Collaboration, Lean Construction, Six Sigma have been industry buzz words  for some time now. Each implies a certain approach to team building, data structure and sharing, work flows, decision making, and more. Each promises to bring unprecedented levels of efficiency into the building process. 

The basic logic that underlies each of these concepts can be summarized as follows: Take the best practices of the most effective managers, develop forms to implement these practices, and then  get as many team members as possible to use the forms.  I think the most important issue is not the specific forms or steps (although those are   important), but the mere fact that people in project leadership are spending significant time and resources trying to figure out a better way of doing things. This is a positive development. In my opinion one of the most impactful collaborative concept to emerge in recent years is the Common Data Environment (CDE). 

What is a Common Data Environment (CDE)? A CDE is a cloud based collaborative platform that serves as a central hub for all project data.  A CDE is a collaboration concept that has been evolving for many years. Many companies continue to work on trying to establish the means and methods by which all data, decision-making and communications for the entire Building Project will exist in one of two places: 

either physically on the construction site, or digitally on a  collaborative platform. The CDE is the digital solution that makes this possible.  

And this brings me to my next leading question. What is the BuildUSA Collaborative Environment (BCE)?  The BCE is a specific CDE solution that is  currently scheduled for commercial release in 2021.  

The concept of the BCE goes something like this. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Only when the entire building process is included in the digital environment” of the BCEcan the industry extract the maximum possible building “Performance,” “Business Market Efficiency,” and “Quality”—or, simply put, “Value.” In broad terms, a properly implemented BCE can optimize quality by: 

  • Reducing project completion times 
  • Reducing the project cost for each participant 
  • Increasing accountability to the owner or project manager 
  • Increasing the quality of the building process 
  • Increasing the quality and performance of the building product 
  • Reducing the owner’s financial risk 
  • Reducing the legal liability of all participants 

As I discussed in an earlier blog,  “Building in a Nutshell,” building is the art, science and business of getting the  

“Right People” in the “Right Place” with the “Right Materials, Tools and Information” at the “Right Time” in order to get the work completed correctly the first time. 

Simply put, building  is a virtual process. In fact, the vast majority of work on any building project takes place off-site. Information and decisions flow back and forth between the various project team members. Organizing the vast amount of project data has always been a challenge.  Typically, data formats, structures, and workflows require every company to re-input the data into their own proprietary format before they can start their work. This is a very inefficient way to share data. I wish I could argue that this process is helpful because it forces each entity to fact-check assumptions and information. However, that’s rarely the case, since this process is typically executed by the least senior and seasoned staff members.  

All of the BCE’s current competitors are being developed internally by individual companies (typically large IIBCs). As each company cobbles together various software applications there is some modicum of improved efficiency and savings.  However, each platform is siloed as a proprietary system within  a specific organization. Typically, over the course of 3-5 years, the capability of this siloed system cannot keep up with the rapid pace of change in the technology market, and the system  quickly becomes outdated. 

Today, there are real efforts to try and stitch a series of applications together in order to allow each project participant  to seamlessly access,  share, and utilize  all project data. There is progress, but it is slow. Properly implementing a CDE requires significant sophistication. You have to train existing staff and new project team members, and  invest in maintaining the platform over the course of time. 

Unfortunately, the industry tradition of siloed information continues to this day. And it continues to generate confusion and frustration. Without widespread collaborative platform adoption, the potential gains in quality, efficiency, and satisfaction will be lost.  

In the near future, the BCE  will give Project Teams the ability to implement a  master building process where every team member has immediate access to the information, communications, and decision-making capabilities they require in order to optimize their work. Once the BCE and similar platforms are widely adopted by the industry, Industry analysts project the value of widespread adoption of collaborative platforms like the BCE as 20 to 40 percent of standard building costs. Long-term projections suggest  it will take up to 10 years to achieve the necessary penetration level. However, with the current pace of advancement, this may occur within  4-6 years. Either way, change is coming fast and furious! The earlier you adopt, the better.