Friday, 4 December 2020

Working with the NBS specification data

With NBS Chorus and NBS Source, our vision is to (a) first and foremost to produce best-in-class platforms with great user experience and then (b) to open up the data for partners and those with basic programming skills to use.

With both, we have loads of exciting functionality planned for the main platforms, this means that opening up the data access will take a little longer. However, we do allow users to export specifications to the well-structured DOCX format.

Primarily this is for manipulation in Microsoft Word. But as a secondary point of interest, this means that hobbyist programmers can play with the data.

Last Saturday morning @mgjspidey on Twitter let me know that he'd written some code to generate a Revit Keynote file from the DOCX output. As I used to enjoy a bit of programming a while back, I took this as a challenge to dust off the old coding fingers and write some sample code that I'd share with the community. Having some spare holiday days mixed with Covid lockdown boredom also helped ;) 

As the most accessible coding language for Microsoft Office is probably VBA, I wrote some code and popped it up on GitHub.

Summaries of the four use cases are below. Feel free to download and amend the code to create your own use cases.

1. Microsoft Word Macro - Generate Keynote file from Chorus specification

Use case: Revit LT users cannot use the NBS Plug-in for Revit. So a keynote file is required for making annotations.

Coding solution: Open the DOCX file - run the macro - generate the keynote file.

NBS plan: Intend to implement in this within Chorus in 2021, in particular for small works customers.

Generate keynote file from published specification

2. Microsoft Word Macro - Prepare NBS legacy word-processing for importing into Chorus

Use case: NBS customers may have old word processing versions of NBS they want to import into Chorus as record/historic specifications. Unfortunately, the historic word processing format used does not have structure to it.

Coding solution: Open the DOCX file - run the macro - convert to a file that imports cleanly.

NBS plan: Incremental enhancements to the MS Word import feature will continue to be made.

The word-processing file format for the last 25 years :)

The macro loops through the document giving it structure

...and then import well-structured content into Chorus

3. Microsoft Word Macro - Prepare stylesheet for uploading to Chorus 

Use case: It can be quite time consuming to change the colour and font-style for all styles in an NBS print template document.

Coding solution: Open the DOCX file - run the macro - change all of the fonts and colours instantly.

NBS plan: No plan at this stage to develop this into the main software

Choose your heading colour and document font

All changes are made

4. Microsoft Excel Macro - Generate a pricing document

Use case: On small jobs that don't of bills of quantities, a priceable spreadsheet with specification references may be useful.

Coding solution: Open the XSLM file, specify which DOCX file to look at - run the macro - generate the pricing spreadsheet.

NBS plan: Intend to implement in this within Chorus in 2021, in particular for small works customers.

Browse to the DOCX file and click the button

Pricing sheet generated from specification sections

Calculation and currency field types added

I do realise that programming and working with data like this is not for everyone. But hopefully this will spark of other ideas of what the data inside specifications can be used for - ideas worked on can turn into well-worked functionality that makes it into the main product one day too.

Friday, 27 November 2020

NBS - The next step in our journey

News in the press is all about the next step in the NBS journey. From

From our website:

NBS joins Byggfakta to bolster growth

NBS enters the next phase of its development as it joins the Byggfakta Group, with backing from Stirling Square Capital Partners and TA Associates.

27 November 2020

NBS, the construction technology platform, today announces that it has joined the Byggfakta Group, a leading data and software provider to the European construction industry. Byggfakta Group is backed by private equity firms Stirling Square Capital Partners and TA Associates.

NBS team in Newcastle

NBS has a long track record in providing information and tools to the construction industry, and in recent years has transformed into a leading Software as a Service (SaaS) provider. The NBS platform brings construction specifiers, manufacturers and contractors together, to improve the quality of project decision making, drive product specification and provide critical insights, through a unique digital toolset.

The company has grown significantly in the last two years, both organically and via acquisitions, resulting in increased international revenues, with permanent bases now established in both Canada and Australia, alongside the recent acquisition of SCL Schumann and Ezyspec in Australia.

The company also invested significantly in its product suite, transitioning legacy on-premise products into two flagship cloud-based solutions, NBS Chorus and NBS Source.

NBS, based in Newcastle, UK, will continue as a prominent brand in the construction space, and increased investment will boost product development and international expansion plans. It will continue its long-standing partnership with the RIBA on the delivery of the RIBA CPD Providers’ Network.

NBS marks Byggfakta Group’s first expansion to the UK and follows the recent investments in Vortal in Portugal and Olmero in Switzerland. The NBS investment will enable Byggfakta Group to broaden its scope both geographically and functionally, and to strengthen its position as a leading data and technology provider to the construction industry, spanning project information, product information, specification, e-tendering, and e-billing.

Colin Smith, Executive Chairman, NBS, says, “We are delighted to be joining the Byggfakta Group. 2020 saw an acceleration of technology adoption in the construction sector, which is set to continue for years to come. NBS has benefited from this trend and will continue to keep pushing ahead of the curve. Partnering with Byggfakta Group and its investors is an exciting development that will give us the support we need to scale up further and faster. NBS will be taking its products to new markets and will continue to improve its offering to existing customers.”

We will continue serving our customers with our existing products and services, but with the reach of a significant industry player and substantial financial backing. 2021 will be extremely exciting as we push on with new developments and enter into new markets.”

Smith concludes, “I’d also like to thank RIBA and LDC for their support and backing in helping us get to where we are today.”

Byggfakta Group CEO Stefan Lindqvist said, “We have long known about and admired NBS and its unique position in the UK construction market. With the support of RIBA and LDC, and under Colin’s leadership, NBS has become an attractive, SaaS-native technology vendor and we are excited to welcome the company, its employees, and its customers into the Byggfakta family.”

Completion is subject to the customary regulatory approvals.

From LDC website:

Leading mid-market private equity firm LDC and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), have agreed the sale of NBS to Byggfakta Group, a leading data and software provider to the European construction industry headquartered in Sweden and backed by private equity firms Stirling Square Capital Partners and TA Associates. Financial details of the transaction are undisclosed.

Headquartered in Newcastle UK, NBS is a global leading technology platform that combines the best content and connectivity for anyone involved in the design, supply and construction of the built environment.

LDC and the RIBA partnered to support the growth of NBS in June 2018, with LDC investing £31.8m to help drive NBS’s future product development and international expansion plans. The sale follows a period of significant revenue and EBITDA growth for NBS.

LDC helped the management team to drive an organic and acquisitive growth strategy that saw international revenues increase considerably. NBS established permanent bases in both Canada and Australia, and completed the acquisitions of SCL Schumann and EzySpec in Australia to create Australia’s most comprehensive platform for building product information and architectural specifications, supported by consulting services.

The firm also invested significantly in its product suite during the partnership, transitioning legacy on-premise products into two flagship cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions, NBS Chorus and NBS Source. Both products help bring construction specifiers and manufacturers together, improving the quality of decision making and driving product specification.

NBS marks Byggfakta Group’s first expansion to the UK and follows the recent acquisitions of Vortal in Portugal and Olmero in Switzerland. The acquisition of NBS will enable Byggfakta Group to broaden its scope both geographically and functionally, and to strengthen its position as a leading data and technology provider to the European construction industry, spanning project information, product information, specification, e-tendering, and e-billing.

The transaction was led, on behalf of LDC, by Chief Executive Martin Draper and Head of Yorkshire Dan Smith.

Martin Draper, Chief Executive of LDC said: “The success of NBS over the last two and a half years proves the value of LDC’s approach to supporting experienced and ambitious management teams with the resource, capital and network to grow their businesses. They have delivered both international expansion and significant new product development in a short period of time to create a solid foundation for continued growth. We wish NBS all the best on the next stage of their growth journey with Byggfakta Group.”

Colin Smith, Executive Chairman NBS said, "Our partnership with LDC has both transformed our business and supercharged our growth. They backed our ambition to expand internationally and invested in our technology development, helping us to meet our objectives sooner than expected despite the uncertainty in the market. The team also supported our decision to join Byggfakta Group and we’re excited about the future for NBS as part of a larger international group.”

RIBA President Alan Jones said: “The RIBA founded NBS, and alongside LDC, we are proud to have played a key role in developing it into a thriving business offering exceptional products and services. This transaction secures the RIBA’s long-term future and supports our ongoing work on behalf of members and the architects’ profession in the UK and internationally. My thanks go to our expert executive team, led by Alan Vallance, my fellow trustees and advisors. This deal paves the way for an exciting new era of opportunity.”

Byggfakta Group CEO Stefan Lindqvist said: “We have long known about and admired NBS and its unique position in the UK construction market. With the support of RIBA and LDC, and under Colin’s leadership, NBS has become an attractive, SaaS-native technology vendor and we are excited to welcome the company, its employees, and its customers into the Byggfakta family.”

The completion of the transaction is subject to the customary regulatory approvals.

The shareholders of NBS were advised by BofA Securities and Addleshaw Goddard. Byggfakta Group was advised by Goodwin Procter.

...and finally from me, it's been some journey so far since I saw this job advert in the Northern Echo back in Summer 1999...  Exciting times!

Got the job - learnt how to program - started working on SpecMan and Scheduler

Thursday, 19 November 2020

NBS 1996

Richard W found this NBS Specification Manager manual from 1996 in the archives, thought I'd share it.

Click for larger images.

The manual

Hope you have Windows 3.1 and 40MB of disk space free?

The first office masters and permissions features

You don't have to 'hunt down' information that may or may not be in your library
Product Selector-plus - the first sign of integrating manufacturer content - Rockwool in screenshot

Snappy diagram

Information provided 'in full colour' ;)

...and a joint inititive with Autodesk AutoCAD AEC Release 5

NBS Plug-in for Revit - the parameters that are used

I've had two or three sessions with customers in recent weeks who want a deeper dive into exactly what parameters the NBS Plug-in uses to connect objects to specification clauses. This blog post summarises this. There is also a support article on our Chorus forums about this:

The screenshot below shows three instances of the same type of washbasin in Revit. The schedule shows the NBS parameters that are inserted into an object when linked to NBS Chorus. These will be inserted into any object - the object could be from National BIM Library or an object a practice has created or an 'out of the box' Revit object - it doesn't matter.

Click the screenshots below to see larger views.

A schedule showing the parameters that will be used
The screenshot below shows how an association can be made between the Revit object and the NBS Chorus clause...
Associate an object with the specification clause

Once the association is made, the parameter values are populated. It should be noted that the expectation is that the NBSChorusProjectId, NBSChorusSpecificationId and NBSChorusClauseId parameters are ignored and are just hidden in the background. But in this blogpost I've highlighted them to show the mechanics of how the associations are made and retained. The NBSChorusPrefix, Uniclass2015Code, Uniclass2015Title and NBSChorusSuffix parameters are expected to be used in schedules and annotations.
The parameters are populated

Again, not something that most users will want to know - but the URL of the specification location matches the GUIDs used in the Id parameters. These are highlighted in colour below and in the screenshot.

In this specific case:





The GUIDs can also be seen in the web URL
By maintaining these GUIDs it is possible to maintain the association even if the visible parameters used in scheduling/annotating change as shown below.
The visible parameters may be changed
When the visible parameters become out of sync - the plug-in allows the user to synchronise these once again.
The GUIDs retain the associations and flag any changed visible parameters
By keeping the information coordinated, the drawings and schedules exported from the model can be kept synchronised with information in the live specification.
The plug-in assists with re-synchronising the visible parameters

A few notes to finish on.

Note 1: The rules above apply to Revit system and component objects. For material objects a '_mtrl' suffix is added to the parameter names

Note 2: The above example is for Uniclass 2015 classifications. Similar parameters with slightly different names (for example CAWSCode...) are used for other classification sets such as CAWS or Omniclass.

Thursday, 22 October 2020

Specification - Ten things you should be doing on every project

I delivered the final presentation at our recent Construction Leaders' Summit last week. The brief was to give some really practical examples of how NBS Chorus can help reduce risk and improve efficiencies when delivering construction projects.

I always like lists, so I thought going through a checklist of ten specification considerations through a typical project timeline may be an interesting approach. 

Each of the ten items has a short 60 second video with an explanation, and the presentation can be watched below.

After a presentation to several hundred people, it's always nice to see positive feedback. Especially nice to get this comment below on linkedin from Gio Vettori from Woods Bagot. Kind comments appreciated Gio!

All of the presentations from the summit can be watched on-demand at the link below:

To see examples of NBS users putting these principles into practice see our case studies page:

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Our NBS digital platforms

We needed a 60s video that communicated the NBS story in 60 seconds.

It was fantastic to work with Soluis to put this together in just a few weeks before our Construction Leaders' Conference. Watch it below...

Breaking the video down shot-by-shot...

The built environment can be represented by objects with associated data

New technologies are changing the construction industry

NBS platforms are now being used around the world

Teams now work collaboratively using cloud-based platforms

3D models provide a window into structured data held in the cloud

Products that meet specification requirements can also be queried on the cloud

Products that meet the requirements can be specified

Finally, the specification should develop as the building is built - the decisions verified

A fantastic outcome is achieved

Personally speaking, what I like about this video is that it features the same architectural practice that featured in our very first software promo video back in 1990, FaulknerBrowns.

Back in 1990 the move from typewriter and drawing board to PCs had just started. The video below shows architects at FaulknerBrowns working on NBS Specification Manager 3.0 to specify developments on Newcastle Quayside. Our new video again shows a step change in technology to lower risks and improve efficiencies. Great to look at both 30 years apart.

Find out more about both NBS Chorus and NBS Source below:

Also, finish with a big shout out to Soluis:

Monday, 12 October 2020

NBS Chorus and publication styling (2 of 2)

 I previously blogged about the new stylesheet functionality in NBS Chorus:

As part of some fun testing we had a competition to see who could create the best output using the new feature. We asked Twitter to decide the winner.

In February 2002, 8.7million people voted to decide the X Factor winner between Will Young and Gareth Gates. The excitement and anticipation was no less in October 2020, we received 14 votes to decide the two finalists for the NBS print stylesheet championship.

A sad day for 'Double trouble' which was the Hamil effort :(

So the two finalists are 'Grey sky at night' and 'Front page pics'. Twitter will decide who wins the £20 Amazon voucher.

- Vote now

Grey sky at night
Word background imagery on cover page and great use of meta data throughout
Front page pics
Similar use of meta data - some of the crack team of testers on the lovely front page

- Vote now

Update - winner was Grey Sky at Night - well done BB!

One special mention for a final entry which just didn't make the finish deadline. This came in from our Platform Delivery Director early Saturday morning. Disqualified for (a) not being on brand and (b) missing the deadline. But worth posting due to the awesome use of of meta data on the spec pages.

Awesome front cover

Just showing off now by toggling the section meta data vertically on each page :)

Learn more about how the feature works in the previous post:

Saturday, 10 October 2020

NBS Chorus and publication styling (1 of 2)

The two biggest customer requests right now for NBS Chorus are (a) importing of NBS Building specifications and (b) styling the published specification.

Both are developing really nicely and we're getting really close to the release of the styling functionality. To make final testing a bit more fun we did an 'end the week' challenge session where colleagues from the UK and Canada offices got together to see what they could do with the feature.

The rules of the game
A specification had been prepared. Everyone was given style guidelines (fonts, colours, imagery) and then let loose for just over an hour to see what sort of PDF could be created.

The outputs are below - and there is a Twitter poll to vote for the best effort (£20 prize at stake!). Below the outputs, the feature is also explained.
1. Slim shady - note the cool background effect and use of meta data on cover sheet
2. Printer ink guzzler - radical design, nice use of transparent logo top left of front cover

3. Front page pics - Very nice front cover - note also logo in main page headers

4. The biggest logo in town - Never mind the words on the page - it's all about the watermark :)

5. Retro pic - Nice use of olden days pic of the building on the front cover

6. Double trouble - why have one column of spec text when you can have two?

7. Grey sky at night - Nice skyline effect on cover page
In terms of the process involved...
There is an NBS MS Word template pre-loaded with all of the styles. Tweak this to your company/project brand then upload to Chorus.

Print wizard 1 - Select format and structure

Print wizard 2 - if you want to show revisions - select a comparison spec

Print wizard 3 - Add any project meta data

Print wizard 4 - Select from your uploaded sets of stylesheets

A fun way to do some end-the-week testing on the feature
Voting for the best effort will take place Sat 10th Oct to close of play Mon 12th Oct. 
If you want to cast some votes - scroll down my Twitter feed for the polls:

Update 12/10 - find out the winner at...