November 5, 2019
The Old Post Office building in Newcastle has been sending information around the world since the mid-19th century. Its current residents, NBS, is contributing to that legacy – albeit in a very different way.
NBS is a global technology platform for anyone involved in the design, supply and construction of the built environment. Since its inception as a subsidiary of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) almost 50 years ago, it’s been the go-to place for architects, engineers and contractors for any building specification needs.
Just last year, RIBA announced the sale of a £31.8 million stake in NBS to LDC, the private equity arm of Lloyds Banking Group.
That investment has facilitated massive expansion and development into global markets.
What’s allowed NBS to be so successful is its early embrace of digital transformation. In the businesses early stages, they worked closely with a Software Development team from Newcastle University which then became part of the business.
“That’s what started the whole digital side of the business about 20 years ago”, explains Tina Pringle, director of technical information at NBS. In a relatively short time, NBS has gone from dealing with paper-based building specifications and manufacturing information to pioneering globally recognised digital workflow platforms. NBS can now confidently claim to be global influencers in the digital construction industry.
One of its latest innovations is their cloud-based specification platform, NBS Chorus. Developed in the North East, Chorus is a collaborative specification platform which allows all the different stakeholders involved in the design, supply and construction of a building to share one workflow. As director of the technical information team – ensuring that Chorus has all of the latest construction, content, standards and regulations – Tina Pringle has been part of the team central to its development and is still very much involved in the day-to-day delivery of the content in the platform.
Describing the gap in the market that Chorus fills, Tina says: “One of the big needs in the construction industry is around efficiency and collaboration.
“Previously, someone would write a building specification, hand it over to an engineer and then someone would do the drawing. But Chorus has been able to bring that whole team together on one platform.”
The ability for architects, engineers, surveyors and building contractors to all have access to one digital construction platform naturally increases the capacity for collaboration, but it also increases efficiency by allowing users to process information more quickly and structure that information in a way that can be reused and revised for future projects.
Tina continues: “With Chorus, users are able to create a project and then store, share and reuse knowledge and information from it alongside managing any revisions. But it’s all in one place.” By having that single source of information on Chorus, users also get a timeline of accountability so that it’s always clear what stage the project is at, who has been working on it and what changes have been made.
Meanwhile, products manufacturers also greatly benefit from the digital tools NBS has to offer, which places their products directly in front of the right people at the right time throughout the project timeline, while providing specifiers with thousands of manufacturer products at their fingertips.
This way of working is enabling an international industry to grow. The various stakeholders in the building process no longer need to transfer information physically, so there’s much more flexibility in who you can work with and where you can work with them.
Tina adds: “With the NBS Chorus platform, I can be working on an Australian project in the morning, click into a UK project in the afternoon, and a Canadian project in the evening.”
What’s been crucial in this process of international collaboration is the advent of Uniclass 2015 – a dynamic and unique classification system covering all aspects of the construction industry, which NBS has led. Chorus realises a longstanding ambition for NBS to digitalise the whole construction process.
Tina explains: “We can manage the information right through the timeline from the ideas stage to when the contractors come in to when they build it and hand it over. We’re the missing link.”
The platform also facilitates a much more practical, intuitive and flexible way of working on a project that simply wasn’t available previously. The Chorus is accessible on a computer, laptop and even a handheld device, meaning that projects can be accessed anywhere at any time. As a company, NBS has invested heavily in its software team and in technical information specialists to ensure that it stays ahead of the curve and is responsive to customer feedback – which Tina describes as “brilliant”.
She says: “We have to engage with the customers to ensure the product continues to fit with the needs of industry. We’re always trying to keep two steps ahead because digital construction has grown rapidly in a very short time.”
With the future of construction seeming to be increasingly digital, NBS is well placed to supply the industry for years and years to come.
Tina concludes: “Our mission is to ensure that we’re the global information platform and that we can service all of our construction and built environment customers around the world.”
– Advertising feature –