NBS Summit: accelerating digital transformation

April 2021’s NBS Construction Leaders’ Summit focused on the Construction Playbook, the climate emergency, building safety and the role of digital technologies across all three.

NBS logoFollowing its successful online Construction Leaders’ Summit in October 2020, Newcastle, UK-based technology and information services provider NBS (now owned by Byggfakta) held a follow-up event, again over two days, on 21-22 April 2021.

As before, it attracted some top-notch speakers, including UK construction minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Simon Rawlinson of Arcadis and the UK Construction Leadership Council, and his CLC colleague Ann Bentley of Rider Levett Bucknall. Over 2000 people registered to join the event, which covered the accelerating digital transformation of construction, including new UK Government guidance, the pandemic, the climate emergency and building safety regulation. And since the event, further detail has emerged regarding the proposed ‘Golden Thread’ element of building safety regulation.

Construction Playbook

Trevelyan highlighted key developments since the previous Summit, including the December 2020 publication of the government’s Construction Playbook – it “resets the relationship between construction and government,” she said – as well as highlighting the urgent need to respond to climate change challenges (the UK is hosting the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow in November 2021). Energy efficiency and accelerating commercialisation of low carbon approaches were recurring themes. Post-Grenfell, she also touched on building safety in high-rise buildings and the establishment of a national regulator for building products, and echoed the Playbook‘s endorsement of the UK BIM Framework at the heart of efficient project delivery.

Who will use the playbookAcknowledging the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Rawlinson noted previous industry calls to “Never Waste a Good Crisis” (the title of the 2009 Wolstenholme Report). He expanded on Trevelyan’s  keynote, highlighting the Playbook‘s core themes: accelerating industry innovation, improving certainty of outcome, defining and driving value more effectively, and making better use of data and insight. The Playbook is set to be used by several of the UK construction industry’s biggest government and infrastructure customers.

Ann Bentley said government policy changes are aligned to how money is to be spent on construction, with increased focus on value for money, and on transformational change. Indicating the importance of the Playbook, she described it as “Perhaps the most significant construction document I’ve seen in my career“. As one of the leader’s of the CLC’s value workstream, including the Construction Innovation Hub‘s Value Toolkit, Bentley said the UK government’s value-based approach is also being taken up by private sector clients.

Digital acceleration

After a presentation by Crawford Wright from the UK Department for Education, this first group of speakers responded to questions, with digital transformation a key strand. Bentley said the COVID-19 lockdown had really helped industry workers utilise and appreciate digital tools; Rawlinson was optimistic about “industry data democratisation” enabled by cloud-based technologies for businesses large and small, and said aspects of the Playbook such as data transparency are desirable and easy to adopt by non-gov clients.

How deployment of technology could help deliver better buildings more efficiently was then described in the next session which included a presentation from Bryden Wood’s Jaimie Johnson, leader of the CIH’s Platform for Design for Manufacture and Assembly programme (“the Playbook provides more impetus and momentum to the platform programme, … the start for ‘harmonisation, digitisation and rationalisation’”). And Matt Hallissey of modular housing provider TopHat talked about opportunities for mass customisation to meet local authority planning needs as well as home-buyers’ requirements.

The climate emergency, and building safety

The Summit’s second day (which was partially sub-divided into two streams for NBS’s primary targets, one for designers and specifiers, and one for manufacturers)  focused more on the climate emergency and building safety. Gary Clark, chair of the RIBA Sustainable Futures Group opened the day talking about ‘Building Sustainably’; sustainability in design is now also being encouraged in the RIBA Awards where judging criteria demand information about energy in use, embodied carbon and water use (read more).

Golden Thread initiativeOnce the event split, the specifiers stream heard from housing association L&Q speakers Johnny Furlong and Kirsty Villiers, and from Rebecca Thompson, an advisor to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. They talked about their ongoing work to flesh out the detail of the post-Grenfell Hackitt Report recommendations concerning the ‘Golden Thread’. Their aim was to pilot production of a standardised digital Golden Thread of building safety information for higher risk residential buildings. And an information management platform group is looking at how technology can support the process (I believe Nottingham, UK-based technology vendor ActivePlan is involved).

The ‘Golden Thread’ defined

Summit attendees effectively got a preview of emerging UK safety guidance. Since the summit, MHCLG and the BIM4HAs group has produced a formal definition, comprising five key criteria, backed by a nine-point annex.

According to a 28 May 2021 BIMplus article, the ‘Golden Thread’ covers the information, documents and information management processes used to support building safety (relating to both the building itself and people in and around it). The guidance highlights that “information could be held in a common data environment, but that there is no requirement for such,” with information held in a “structured way”, and will “likely align with the rules around open source data – so that information can be handed over in the future and still be accessed”.

The summit for specifiers continued with an overview, of the NBS Chorus specification platform (NBS Building, Landscape, and Create, are set to retire on 30 June 2021) and NBS Source (now combining NBS’s Product Selector, National BIM Library and NBS Plus), delivered by Stephen Hamil. He referred back to earlier presentations, stressing the key role of specification (apparently the Playbook mentions specification 38 times), while suggesting digital tools and standard processes are allowing better collaboration, more coordinated information and heightened transparency on audit trails. Carlos Muriel of Atkins then talked about digital design of internal spaces, and Alastair Kell described BDP’s adoption of BIM.

In the day’s final Q&A, the need for an industry culture change was discussed, and Hamil echoed the opportunity outlined earlier by Rawlinson: “We need to get away from decisions made in emails and telephone calls to decisions captured in shared spaces and platforms“.

Presentations and videos from the NBS summit are available via the NBS CLS webpage. NBS has also been promoting follow-up webinars reprising content from the summit – see events. And the 2021 NBS digital survey was also launched at the conference.

[* Disclosure: As a paid consultant, I supported NBS efforts to promote and to share content from the NBS Construction Leaders’ Summit. #CLS2021]

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