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Adam Lamping

What are the benefits of a Common Data Environment?

One of the greatest challenges facing AECO organizations is information management. This is the biggest benefit of a Common Data Environment utilisation. The information lifecycle from design, to procurement, fabrication, transport, installation, commissioning and finally, handover, creates a vast amount of information. When managed poorly, structures being torn down, critical equipment failures, poor performance, wasted resources, tragic loss of life and, often, litigation.

All of these have a huge financial impact, Arcadis estimates the average cost of a construction dispute to be £12.8m in the UK.

Uncertainty over approved design information, procurement, installation issues and poor record information for operations are all reasons that the industry experiences difficulties with data management.

How does a Common Data Environment help?

Digital tools can be used to optimise the processes that manage information. The key benefit of using a common data environment (or CDE) is that all project stakeholders have access to the same secure, cloud-based information, allowing them to collaborate on BIM models, drawings and documents as well as digitising internal governance processes and tracking cost and programme.

Not only do they streamline projects, but CDEs bring efficiencies, reduce risk and create real-time data-driven insights producing a repository where all stakeholders have a vital single source of the truth. They can connect the boardroom, the office and the field across the multiple organisations working together worldwide through the cloud.

CDEs and SharePoint

CDEs are sometimes compared to Microsoft-based solutions. A CDE and Microsoft Office or SharePoint can and regularly, do, co-exist. Typically, Thinkproject has found that customers have enjoyed the most success when both systems have been deployed in a manner that plays to their inherent strengths. SharePoint is ideal for internal storage and local-team collaboration on documents. When it comes to enabling a secure, collaborative and controlled environment for project delivery (new build, refurbishment or maintenance) a CDE is the right choice.

A CDE helps clients collaborate on documents that have been created in Microsoft Office and stored on SharePoint (alongside many other filetypes) and allows them to undergo cross-business approval workflows and to then be collated in a central location for all project participants.

Organisations who choose to deploy SharePoint as their project delivery platform can experience challenges as the platform is not specifically designed for this. A CDE is developed directly to support project delivery and the added benefit of Common Data Environments at Thinkproject is that they are designed especially to serve construction and asset management requirements.

There are specific functionalities within a CDE which are not available in general SharePoint-based solutions:

  • Automatic document coding or verification of coding
  • ‘Routing’ rules so that documents are automatically stored in a certain folder following the name of the document or a particular metadata.
  • Viewing documents in formats other than Microsoft Office or PDF, such as AutoCAD DWG
  • Graphical workflows
  • Specific version control
  • Advanced searches including content search (OCR)
  • Related apps for the management of onsite defects or handover
  • Specific modules for meeting minutes with tasks created and assigned
  • Cost and budget management module with deviation detection and invoice management
  • BIM collaboration and data extraction.

Other broader considerations for a SharePoint-based approach are;


One of the most important aspects of collaboration is security, it is possible to allow third parties into a SharePoint environment, but that carries a degree of risk. Many CDEs are accredited to ISO27001 to support safe collaboration with external parties.

Time to value

Designing a SharePoint-based approach to project delivery should include several stakeholders and will take time to reach a consensus and undertake User Acceptance Testing etc. With a CDE, a project environment can be ready to use in less than 24 hours.

Wider technology costs

With SharePoint only being able to view Microsoft Office and PDF files, additional software may need to be bought, maintained alongside training implemented in CAD/BIM software. With a CDE, there is less need for separate CAD/BIM software.


Accountability cannot be clearly defined and attributed in SharePoint. In a CDE, every party involved knows who is responsible for what, preventing any misunderstanding about roles and responsibilities. The transparency of a CDE platform allows organisations to understand exactly how the project is progressing in terms of views, comments and approvals of any file or activity in a workflow.

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