Saturday 27 September 2014

The Google of BIM?

Construction Manager
Interesting to read an article in Construction Manager asking whether NBS was becoming the Google of BIM.

The article, written by John Eynon, (CIOB/BIM4SME/Author of The Design Manager's Handbook) looks at our recent re-launch of NBS National BIM Library, the winning of the contract to complete level-2 BIM for Government and the launch of the NBS BIM Object Standard.

Firstly, many thanks to John for his very kind words about the BIM Object Standard. To quote...

"The 44-page standard itself is comprehensive and well worth a read, the level of detail and clarity is exemplary. The main section outlines how a BIM object should be structured, covering its general, information, geometry, functional and metadata requirements."

The second half of the article then asks whether there is a risk of NBS becoming the Google of BIM? (i.e. too dominant).

My personal view of this, is firstly that it is very flattering to even be mentioned in the same sentence as Google, but when it comes to market dominance, on the software side BIM is very much seen as the domain of the 3D modelling tools. Quite often other key software tools, that form part of the BIM ecosystem such as NBS, Causeway, 4projects, ASITE etc... are not yet seen as BIM. So we have a long way to go here.

And on the BIM content side of things, the market is very competitive - not just in the UK - but increasingly from international providers. This competition coupled with the fact that the majority of BIM content providers deliver their content free to end users has got to be great news for the industry. So I personally don't see any one organisation dominating - just great competition - which is fantastic for the industry.

However, when looking at the Google principles, there are many things they have done that has changed the software industry for the better. For myself, as an R+D professional, Google are a huge inspiration. I include a few examples of this are below with respect to how this inspiration has helped enhance NBS National BIM Library.

1. Fantastic software and content - free to end users
Google's business model is to give end-users the best functionality for free, this then builds a large user base to which advertiser content is relevantly placed in an unobtrusive way. In the example below, the user has searched for "curtain wall systems", they have then been returned relevant images and relevant websites. But in addition, the construction manufacturer of glazed solutions Dow Corning is placed on the page. Dow Corning have paid for this placement and in return the end users gets something special for free.
Google - fantastic search - unobstrusive advertising
NBS National BIM Library has a similar business model. Manufacturers must pay to distribute their content, in return, this allows NBS to invest in content management systems to help expert authors produce high quality generic BIM objects and also a digital distribution network (website, plug-ins, web syndication...) that is first class. The best bit, is that all of this generic content, all of this manufacturer content and all of this functionality is completely free to the industry. This creates efficiencies, improves best practice and allows manufacturers to put their content and their added value services in front of specifiers.

What is unique about NBS National BIM Library is the availability of generic content and manufacturer content. BIM users early in a project can add generic content when they wish to describe a system or product. Later in the project, they can swap these generic objects for manufacturer object when they want to prescribe a system or product. The level of detail and level of information smoothly grows as the project develops.
Descriptive early in a project with generic objects
Prescriptive later in a project with manufacturer objects
The screen captures below demonstrate the unique way that manufacturer objects are positioned beside generic objects.
Assa Abloy and Leaderflush manufacturer objects positioned against generic internal door

Dolphin, Warner Howard and Dyson manufacturer objects positioned against generic hand dryer

Sapa and AluK manufacturer objects positioned against generic glass units

Big Foot manufacturer objects positioned against generic rails and mountings
2. One account - many services
Your free Google account allows you access to many great products and services: Google+, Gmail, YouTube, Blogger, Analytics, Google Docs etc... It also remembers your settings in the cloud on any device.
Google Account
At NBS, your free NBS account gives you access to great features in many of our online offerings. For example, creating a shortlist of CPD on, downloading the RIBA Plan of Work toolbox, the support area of, free BIM objects at National BIM Library and of course pay-per-use tools such as NBS Domestic and subscription products such as NBS Create.
Booking continued professional development through your single account
3.  Open standards to help support the entire industry
Where Google develop useful tools, that are useful to the wider industry, they share them. For example Google Charts or Google Hosted Libraries (eg javascript libraries).

By sharing what they do internally with the industry (for example, how to put charts or scripting on a website) in a standardised way they are reducing the cost to create websites and delivering efficiencies across an industry.

At NBS, we had to develop a standard way of creating BIM objects for National BIM Library. A standard way of working regardless of software platform and one that had researched the international standards such as IFC and COBie and also the UK standards such as the BS 8541 series. It is also worth mentioning that a lot of internal staff time is spent on the buildingSMART and BSI B/555 committees helping define these national standards.

We could have kept this methodology to ourselves, but we published this for all. This is in an effort to help all of industry create consistent content to increase efficiencies and reduce risk. Design practices, manufacturers, clients and content providers will all benefit through consistency of approach. We realise that we cannot create every object for every generic object or every manufacturer, so where others do this - it's best for industry if it is to common standard.

Free to industry - the NBS BIM Object Standard
Early signs are that the standard is being very well-received by industry.
Respected voices within the industry give their opinions on the standard
4. Linked information
Google have many fantastic products and services and they link them together to make things easier for the user. A simple example of this is the ease at which a youtube video can be inserted into a blog post.
Inserting a YouTube video into a blog post
A parallel example within National BIM Library of linking technology/content together is with the linked information against BIM objects. This includes case studies, catalogues and maintenance manuals within RIBA Product Selector, CPD from and specification from the NBS specification products.

Manufacturers know that whilst BIM is an enabler, it is part of a more rounded technical service that they provide specifiers. This is why the National BIM Library links to a number of other channels for delivering the key information.
Linked BIM, specification and additional technical support information
5. Fantastic user experience
Google say "Focus on the user and all else will follow".

Hopefully users of the National BIM Library will agree that we put the focus on the user - excellent free content, a focus on raising standards and a fantastic digital user experience.
The National BIM Library
To conclude, what NBS is doing is hopefully increasing the encouraging the production of BIM objects to a common standard from many sources and helping with the UK's BIM journey. Looking to an innovate inspirational organisation such as Google - hopefully some small parallels from a number of their key principles can be seen.

Wednesday 24 September 2014

The NBS BIM Object Standard

The NBS BIM Object Standard is now available and free to download.

This is the standard we operate internally to at NBS. We saw no reason why not to share it for free with industry in an effort to support the UK's BIM community.

The standard refers heavily to the BS 8541 series of publications, COBie and the buildingSMART IFC schema. It is supported by Autodesk, Bentley, buildingSMART, Graphisoft and Nemetschek.

The NBS BIM Object Standard
The standard was launched on Tuesday 23rd September - some photographs and videos from the launch event are below...
A few words from Director of NBS National BIM Library - Ian Chapman
A few words from myself
VIP speaker and Head of BIM at the UK BIM Task Group Dave Philp
Augmented reality BIM from our technology partner for the evening Soluis Interact
Watch the Soluis demonstration below...

The NBS National BIM Library augmented reality wall
Furniture from
Sanitaryware from
Curtain and blind systems from
Curtain wall, window and door systems from
Doorsets from
The journey to level three :)
Download the NBS BIM Object Standard:

Monday 22 September 2014

The BIM Toolkit

In January this year there were a set of three workshops in London where the brief and functional specification were defined to create a free-to-use BIM Toolkit for the UK that would complete the "level-2" BIM package.

Throughout the year, I have posted everything in the public domain about this project at the post below:

Today it was announced that Team NBS had been successful in winning this project. As the NBS project lead on this, I write this blog to tell a little more about our journey so far.

Some photographs from these initial workshops...
Brain storming requirements, listening to the BIM Task Group and sketch designs put together in a pub in Kings Cross
Following this, in May this year we were fortunate enough to be one of three teams to receive funding for the feasibility study. As part of this initial work, we put our ideas past a number of focus groups to help refine our proposals.
Focus group, focus group, focus group, proposals and careful analysis of the feedback
...and finally this week, following our feasibility report and phase-2 application, it has been announced that we have been successful in winning the main contract. To find about more about our proposals, please jump across to our main web-portal for this project to watch the video we put together as part of our feasibility study.
Watch the video
Some quotes from this video...

"I think, with this information available, we'll have a clear target for building design and delivery and what this will do is enforce an inter-disciplinary rigour which doesn't exist at present."
Alistair Kell, BDP

"It means two main things; clarity and consistency. Clarity in the sense that we are improving the assurance of delivery and removing ambiguity and making it clear the levels of detail and the levels of information required at every stage... Consistency in the sense that it will mean the end for bespoke BIM protocols across different organisations."
Adam Lamping, Laing O'Rourke

"I think it's clear at the moment that most people are working in a PC based closed environment... we've got to move the technology platforms on to be more open and also more data centric. I think what we are doing here in this project is laying the foundations for people to start building the level-3 type processes that don't exist in the industry at the moment."
Professor Steve Lockley, BIM Academy

"How do we solve the problems that construction has got in moving from analogue systems into a digital world? We have demonstrated that we have a plan and we can support the Government in delivering their objectives."
Richard Waterhouse, NBS

When announcing the news today David Philp, Head of BIM with the UK BIM Task Group commented that "the completion of the Digital Plan of Works (DPow) and Classification System will not only complete the Level 2 BIM suite but help drive the take-up of BIM, support exploitation of the standards and ensure that the UK remains at the vanguard of a digital transformation in the built environment."

Keep an eye on the following places for news as this project develops:

And finally, a special final mention and thank you to our core team members:
The team

Friday 19 September 2014

The best machine ever

Whenever we get together with BIM Academy, the meetings start with this little machine...

Friday 12 September 2014

Our new NBS National BIM Library website

In the last few days the new version of our NBS National BIM Library has gone live. Our vision was to create a beautiful website that focused around the clear user need of finding BIM objects.

Fig 1 and 2 below show that the new home page has a central call to action to find BIM objects and also has a search box placed front and centre on every page. Furthermore, as the user starts to type our intelligent search technology suggests the most likely categories for the search returns. For example, in Fig 2, the user is searching for "boi" and "boilers in heating systems" is the search that is suggested. In Fig 3, the user is presented with the BIM objects relevant to this search within this top level category ready to download. This presents the information to the end user in one click, whereas clicking "search" to bring up a search box, then searching, then selecting "heating systems" would have been three clicks.
Fig 1 - The new NBS National BIM Library website
Fig 2 - Search suggestions
Fig 3 - Quickly find the objects that you need
The ability find objects through filtering is demonstrated nicely in the screenshots below. Fig 4 shows that 159 objects have been returned from a search for "Doors". Within these search results, the top ten categories are displayed to the left. The number of objects in each relevant category is shown so that the user is aware of this prior to refining their selection further.
Fig 4 - Search filters to narrow the results
In Fig 5 and Fig 6 the user refines the search further by selecting a sub-category to reduce the results to 30 doors and then a particular manufacturer to end with 4 objects from that specific manufacturer in that specific sub-category.
Fig 5 - Continue to narrow the results down using the filters
Fig 6 - Choose from generic NBS objects or manufacturer objects
In terms of discovering relevant content, a number of "widgets" have been introduced to the site. In the example in Fig 7 below, the user is on a page showing a generic flat roof, below this object a number of relevant additional objects from across the library are shown. In Fig 8 a manufacturer's roof object is shown, in addition to the object is related content from such as an NBS specification or literature such as case studies, catalogues and manuals. This is particularly important. As much as BIM is a game changer, we will never reduce manufacturer products to just a digital object with geometry, properties, values and embedded functionality. There is always the need for additional information that specifiers need around the added-value services from the manufacturer and case studies of that product "in action".
Fig 7 - Relevant alternative objects presented on every object page
Fig 8 - Further information in terms of NBS specification and related literature is also linked to the object
New content is being published each week on the library. We have newly designed pages for browsing this content, either by category or by manufacturer name. Fig 9 shows that recently added and coming soon manufacturers are indicated with a small label.
Fig 9 - Almost a manufacturer for every letter of the alphabet now
In terms of site navigation, the menu bar at the top has three options:
(1) Find BIM objects - the primary purpose of the site - this allows users to browse for the content they need
(2) BIM tools and guides - this includes information about our plug-ins for the leading BIM design software (such as Revit and ArchiCAD - Fig 10) and information that is an introduction to BIM for those wanting to know more.
(3) For manufacturers - this has all of the information needed for manufacturers that want to start their BIM journey and join the library (Fig 11)
Fig 10 - Download NBS plug-ins for leading BIM design software
Fig 11 - Expert articles for designers and manufacturers that are new to BIM
Finally, Fig 12 shows that the NBS Research+Development team have carefully designed and developed each page so that the information is presented in an optimum way whether the user is on a PC, Mac, portable device such as an iPad or a mobile phone such as an iPhone.

Fig 12 - Every page individually crafted to render beautifully on a device of any size screen
So, we hope you like the site. We are still working hard on new enhancements that will build on this fantastic new platform. So watch this space for more great stuff on its way...


Update (12/09):
Our Digital Commerce Director Robin Cordy gives further insight into the site enhancements on an article on our website: