On my PR and marketing blog in November, I wrote about Specified.by, a forthcoming web-based service for individuals and companies involved in the specification of materials and products used in the construction of buildings. SpecifiedBy is a venture by Edinburgh-based theCADcube and I asked director and founder Darren Lester (below right) about the service ahead of its UK launch, expected in March 2013.
For those unfamiliar with SpecifiedBy, can you briefly describe what the service offers, both now in the Beta phase, and longer-term plans?
SpecifiedBy connects specifiers with building product manufacturers, providing quick, painless access to detailed product information.
With an emphasis on organisation and collaboration, we provide specifiers with tools to search, share and download a variety of product information, including BIM and CAD models, technical drawings, tech/spec sheets and case studies.
We also aim to address file sharing among specifiers, real-time support from manufacturers and impartial product ratings and reviews.
For building product manufacturers, we provide a simple, effective and most importantly, measurable platform on which to promote their products directly to an influential audience. One which can directly generate online sales leads, starting the conversations that lead to strong working relationships with specifiers.
We will launch with a restricted number of manufacturers and specifiers in February to allow us to test everything before opening up publicly. Anyone who would like to be part of the private launch can sign up for an invite on our website.
What is the background to the business?
SpecifiedBy has developed naturally from our work on theCADcube, a website that provides architects and designers with a central library of 3D CAD models from leading product manufacturers.
Speaking with our users and from our experiences with product manufacturers, it soon became clear that there was a need for a ‘bigger picture’ product which addressed the building product sourcing and specification process.
Has growing UK interest in building information modelling (BIM) been a help or a hindrance, and, if so, how?
It has been a help, even though it initially caused some stress and a few late nights. I believe providing product information in a wide range of formats, including BIM, is key to helping both specifiers and manufacturers.
When we started work on theCADcube, BIM was just starting to become a mainstream topic, but I don’t think anyone predicted how much it would snowball over the last 12 months or so. So we were left with the question of how do we deal with BIM? theCADcube would have to make provisions for BIM components, but there is already BIMStore, the National BIM library and a few others. And none of them are exactly bursting at the seams with content.
As the demand for BIM grows, so does the need for secure hosting and promotional structures. So we thought about the challenges that BIM would provide to manufacturers in terms of actually delivering the content to specifiers, both through their own websites and third party websites, and we’ve incorporated that into what we are doing with SpecifiedBy.
How has SpecifiedBy been marketed, and what has been the interest/level of take-up to date?
All marketing so far has been pretty low key really. A few blog posts here and there and some promotion through social media is about the height of it. Obviously we intend to ramp this up a bit over the next few months. We will be at EcoBuild in March, at which we hope to be announcing our public launch, and we will attend a few other trade shows throughout the year.
The level of interest has been growing steadily, we have had lots of signups through our launch page and have almost filled our quota of 100 manufacturers (“the Beta100”) to run the private Beta.
We are toying with the idea of keeping the platform invite-only for a while and growing organically, with specifiers able to invite colleagues, but this and a few other decisions will be made based on feedback from the private testing.
We have also been really encouraged by the amount of positive feedback we have received from both specifiers and manufacturers. There seems to be a bit of excitement in the hope that we can really offer something different to online product directories.
You were scathing in your criticism of existing construction product specification sites. How will SpecifiedBy be different?
I probably wouldn’t go as far to say my criticism was scathing, but I did point out that they don’t do enough for either specifiers or manufacturers, and perhaps that they are crap! From the feedback and interest we have seen for SpecifiedBy, it’s clear that we are not the only ones who feel like that.
For a long time they have got away with being ‘adequate’, and within an industry that is so innovative in many other ways, we really should be able to do better.
We are dedicated to developing tools for three main areas that will set us apart from online product directories: Organisation, Collaboration and Analytics.
We don’t want to another online product directory. If I thought for a second that that was all we would achieve with SpecifiedBy, I would pack it in now! A product directory drives traffic to manufacturers’ websites. We want to drive interaction and conversations between specifiers and manufacturers.
Will SpecifiedBy allow customer and/or end-user feedback on products used on-site? If so, how will these be shared online, and how will you guard against positive reviews written by the supplier/manufacturer?
Yes. We will have a simple product rating and comments system to begin with in order to see how people use it (if they use it at all!). Feedback we have gathered so far would suggest that specifiers would really like to get impartial feedback from other professionals who have actually worked with a particular product.
In terms of guarding against ‘fake’ reviews, an invitation-only platform would prevent against that, but if we don’t go down that route we will put some method in place for monitoring them.
What type(s) of collaboration will be supported on the platform?
Collaboration will initially will come in the form of shared project folders, where multiple users can add, remove, view and download product information within the same folder. It’s very simple, but very effective.
We are also working on some more formal ‘team’ functionality features and ways to improve interaction between specifiers and manufacturers, although these will not be ready for the initial launch so we can’t say too much more just now.