How understanding the similarities between basic cells & data could help your company

With a firm understanding about the difference between information and documents, let’s look at how to put information to work in ways that we need it on a project.

Too many of today’s project management workflows, while automated, do not facilitate the use of all the data that is created on a project. We have developed the electronic document management system (EDMS) to manage change, but that system is unable to intelligently handle layers of information. Also, web-based collaboration technologies simply silo that same data, limiting access to site owners when a project is complete.

Few owners are able to query all the information generated on a project—from emails, documents, spreadsheets, CAD files and other apps—to find an answer to a question. To make data work for us, to find answers to as yet unknown questions, we must separate the data creators and data users.

Natural Parallels

Let’s begin with the theory that digital data takes on a form of life and, therefore, its behavior is analogous to the biological process of cell reproduction.

All organisms (e.g., plant, animal) are composed of one or more cells—and all cells come from preexisting cells that include hereditary information that is necessary to generate new cells. Essentially, a new cell form is based on what’s existing as well as something completely new. In the big picture of our food chain, organisms develop a way to ingest, absorb or eat lower forms of life. For instance, plants eat cells and animals eat plants.

Now here’s an important point—the higher form of life (animals) doesn’t tell the lower form of life (plants) to reorganize in some way to make it easier to eat and digest. It simply learns to ingest or eat that organism.

Let’s apply the biological process of cell reproduction to the life of digital data. Like cells, digital information wants to survive. The more links that are created to that one piece of digital data, the more visible it is, and the more times it will be seen and then copied. Every piece of digital data is like a cell that inherently seeks to copy itself and hyperlink to other pieces of data.

Digital data behaves like a living organism.

Why do we care? In order to put data to work, we must be able to search and sort all of it. We must separate the data creators—often the contractors, architects, engineers and schedulers—from the data consumers, project managers, executives, stakeholders, etc. We cannot continue to let the data creator be the only one who knows where that data is and how to find it.

That brings us to the heart of this discussion—how do we make data work for us? How do we facilitate a solution that sees all data, regardless of creator, format or product type, and intelligently searches for answers to any imagined or unimagined question?

Building Relationships

In 1970, Ted Codd published A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks. He said, “Future users of large data banks must be protected from having to know how the data is organized in the machine.” 

He further noted that digital information will be multiplied like never before. That’s certainly happened. He said we will have to invent a way to let data consumers ask questions of these vast centralized repositories of data—in essence, we need a query system.

The most recognized query solution today is Google. The Google search engine doesn’t care who created the data, it’s simply searching for an answer to a question from all the information created by anyone and placed in the virtual space. Google separates information generation with information consumption.


Some might have you believe that building information modeling (BIM) solutions are a form of the query system. They’d be wrong. BIM is a perfect tool for seeing how components of a building go together, visualizing conflicts, and even attaching relevant information such as mechanical requirements. However, BIM does not think in terms of information management at the enterprise level. It does not consider emails or 30-year old data that could provide important value to the current project

Most BIM solutions are closed systems—the very opposite of where nature is taking us with regards to digital data.

The PM Query

That’s what a project management tool like one from Newforma facilitates. The software doesn’t care who generated what and where; it’s open system able to query and ask open questions.

To go back to our earlier cell analogy, these solutions are effectively genetically talking animals that metabolize whatever information is available across the enterprise. The solution looks into all those file databanks and cans of information and extracts relevant information, connections, and links, managing, understanding, and then sharing information. 

It’s a noninvasive enterprise project information management system that enables whoever wants to use from day one to consume everything generated in the evolution of all metadata whether that’s CAD files, contract documents, emails, and spreadsheets.


To make your data work for you on an enterprise level, look for an open noninvasive query system.