Does the CDE provide plugins (Revit, Archicad, Naviswork, Tekla, Solibri, etc.)?
  • Does the common data environment provide analytical dashboards to measure the efficiency of the different actions?

2. The ease of use

The user experience is definitely the most difficult category to analyze because it can be very subjective. We have listed some questions that can help you. Needless to say, that it is essential to test the different platforms to see the CDE that suits you best. If you do not have this possibility, try to get some feedback directly from users or have a look at websites such as Capterra or G2. These websites are comparing thousands of software and collect relevant feedback from verified users.

Here are some questions that can help you define the user experience:

  • Is the CDE accessible online, via a simple browser, without installing third-party software?
  • Can it be used without intervention on my information system but also on the stakeholders' ones who will be involved in the project?
  • Is there any free trial period to test out the CDE?
  • Is the CDE easy to use? Can people with little knowledge of BIM manage the tool easily?
  • Does the CDE have a smooth user experience? Is it possible to handle the tool without external help?
  • Does it have great support such as video tutorials, user manuals, FAQs?

3. The pricing

The pricing is obviously a key element that will help you choose the right common data environment for your project. According to the features you need and the number of stakeholders involved in the project, the price may vary a lot. So, you should make sure to answer all these questions in order to avoid bad surprises during the execution phase of your project.

  • How much does it cost? Do you need to pay on a monthly basis or annually?
  • How many people will use the CDE?
  • What is the pricing model of the CDE (pay per user, pay per project, pay per size of the project, etc.)?
  • Will my CDE budget be under control if new stakeholders are added?
  • Is support provided in the plan?
  • Are training courses offered or do you have to pay extra costs for them?

4. The service

In this category, you can assess the additional services that a common data environment offers. These are not the first things you look at but they can definitely impact your decisions when it comes to select the right CDE.

Here are some questions that you should ask yourself:

  • Where is the data stored?
  • Does the country or region where the data is stored a crucial point for you?
  • What is the SLA (Service-level agreement) provided by the CDE?
  • What kind of support does the CDE provide ( ticketing system, email, hotline, dedicated account manager)?
  • Is the support working 24/7?

This list is non-exhaustive and more criteria could be added later on. We have released a comprehensive framework that you can customize to help you choose the right common data environment for your project. You can download the CDE framework for free on this link.

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