by Dr Stephen Hamil
Last amended on
22 August 2019
Update: Since this article was first written, all the content from the NBS National BIM Library has moved across to NBS Source.
The PAS 1192 series of standards and, subsequently, the ISO 19650 series of standards define the need to have a common data environment (CDE) for collecting, managing and disseminating information throughout BIM projects. In the UK, these standards have gone a long way to change the industry’s mindset of BIM as ‘3D CAD’ to ‘information management’ across the project team and throughout the project timeline.
The CDE workflow describes the processes to be used, and the CDE solution is the technology supporting these processes.
We are moving more and more towards a unified approach
Nathan Doughty, Group Chief Operating Officer, Asite
In accordance with ISO 19650, BIM is primarily concerned with managing information containers within the CDE. These information containers are typically files or sub-directories, and can be structured or unstructured. Structured information containers include items such as geometric models, schedules and databases. Unstructured information containers include items such as documentation, video clips and sound recordings.
With respect to the CDE workflow, information containers move between different states as the work progresses. They will start as work in progress, and then they will be shared before being published. Finally, an information container may be archived. To move from one state to the next, there should be an agreed approval and authorization process. The standards state that each information container should have a unique ID that follows a documented convention and attributes to indicate the status/ suitability, the revision information and the classification.
The CDE solution, which is the technology that is used, should enable this workflow. In the 2019 NBS Construction Technology Report, it was found that almost half of construction professionals now work using project extranets or CDEs on their projects.
Customers currently spend a lot of time manually breaking down digital information into packages… anything we can do to speed that up is really important
James Austin, Construction Industry Strategist, Autodesk
CDEs and NBS
NBS provides well-structured template content that construction professionals edit to tailor it to their projects. This project information could be a specification, a set of contract preliminaries, a geometric model, a set of annotated drawings or structured data exported to a database such as COBie.
This project-specific information would first be developed during the ‘work in progress’ stage of the CDE workflow, and then shared in its later stages.
The information generated from NBS templates is structured, and this structure is typically Uniclass. All of the latest NBS offerings (such as NBS Chorus and the NBS National BIM library) have their content structured to this classification system.
Internationally, the ISO 19650 series states that a classification system which follows the ISO 12006-2 framework is to be used on BIM projects. BS EN ISO 19650-2 states that information containers are to be classified using the Uniclass classification system for BIM projects in the UK.
Examples of this could be a document such as a business case (PM_50_30_10, ‘Business case’) or a work package of drawings and specifications for the security systems (Ss_75_40, ‘Security systems’).
In the business case example, the information within the information container would most likely be unstructured.
However, in the security systems example, the information could be very well structured and contain annotated drawings of systems such as an ‘Intruder detection and alarm systems’ (Ss_75_40_75_40) and specifications for products such as ‘Proximity card readers’ (Pr_75_75_27_67).
Going further than drawings and specifications, this information could be well classified in geometric models such as IFC or well-structured databases such as COBie. NBS is the publisher of Uniclass, with around 14 000 classifications across 12 tables for both building and infrastructure work. These can be accessed for free on the website: https://toolkit.thenbs.com/articles/classification.
A key issue we address for our customers is being able to find information on the project when they need it, when you’re on the phone with the client you can get the answer immediately
Aaron Kivett, Technical Manager for Strategic Partnerships, Newforma
With CDEs being an essential part of the BIM process, NBS has developed partnerships with some of the leading companies offering CDE solutions. We want to develop a stronger link between the well-structured content within the specification and the tasks that are required by other members of the project team in particular, so they can be tracked in the CDE.
For example, it may be specified that a commissioning report is required seven days before handover for a heating system. It is now possible for this information requirement to be extracted from the specification and tracked within the CDE. Ultimately, an information container will be uploaded to the CDE in response to the information requirement. Functionality has now being developed to streamline this workflow.
Over recent years, we have developed close partnerships linking NBS workflows with modelling tools such as Autodesk Revit, Graphisoft ArchiCAD and Nemetschek Vectorworks.
At NBS we want to build a great cloud software platform and we want to strengthen this through developing partnerships and integrations with other best-in-class solutions
Sascia Elliott, Head of Partnerships, NBS
The model is always going to be important, but as time goes on, particularly beyond the design and construction period, it is the data that is important
Ben Wallbank, BIM Strategy Manager, Viewpoint