In 2020, the Covid-19 crisis forced the construction sector to embrace digital transformation in a bid to overcome challenges like the lockdown and remote working.
Having discovered how new digitally enabled ways of working open the door to greater predictability when delivering projects, civil engineering firms, developers and contractors are now looking to build on this momentum. These technologies deliver enhanced productivity, cooperation, safety and sustainability.
With the post Covid-19 recovery already generating a surge of new and upcoming construction projects across the Middle East, the pressure is now on to unite and empower extended project teams to plan, collaborate and deliver more efficiently and with greater control. And that’s where a common data environment (CDE) can prove extremely beneficial.
What is a common data environment?
In essence, a CDE is a collaborative environment used by everyone to communicate and coordinate with all project members. Acting as a single source of information for the project, today’s cloud-based CDEs make it possible to manage and disseminate documentation between project team members in real time.
Supporting multiple file types and applications, the ideal CDE should feature a robust audit trail, give everyone quick access to all construction files in any format or size and have rigorous security protocols in place to ensure all stakeholder data is safeguarded from threats.
Unfortunately, however, some CDE solutions place data in silos which makes security and audit histories difficult to manage. It also creates significant challenges when it comes to ensuring the latest content is always available to all project stakeholders.
This has led to the rise of a number of fictions in relation to construction data in the cloud, connectivity and flexibility.
Fiction 1: Collaborating with external users during the bidding process is impossible without email and/or FTP.
The pre-construction process can quickly become nightmarish if FTP is used to provide bid documents and receive them back via email. Connectivity interruptions can turn an FTP download into an all-day affair or result in multiple failures if enforced size limits are in place that restrict the transmission of big files. Neither of these are ideal scenarios in a world where the advent of building information modelling (BIM) means bid packages are becoming larger than ever. Meanwhile, constantly scanning an Inbox for incoming bids can result in confusion, lost information and time.
By contrast, the approach utilised by modern CDE platforms results in a very different outcome. For example, by sending unique links to each bidder, bandwidth interruptions become a non-issue when sharing bid documents. This direct data connection to the cloud means that if a download pauses due to a connectivity problem, it automatically resumes once the connection is restored.
Similarly, when it comes to managing incoming bids, enabling vendors to place their estimates directly into a secure CDE can significantly streamline the entire process for all. Having received an upload link, vendors simply drag and drop their tenders into a pre-assigned folder. Adding expiry dates will ensure no bids are ever received after a deadline.
In terms of accepting and sharing information with external sources, deploying a truly collaborative and secure CDE, means that permissions and rights will be assigned according to whether a user is internal (employee) or external (supply chain).
Fiction 2: Protected data equates to an inflexible work environment.
Up against tight deadlines and working from home means many users often resort to workarounds to bypass restrictions. Typical examples of this include using external drives or personal cloud products to download files onto unprotected laptops, which means zero data governance on things like sharing permissions or data lifecycle management can be applied. Unsurprisingly, this means many people assume that data protection is not compatible with the demands of today’s highly flexible working models.
However, the CDE work environment is the same, regardless of whether a user is at home or in the office. Users are provided with a direct connection to a work folder and assigned an appropriate view into the single source of information for the project – all without a VPN.
So, when bids first come in, the quantity surveyor has access. As the winning bid proceeds through the workflow process, permissions are assigned to or removed from other stakeholders as required. This delivers the fluidity and agility that the multiplicity of project participants need, while ensuring that data stays where it lives and is protected and governed as the work gets done.
Fiction 3: High-speed internet connectivity on site is key to collaborate effectively.
While some connectivity is required, it doesn’t have to be high speed or always available. By syncing files to laptops or mobile devices for offline access, remote productivity can continue uninterrupted with files being automatically synced back to the cloud once within WiFi or cellular range.
Another option is to cache frequently accessed content to a storage device in the site cabin. This will give users very fast access to the most up-to-date information they need, without worrying about bandwidth speed or reliability. Adding a delta synch – an easy-to-install virtualised appliance – between the cloud and site cache will boost performance further by ensuring that only new or amended information – rather than the entire file – gets uploaded. It’s an approach that ensures everyone is able to work efficiently and stay true to their workflows.
Unleashing productivity with CDEs
At a time when digital transformation is reshaping how stakeholders coordinate, communicate and collaborate during the design, build and own/operate stages of every project, utilising a real-time CDE can help drive the efficiencies and reduce rework that all adds up to enhanced productivity and reduced project costs. The result is more cohesive and informed delivery teams across the entire project lifecycle.
* Andrew Martin is Senior Sales & Marketing Director EMEA & Managing Director UK at US-headquartered Egnyte, which offers an all-in-one platform to manage and control a full spectrum of content risks – from accidental data deletion, to data exfiltration, to privacy compliance and much more – while giving business users the tools they need to work faster and smarter, from any cloud, any device, anywhere.