30 March 2020

1. Background

The specifiers that use NBS want to create a built environment that is safe and inclusive, and has sustainable outcomes. NBS helps specifiers meet this challenge through delivering standardised information and functionality that both improve productivity and reduce risk.

While specifiers need standardised digital information, construction manufacturers supply the systems and products that make up the built environment. Figure 1.1 below illustrates how NBS is an online digital platform, connecting thousands of specifiers with thousands of manufacturers that work together in the construction industry.

Figure 1.1 – NBS: the information platform connecting specifiers and manufacturers

2. NBS and manufacturer information

At NBS, we have worked with construction manufacturers since the 1970s to help them position their technical information and services to specifiers. In 1973, the very first paper version of the National Building Specification had leading manufacturers positioned against each section.This was in the days before websites, emails or even faxes.

Since then, we have worked with the RIBA to develop different manufacturer services, including RIBA Product Selector (an online product directory), NBS Plus (which positions manufacturer specifications) and also the NBS BIM Library (which delivers digital objects that represent the manufacturer’s physical products).

These services have connected to the RIBA CPD Providers Network to help with professional development. Figure 2.1 shows these offerings – which work well individually, but are admittedly somewhat disconnected.

Figure 2.1 – A series of disconnected services from NBS and RIBA that needed to be aligned within in a single platform

Listening to the feedback from our specifiers and our manufacturers, we have simplified and enhanced these offerings by combining them in a single platform. We have built NBS Source, launching it to the industry in April 2020.

Figure 2.2 shows that the NBS Source platform now combines RIBA Product Selector, NBS Plus and the NBS BIM Library in a single information platform that meets the content specifiers’ needs throughout the project timeline. This allows products to be discovered through case studies at the early stages of a project, then digital objects to be downloaded for the design, before the product is locked into the specification at the technical design stage. Associated information, such as installation and operation and maintenance manuals, may then be accessed at the construction and in-use phase of a project.

Figure 2.2 – NBS Source: a single platform providing manufacturers’ technical content throughout the project timeline

Figure 2.3 illustrates why manufacturers need to be in NBS Source. The main reason is a growing demand for well-structured digital information from specifiers. The days of relying on trade shows and printed catalogues – that are out of date on the day they get printed – have gone. Specifiers demand well-structured technical information that is current, and clearly shows that performance criteria have been verified. 

An increased, more targeted exposure is possible using digital means. Traditional advertising uses a scattergun approach. With NBS Source, exposure is given to manufacturer products at the point when they are being specified. Over 4000 architectural and engineering practices across the UK use NBS for their specifications, so by working with NBS, manufacturers are seen by decision makers on the country’s biggest construction projects. Furthermore, because all of these specification decisions are being captured in the cloud, this intelligence can be aggregated and then delivered back as real insight to the manufacturer.

Figure 2.3 – NBS Source: getting specified more, through digital adoption

3. NBS Source

We believe that NBS Source drives a new future for manufacturer product information. The richness and the well-structured data are what make Source different. The team at NBS is aligning every manufacturer’s product with the structure of the equivalent specification clause in NBS Chorus.

Chorus is the online specification platform from NBS that ‘mirrors’ Source. Figure 3.1 shows the generic specification clause for a hand dryer in Chorus. Our team of technical authors creates each of the specification properties by researching the relevant standards and industry publications. At NBS, we have over 7000 of these clauses, representing the systems and products that are used in our built environment.

Figure 3.1 – Generic and manufacturer specifications aligned

Figure 3.2 shows how this information structure will be used in Source. When performing a search, it is easy to define criteria to ensure that the products identified meet these requirements. For example, when searching for a hand dryer, a requirement may be that it dries hands in less than 12 seconds and has a noise level of less than 70 dB at 1 m. Equally, when searching for a timber section, a requirement may be that it has a strength class of D60 and an FSC certificate.

Being able to filter many possible products from many different manufacturers to only the products that meet your specification is NBS specifiers’ most requested function in our focus groups and surveys. Furthermore, once a selection of products has been filtered, the specifier needs to be able to compare these products. Figure 3.3 shows how products of the same category can be easily compared.

Figure 3.2 – Filtered search based on standardised specification requirements
Figure 3.3 – Product comparison to aid with specification and assessing proposed submittals

Clearly, the declared performance of the product is essential. But this is not the only important piece of information. Our specifiers have told us that other information is essential to improve the way that the industry works. Examples of this are illustrated in Figure 3.4:

  • Imagery showing technical information and in situ visualisations.
  • Availability and currency of information.
  • Short hyperlinks, that permanently link to the Source product page or the Chorus project specification, which can be used in the 3D model and attached to the physical product.
  • Evidence of third-party certification from leading schemes, from organisations such as BBA, BRE and BSI.
  • Application guidance to help specifiers understand which systems from, and in what context, a product is to be used.
  • Integration with NBS Chorus to indicate which previous projects the product has been specified in.
  • Digital objects that can be downloaded and used in design models.
Figure 3.4 – Information that supports the specification process

NBS is now working closely with manufacturers to ensure that their current data within RIBA Product Selector, NBS Plus and NBS National BIM Library can be coordinated and enhanced.

To help with this process, we have developed a manufacturer partner platform that will make it easy to capture and maintain this data. Figure 3.5 shows the data management interface, where product information can be captured or uploaded. In the example shown, a clay brick manufacturer is entering the tolerance banding for their product. In this case, the suggested values are aligned to BS EN 777-1, which in this case is the relevant standard defining clay bricks.

Further work is continuing in this area to look at streaming content from a manufacturer’s digital Product Information Management system to create further efficiencies. NBS is also monitoring the latest standards on digital information exchange and building our systems to allow for interoperability.

Figure 3.5 – Support to manufacturers in standardising their product information
Finally, NBS Source will allow manufacturers to tell their success stories through engaging case studies. Figure 3.6 shows how a manufacturer can present their products through the successful outcomes of the buildings that they were specified for and installed in. In the example below, a number of floor-covering products have been used in a hotel to help create a building that has delighted the client. Within NBS Source, the detailed technical information about products is linked to associated information such as case studies, certification and manuals.
Figure 3.6 – Linking specification with successful outcomes

Over recent years at NBS, we have recognised that the industry demands well-structured digital information and the connected platforms to utilise them when specifying. We believe that our two collaborative platforms, NBS Chorus for specification and NBS Source for manufacturer product information, will fundamentally enhance the way that the industry works.

Manufacturers may contact us for further information on Source at:

Related webinars are available ‘on demand’ at: