Common Data Environments (CDE): the risks architects and engineers should know about

written by
Tra Hoang
Jan 4, 2024
minutes read

As a project progresses through its lifecycle, multiple revisions of documents and drawings will be created, capturing the most important decisions made by stakeholders. CDEs, although an ideal solution to retain such crucial information, contain significant challenges associated with access control that can expose AEC firms to litigation risks.

The lifecycle of a drawing

Work in progress

The initial stage of a drawing’s lifecycle is commonly referred to as “work in progress”. When a file is newly created, whether it’s a simple Word document or a complex design file in AutoCAD or Revit, it acts as the place where architects and engineers piece together the basic structures and ideas that are still taking shape in their minds. As such, “work in progress” is a solitary process that is not yet ready to be shared for external viewing or collaboration.  


The “Shared” process begins when “work in progress” files are ready to be disseminated among team members for internal reviews and feedback. It is at this stage that a document moves from being in a solitary state to a more collaborative one. This collaboration process can be facilitated by a document management system such as Atvero, where documents can be tagged and labelled with revision numbers for efficient tracking.  


After documents are internally reviewed, they become ready to be shared with external parties outside the organization. This stage is usually called “publishing information”. As files pass through different stages with collective feedback from internal and external stakeholders, they’ll go through different revisions. Maintaining a complete history of revisions and having it readily available is crucial, since it serves as a comprehensive record of every decision made throughout the lifecycle of a project.  

CDEs and the challenges with access control

A Common Data Environment (CDE) is an ideal solution for storage of published project information. Within its secure repository, CDE meticulously stores all the revisions of project documents that have been made publicly accessible to external parties.

One of the main challenges of CDEs is that they can be complicated to manage because of access control. The significance lies in guaranteeing that the correct individuals have access to appropriate information tailored to their specific project needs.

However, the greater challenge lies in the fact that a CDE is usually run by the lead contractor of a project. While everything may run smoothly during a project’s active phases and all team members can maintain access to their crucial project information, the question arises as the project approaches completion: who will be responsible for the ongoing maintenance of the CDE system? Will it continue under the extension of the current contract, or will the building owner take over control to ensure all project information shared within the CDE will be available in the long term?  

Risks of litigation

With the lead contractor having access management of a project team’s CDE system, when it comes to litigation, perhaps a sensible strategy for the contractor would be to remove the team’s access to that CDE. Suddenly, all the crucial information that the team may need to defend themselves against a claim has now become unavailable. As ironic as this may seem, the information inside the CDE belongs to the team, but the system that stores it belongs to someone else, and the team have a possibility of losing access to their own work.  

To mitigate this risk, it is highly important for AEC firms to maintain ownership of their project information independent of what the lead contract manages. Moreover, firms need to ensure such information can become accessible and available throughout extended periods of time. With the introduction of new legislations such as the Building Safety Act of 2022, this need has become more crucial than ever.


How Atvero can help

Atvero provides a document management solution that not only allows AEC firms to retain ownership of project documents throughout their entire lifecycle, but also assists them with maintaining compliance to quality standards such as ISO 9001.

ISO 9001 comprises a series of checkpoints, guidelines, and audits to ensure that projects are conducted in the right manner. In Atvero, project teams can link different drawings and documents as evidence to the questions that they may need to answer as part of their quality management system.

Project teams can refer to Atvero’s dashboard to keep track of their quality management checklists and ensure that they are following the correct guidelines to maintain compliance. Atvero also records non-compliant elements, and teams can re-evaluate their projects as well as view the history of compliance throughout their quality management processes.  

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