Formerly part of RIBA, NBS is positioning itself to be a ‘common data environment’ technology provider, with NBS Chorus building on its Uniclass and BIM toolkit data heritage.
Until June 2018 a wholly-owned subsidiary of RIBA Enterprises, Newcastle, UK-based NBS has been actively involved in electronic publishing and then software projects since the 1990s.
Initially, it extended its conventional ‘National Building Specification’ publishing activities to produce electronic resources for architects and other designers and specifiers. In parallel, it was also commissioned in 1997 to develop a classification system, Uniclass. This helps industry professionals find different types of related information defined by their subject matter.
Uniclass 2015 back story
The Uniclass story dates back to the 1980s. Then several UK professional bodies (RIBA, RICS, BEC and ACE, representing CIBSE and ICE) established the Building Project Information Committee. (This was later renamed the Construction Project Information Committee (CPIC), and included the CIOB, CIAT, UK Contractors Group and the Landscape Institute.) It was formed to produce guidance on efficient preparation of project specifications and production drawings. In 1987, the Committee produced codes of procedure for building works covering project specification and production drawings, plus guidance on a Common Arrangement of Work Sections (CAWS) for Building Works, and a guide to Co-ordinated Project Information. These codes and guides created principles since used in the production of other industry guidance. Examples include the National Building Specification and some of the building blocks of UK and international BIM standards.
Uniclass was a logical extension of this guidance work, intended to organise library materials and to structure product literature and project information. “It works like the Dewey decimal classification system used in libraries, ” NBS chief strategy officer Richard Waterhouse told Extranet Evolution. “Specifiers can find related or alternative product types. It can also help designers who are looking for products that satisfy particular performance requirements. It’s also valuable for contractors and facility managers when they need to explore product variants.”
As industry professionals started to digitise their tasks, Uniclass incorporated CAWS and an electronic system for structured product data and product literature, EPIC (Electronic Product Information Co-operation). The first Uniclass editions emerged in 1997 but were essentially paper-based systems, and were heavily criticised for inconsistencies between the labelling and depth of tables, and for poor coverage of civil engineering works. Uniclass 2 was released in 2013, and then superseded in 2015 by Uniclass 2015.
Uniclass 2015 is kept under review and updated quarterly under NBS’s stewardship, Waterhouse says. “Improvements are constantly being identified – recently, people from the HS2 project and BIM4Water initiative have suggested helpful changes, for example.” Uniclass 2015 is also being mapped to other industry tools including SFG20 (the Building Engineering Services Association’s standard for planned maintenance) – set to be published shortly – and RICS’s international construction measurement standards. “Partly as a result, Uniclass 2015 has not just been adopted in the UK, but in countries including Australia and Canada,” says Waterhouse.
The CPIC standards development work also led, through the Avanti initiative, to production of industry guidance on document and drawing naming and numbering conventions. To support efficient information exchange and so facilitate collaboration, it was agreed project teams needed common methods and protocols to communicate information (including how information might be managed via SaaS-based collaboration platforms – see Avanti reality check for extranets, September 2005). The outcome, eventually (and despite some scepticism – see EatYourCad Babbage Award goes to … Avanti, December 2006), was BS 1192:2007. This British standard was quickly supported technologically by several of the UK extranet vendors, and became one of the foundations of the UK’s BIM Level 2 requirements.
In parallel, NBS was also extending its work on product data to develop a BIM object source, the NBS National BIM Library (rivals included BIMStore, SpecifiedBy, Sweden’s BIMObject, and Cobuilder’s GoBIM from Norway, among others), launched in 2011. NBS was also part of a consortium commissioned in 2014 to develop a “BIM toolkit“, creating two building blocks of Level 2: the digital Plan of Works (dPOW) and a classification system for construction objects (see Why the UK BIM toolkit is a key building block, October 2014). NBS was also one of the technology vendors in the UK BIM Task Group’s BIM Technologies Alliance (a predecessor of the UK BIM Alliance‘s Technology Group* – of which NBS recently became a member).
At the time of the ‘BIM Toolkit’, Waterhouse said the dPOW would become an important resource to help technology vendors, particularly providers of SaaS construction collaboration platforms. It would provide a ‘common data environment’ to support sharing of structured data across a project. Classification development would see Uniclass 2 clarified, reworked and extended to ensure comprehensive and international coverage of all professions’ needs across all disciplines, including infrastructure projects, he continued.
NBS was set to be the ‘guardian’ of the BIM toolkit, using the expertise and experience gained in creating toolkit elements to offer other value-added products or services. It aimed to ensure the ‘toolkit’ would remain freely available to UK construction. Six years later, Waterhouse says NBS remains committed to supporting the toolkit, not least to ensure it fits with the growing suite of ISO 19650 standards and related guidance in the UK BIM Framework.
NBS Chorus and ‘CDE 3.0’
August 2020 marks two years since the launch of the NBS Chorus Software-as-a-Service application – NBS’s first cloud-based platform – incorporating specification, classification and BIM standards. This is one of the “value-added products or services” developed through application of NBS’s accumulated knowledge, and, in Waterhouse’s view, Chorus can effectively perform as a ‘common data environment‘.
“We are starting to see the move to ‘CDE 3.0’ – from documents to data. This is being driven by both technology and by regulatory requirements (including provisions to support Dame Judith Hackitt’s ‘Golden Thread of Building Information’, now included in the draft Building Safety Bill). It is important, though, to recognise that CDEs are not a single system solution – no more than you could ‘buy BIM in a box’ – but are about linked and dynamic data with the ability to record and compare versions of datasets.”
Waterhouse believes NBS has a suite of cloud based applications that can evolve to be this new view of the CDE:
“The BIM Toolkit can set the project requirements and identify roles / responsibilities and outputs at each stage of the project. Then NBS Chorus refines these requirements through the decision-making process, linked to the geometry models, product data (in NBS Source) and standards / regulatory data.”
Persistent product data
“Product data is consistent in geometric (object) and data formats. It has unique IDs for products and includes links to data sheets, catalogues, etc for future reference. NBS Chorus can already function as a collaboration platform, with multiple parties given tiered levels of access. As well as design and construction team members, manufacturers and specialist contractors can be invited to write and record details of their products and systems. This improves accuracy and data capture when particular products and systems are known to be used.
“Critically, persistent product data can be maintained for the operational phase of the building, when products and systems must be maintained or replaced. This ensures that any new products at least meet the original design performance requirements. The persistent data is also critical to maintaining consistent data over time. We maintain versions of the product data so that, in the future, users can refer back to the original documentation.
“Over time, we will see the concept of ‘documents’ moving to be ‘model’ or ‘data’ views, each recorded at a date and time. NBS has already reshaped the integration between the geometry model and specification / product data in the UK, and this is also interesting customers in international markets. There is a logical extension to this integration with many of the process and audit-trail requirements of a ‘CDE’ (as we currently use the term).”
[* Disclosure: I am chair of the UK BIM Alliance’s Technology Group and a member of the Alliance executive team.]