30 June 2020

Property transactions call for careful decision making informed by a process with clear, connected and up to date information. Customers often purchase property off the plan or alternatively in commercial office leasing transactions, owners will secure anchor tenants prior to a scheme being issued with an approval to commence construction.  In both situations, customers are being asked to make decisions based on the systems and products specified and installed on a date in the future.

Looking back over the recent decade and contemplating the one ahead, it would be reasonable to imply the property industry will experience considerable reform and all industry participants will have to find ways to adapt to the inevitable change. We say this because significant events in the capital cities of London, Melbourne and Sydney are reshaping the frameworks which are designed to support our industry. London witnessed the tragic circumstances of the Grenfell Tower fire where 71 people lost their lives. Melbourne experienced the Lacrosse Tower fire in its Docklands area and occupants of the Opal Tower located in Sydney’s Olympic Park had to be evacuated due to a failure of the building’s structural fabric. There are many other similar examples and consequently national and state governments respectively are legislating reform.

Subsequent to the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, an independent review was commissioned by the communities and home secretaries of the British government to assess building regulations and fire safety. The review was specifically in relation to HRRB’s (Higher Risk Residential Buildings) in Britain. A final report was published in May 2018, which was led by Dame Judith Hackitt  A copy of this report can be found here. In the previous month of 2018, the Building Products Innovation Council in Australia published its report “Rebuilding Confidence”- an action plan for regulatory. This paper is concerned with all parts of the regulatory framework applicable to the delivery of buildings in Australia as well as those elements that facilitate the delivery, such as finance and insurance.

Debate and legislative change will no doubt continue both here in Australia and the UK. We don’t definitively know how our industry will be shaped in the future, but we can all accord that technology will form part of the strategies we adopt to improve the safety and well-being of end-users.

In light of reform customers are becoming increasingly interested in how and what systems and products are being specified prior to any transaction. Recommendations within the Hackitt report call for a clear model of risk ownership for the client, designer, contractor and owner. It goes further to recommend the duty holder (asset owners) should be obligated to create digital records of buildings from concept design through to operation and ownership – a cradle to grave digital record of the asset’s evolution, offering full transparency to both industry regulators and the end-user of property. It also implies that both the original design and future amendments to that design uphold a fit for purpose standard and buildings are safe for the occupants.

How can asset owners prepare best for regulatory change and how can they better serve real estate customers in relation to the specified systems and products?

If we look at the current Australian environment in preparing construction specifications (It is worth noting the buildings specification document tops the order of precedence list within Australian Standard construction contracts). Generally, in the built-form environment a design process starts from an initial client brief and the production of a three-dimensional digital model. This has been common practice for built-form assets for many years, and as Building Information Modelling (BIM) libraries grow and technology improves, the benefits of digital modelling are further realised in the latest BIM report published by NBS.  The subset of these models are two-dimensional plans and schedules. Interestingly, the document which rests at the top of the hierarchy precedence is disconnected; clearly demonstrating a fracture within the process of digital record creation or a Golden Thread. Most specifications in the Australian market are developed in a siloed approach by way of an excel or word document template, they are often outsourced to external authors and preparation does not commence until the design has been considerably developed. Written within a classification system which does not meet the requirements of AS ISO 19650.1 & .2 and the approach of product selection is often found to be independently specified and not as a systems-based selection.

Our award-winning platforms place information at the heart of Building Information Modelling (BIM). Starting with the NBS BIM Toolkit, a (UK) Government funded and free-to-air tool that defines the roles and responsibilities of the parties to the project. It also defines the products and systems to be used and the levels of information (LOI) and level of definition (LOD) to be achieved at each project stage.

The NBS Chorus specification platform is a collaborative platform that dynamically links the specification with the geometry model. Changes in either data set can be tracked and updated to ensure co-ordination and consistency between the sets of information – a major cause of both cost and quality issues in the field. The platform supports multiple disciplines working on a single data set. This includes authoring for contractors and manufacturers to the databases, enabling accurate as installed data records returned to the asset owner and full transparency for a property purchaser or end-user. Chorus Master specifications are used within an organisation to create an office knowledge base creating a feedback loop from previous projects. In addition, client organisations set base requirements across multiple projects and to ensure consistency across an asset portfolio.

Our NBS Source product data platform brings together thousands of manufacturers and their products onto a single database, all highly structured to match the specification requirements. The ability to synchronise with the Chorus platform, allows specifiers to select a specification clause and display relevant product data. This will include technical properties as well as testing and conformance information.

The NBS ecosystem is not just about our products. It also includes integrations with market-leading platforms in other areas. As an Autodesk Solutions Associate, we are an exemplar of integrations with the Autodesk products including the market-leading CAD software, Revit and BIM360. We can provide integration with many platforms in common data environments. Buildings are becoming increasingly complex and as technology inevitably moves forward, highly structured well-authored specification content which is communicated within a common language framework, Uniclass 2015, can only lead to increased efficiency, less product selection errors by manufacturers and specifiers, and fewer interpretative errors by contractors. Meaning better designed, better constructed and safer buildings for real estate customers.

The NSW Department for Transport (TfNSW) has recognised this gap and is in the midst of a step change to mandate the use of Uniclass 2015 for the design of infrastructure assets moving forward. The department published its Application for Uniclass 2015 document in November 2019

How does the NBS cloud-based construction specification platforms tie all of this together, and what are the benefits to asset owners?.

Our software is a digital product of our business model. A model which has stood up for fifty (50) years since the NBS began its journey. In 1970 we set out to provide well-written, pre-authored content for designers. Prior to today’s digital technology, we published a set of specification books which could be purchased and subsequently amended to suit your project requirements. Technological gain has afforded the opportunity to leverage the support we have been providing industry, by developing Chorus & Source into a leading piece of global software for the property industry.

The NBS are also the custodians of Uniclass 2015 and we employ teams in all of our global offices to write, manage and publish technical content which is up to date with the respective building and construction codes and standards. The benefits of early produced and connected specifications to asset owners are threefold and this explains to some extent why the industry recommendation for a common classification system has gained momentum within the department of transport in NSW.

Asset owners often request construction documentation to be priced at an early stage of its development. Quantity surveyors and contractors will receive documentation early in its development. Costing Information is produced which is the basis of initial cost plans for project budgeting and consequently guides design direction. Associating the digital design elements within the model, to a pre-authored and up to date specification and classification system offers unprecedented clarity at the very outset of a project. Resulting in greater certainty for owners in the early stage of a property lifecycle.

A specifications content using data which is highly structured, well written and assembled in a systems-based approach provides increased certainty of an assets fit for purpose performance. Allowing owners to confidently field enquiry from investors, purchasers and tenants throughout the entire design journey, construction and operational phases of an asset.

With the responsibility of specification ownership being transferred during the property life cycle, from the architects or engineers to the head contractor during design and construct project delivery arrangements and ultimately the responsibility of the building owner through the operational stage. When we move into a tighter regulatory framework and a clear risk ownership model; a digital audit trail will inevitably become a non-negotiable requirement for asset owners.

The NBS software provides a digital fingerprint of each specified system and product all the way through to asset ownership and operation. It is a key piece of technology helping owners create the Golden Thread of digital data in a low-cost environment. To find out more book a demo here.