Everything you need for the specification, straight from the Source

March 5, 2020

Building on its legacy of driving digital transformation in the built environment industry, NBS is about to launch new platform NBS Source, which will deliver a step-change in how architects, engineers and designers find products and how manufacturers list them. Richard Dawson sits down with Robin Cordy, marketing director at NBS, to discuss the need for unified product information in the building specification process

Many of us might marvel at the speed with which modern buildings go from concept to being right there in front of us on the street.

Things like modular construction, where a section of a building is constructed away from site and then installed already prefabricated, have ushered in a new era of build speeds.

In 2015, for example, a Chinese construction company erected a 57-storey skyscraper in just 19 days.

In view of this, it would probably surprise you to know that, globally, construction is actually one of the least digitised of all the major industries.

“Hunting, fishing and farming are all, according to McKinsey, more digitised than construction – which is frightening,” says Robin Cordy [pictured above], marketing director at NBS.

While things like speed have certainly improved in the built environment sector, NBS believes that if the industry fully embraced digital, the gains in productivity, safety, efficiency and quality would be transformational.

Robin continues: “At NBS, we really believe in the power of data and connected information to make construction better.”

Looking at ways to organise, catalogue and present product data and technical information digitally has been at the heart of NBS’ business model for a long time. But with the launch of NBS Chorus in January 2019 and NBS Source in April this year, it feels like the company is really capitalising on decades of hard work.

NBS Source has been created to support architects, engineers and anyone involved in the selection of products find all of the products – windows, doors, bricks, steel etc – that could possibly go into a building. For manufacturers, too, it’s a major route to market.

Robin explains: “The idea is that NBS Source is effectively the single digital platform for all construction products.”

One of the big challenges in bringing this kind of platform to market is the lack of standardised product information in the industry. That’s why NBS led on the introduction of Uniclass 2015, a Government-backed scheme to create a common language or classification system for construction products.

Uniclass has enabled an Amazon-style platform like NBS Source to be delivered, where building specifiers can search, filter, compare and drill down into the technical details to find the right product for a project.

“We’ve been taking manufacturers’ information and providing it to architects for a long time but now we’re adding this high-quality, digital and structured format that’s going to give you that Amazon-type experience to browse and quickly find thousands and thousands of products,” adds Robin.

The NBS Source platform couldn’t come at a better time for the industry as the whole system by which products get selected for construction projects is currently under a lot of scrutiny.

More than ever, it’s incumbent on the architects and specifiers to make sure they’re sourcing the right materials and on the construction companies to ensure they follow the specification to the letter.

“The industry in under pressure to improve the way that it finds and selects products,” says Robin. “There’s industry and regulatory drivers to get this sorted.”

It’s also important for manufacturers big and small to keep their information up-to-date and the easiest way of doing this is digitally.

This was very much the sentiment of Dame Judith Hackitt [pictured right], who was the first keynote speaker at NBS’ recent Construction Product Leaders’ Summit.

Dame Judith highlighted that the way the construction industry markets, labels and traces its products is not good enough and stressed the need for manufacturers to provide proper information about their products, how they’re being tested and what they can and can’t be used for.

“For us, NBS Source helps them do that”, Robin says. “There are other initiatives in the industry to try and standardise data but we’re in the best position to be able to do it because we’ve already got the specification platform and Uniclass 2015.”

The new platform will be fully compatible with NBS Chorus, the cloud-based specification tool used by architects, engineers and designers when they design a building. NBS Source will also be available on the web, in the NBS specification platform, and in design tools such as Autodesk Revit – enabling specifiers to find products in the places they need.

Robin reveals that, because it will have a website anyone can access, the team are expecting people from more than 100 countries to use NBS Source, which like Chorus has been built in the North East.

“We reckon there’s about 15,000 construction projects a year go through NBS, worth about £50 billion,” he says.

“Since we’ve got all of these projects going through NBS, we can report back to manufacturers about trends in materials, how they’re doing against their competitors and whether product demand is going up or down.”

Being able to provide those market insights is going to be crucial as NBS aims to grow its manufacturer base from an already impressive 1100, to ensure that Source becomes a one-stop-shop for all product-related building specification needs, and is all part of a stepchange in NBS’ growth as it moves to become a global information platform, delivered digitally from its North East base.

Robin concludes: “We believe that by helping the industry to use digital data and platforms to connect information better, we can build buildings quicker, safer and more efficiently, whilst saving money, time and all of those things that come of the back of it.”


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