Saturday 26 December 2020

DJI Mini 2 Drone - Angel of the North and Penshaw Monument

I've always loved cool technology, and finally DJI have released an absolutely awesome drone that just about made it into my price range.

The DJI Mini 2 has all of the great features you'd expect from a top of the range drone, but for a few hundred pounds instead of approaching the thousand pound mark.

Check out the awesome footage I managed to take (on a reasonably windy day) after just watching one or two youtube tutorials...

To get the shots in the above video I used the 'Circle' QuickShot mode. You take it out to about 50-60m from the target, click 'Circle', then tap the target and click Go. The drone does the rest. Amazing footage without needing any real flying skill.

The two north east landmarks are:

Discover the DJI Mini 2 for yourself at:

Friday 18 December 2020

NBS - A look back at 2020

As we're approaching the end of the year, I thought I'd look back on 2020 and blog about what we've been up to at NBS.

Let's look at things in three sections 1. NBS Chorus, 2. NBS Source and 3. Other activity.

1. NBS Chorus

We expected NBS Chorus usage to grow steadily this year, but nobody could have predicted by how much. With the majority of our users being forced to work from home, the industry moved away from installed software to cloud software. As a result, we end the year with the majority of those previously using NBS Building and NBS Create now using NBS Chorus for their specification writing.

We recognised that this was the future and we are now retiring our desktop products and focusing all attention on our cloud platforms. Some of the biggest features are looked at below...

1.1 Revisions and publication history

All of the specifications published now are stored in the cloud. Each publication has defined meta data that aligns to the ISO 19650 framework (suitability, revisions, container ID...). Within each specification all items can be classified to Uniclass 2015 and new, amended and deleted requirements are clearly highlighted.

A record of all specifications issued on a project

Further information -

1.2 Import from NBS Building

Last year we implemented the ability to import an NBS Create specification for use in NBS Chorus with the Uniclass 2015 classification. In 2020 we implemented the same process to allow NBS Building specifications to be imported retaining their CAWS classifications.

Traditional NBS specifications - a more modern version of Building in the cloud

Further information -

1.3 Company stylesheets

Content is king. But how the content looks is also pretty important, We've learnt over the years that designers want their documentation, drawings and specification to have the same presentation. By introducing templates into Chorus, users can present their specifications to look as they wish.

Customer title and cover pages and logos, styles and header-footers

Further information -

1.4 NBS Chorus Small Works

We recognise that for jobs of a more simple nature that all of the NBS specification and guidance content is not needed. We introduced a lower price Chorus offering for the smaller practices. Small Works comes with one simple content set, but is still offered in the Chorus 1 or Chorus 2 feature package as we recognise that smaller practices still utilise the best technology.

Chorus small works

Further information - 

1.5 NBS plug-in

In 2019 we worked with partners Autodesk and Archicad to launch NBS Chorus plug-ins. As many of the smaller practices use Vectorworks, it was great to be able to adapt the plug-in to work seamlessly with that design tool too in 2020.

Great seeing NBS Chorus embedded in the leading design tools

Further information -

2. NBS Source

We'd realised that the way we presented our manufacturer product information needed a refresh. Having case studies and literature in RIBA Product Selector, specifications in NBS Plus and digital objects in NBS National BIM Library was a disjointed approach. With NBS Source we brought simplicity and a new offering within a single modern web platform.

Having our product teams focus on only two platforms allowed us to deliver lots of value throughout the year. This will continue throughout 2021. Some of the biggest features from 2020 are below...

2.1 Searching

As the user types, suggestions appear with respect to categories (Uniclass 2015), manufacturers and construction products. Once clicked, the search results are filterable to enable the user to find the information they need quickly and easily. 
All the great search features that users are used to from sites like Amazon, Ebay, Autotrader etc...

2.2 Rich product pages

Through our user focus groups we learnt that specifiers value imagery, third party certification, guidance on application/suitability, standardized specification information and digital objects. Each product page presents this information consistently for each manufacturer. The allows designers, contractors, sub-contracts and facility managers to access the information they need from a single source. 
The technical information specifiers need

2.3 Alignment with the specification

NBS Source is a mirror of NBS Chorus. Specifications are quite often developed generically and then a manufacturer's product that meets this specification is selected. By aligning both platforms and sets of data we make the specification process easier and more transparent for all involved.
Manufacturer technical details aligned to the NBS generic specification structure

2.4 Linked information

The information on Source is interlinked. A user can read a catalogue, jump to view technical information about the products within it, then read a case study about a particular product, download the digital object and finally add the product to the specification.
Relevant information linked together - products, case studies, catalogues, certificates...

2.5 A self-serve platform

...and we have greatly simplified the process that manufacturers follow to enter their data into the system. Technical information is added and aligned to the NBS specification structure, the NBS technical team then moderate this adding any comment. Then this is signed off and the content is pushed live to industry.  
A self-serve platform and QA process to manage the data in the NBS Source system
The content from almost 1,500 manufacturers is incrementally being enhanced on Source each week. The Source content is also presented within the Chorus specification platform.
Visit Source to try it now -

3. Other activity

3.1 Construction Leaders' Summit

Our annual conference in October has an amazing set of speakers over the two days. Each presentation was 15-20 minutes long and we recorded each one and made it available on our mini website:

Whether it is Phil Bernstein, or Paul Morrell or Dame Judith Hackitt you'd like to hear from - check out the presentations on our website.
The UK Construction Minister speaking at the main NBS event, and one or two others...

3.2 RIBA Plan of Work 2020 webinar series

Early in the year we partnered with the RIBA and many leading practices (Aecom, HOK, Scott Brownrigg...) to host free webinars on the RIBA Plan of Work and the key topics that it covers.

These webinars are all still available to view on demand for free on the topics: Introduction - Fire safety - Sustainability - Inclusive Design - Conservation - Information Exchanges - Health and safety
The key topics on every project

3.3 NBS customer stories

Every month in 2020 we've published an article with images and videos on how leading companies are benefitting from their use of Chorus or Source. Check out six of the best below:
Designers and manufacturers working collaboratively in the cloud

3.4 Uniclass 2015

Uniclass continues to grow with classifications added from all sectors of the built environment. Uniclass 2015 is now the primary classification system that under-pins Chorus and Source. It is embedded in the UK BIM Framework and UK Government Departments are working with NBS daily to ensure it covers the scope of items needed to model the built environment.
Uniclass continuing to grow

3.5 Exciting times ahead in 2021

Check out the press release about NBS joining the Byggfakta Group of companies:

To be part of a collection of solutions in the field of project information, specification, product information and procurement that are best-in-class across Europe will be the start of an awesome journey. ...and with Glenigan joining the group this month too there are exciting times ahead.  

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Friday 11 December 2020

Classification mapping - Uniclass 2015 to CAWS

This blog posts builds on an article I wrote for - Specifications and classifications

There are a number of use cases for classify assets/things, for example:

  • An annotation on a drawing or schedule;
  • A clause reference in a specification;
  • A Category code in a COBie spreadsheet; or even
  • A label on a physical product
In the UK, the two most common classification systems are Uniclass 1997 (in particular Table L aka Common Arrangement of Work Sections aka CAWS) and Uniclass 2015. 

The need to develop Uniclass 2015 to meet the demands of a digitalized construction industry is detailed at the web page below:

But with roughly half of the industry choosing CAWS and half choosing Uniclass 2015, the question often arises, do they map? and if so how?

In our latest release of NBS Source, all manufacturer systems and products with specifications information now have both Uniclass 2015 codes and CAWS codes. 

Some examples below showing the mapping. Starting with a simple examples and then gradually showing more complex examples.

1. Simple example

One of the aims behind the Uniclass 2015 project was to have a single classification to represent each 'thing' in the built environment. So one classification for a Secondary School (Co_25_10_77) down to one classification for an Interactive Whiteboard (Pr_40_30_25_42).

So in CAWS, is it the same and there is a nice one to one mapping?

Not quite, but almost so in the most simple examples. Consider a daylight pipe.

Source example -

Simple example - Daylight Pipe

There is a one-to-one mapping between Pr_30_59_72_21 Daylight pipes and L10/495 Daylight pipe.

Moving up a level in the tree L10 groups Windows/ rooflights/ screens/ louvres and Pr_30_59_72 groups Rooflights with Pr_30_59 grouping all Openings and opening component products.

By clicking on the classification reference in Source then similar products may be viewed.
- Rooflights filtered to show only daylight pipes

Grouping different types of rooflights together

But this is a one-to-two mapping! What is L10/52 Daylight pipes?

This is the simplified clause in L10 used in the Small Works library. For legacy reasons, there are many products with multiple CAWS references with a specification clause for more complex work and one for more simple work. 

2. Not quite as simple example

The second example is a concrete roof tile.

Source example:

Not quite as simple - a concrete roof tile

In this example, Uniclass 2015 is simple - one code for one physical product. But CAWS unfortunately has a clause for concrete roof tiling and another one for concrete roof tiling with counterbattens. Then, in addition, there are small works versions of both of these.

So analysing 'big data' across many projects with CAWS would need a look up of for four codes.

With Uniclass 2015, a client need look up just one.

Again, the parent groupings allow similar products to be quickly viewed.

View concrete interlocking tiles within the parent category of roof and cladding units

3. Complex example

The most complex example can be seen with products that can be used with many systems. The way CAWS references evolved over time means that there can be a huge number of relevant reference codes. However, with Uniclass 2015 there is only a single code in the majority of cases.

In this final example we will look at lime mortar

Source example:

Complex example - one to many

When the CAWS content was developed, computers were barely used and we lived in a paper world. Now we have modelling tools that can create a link between a parent system and a child product (such as NBS Chorus) or a parent space and a child system (such as Archicad/Revit). So each thing can have a single code and the modelling tool can digitally give the context.

The screenshots below shows one type of lime mortar being used by two different systems. But specified once. By specifying once it makes procurement easier and when potentially defending specification decisions gives context. For clients that want build a digital estate - it makes data querying achievable.

Masonry system A linking to the mortar product 

Masonry system B linking to the same mortar product

The product specified once - but with clear context shown 

To view the mappings, explore NBS Source (free-to-industry):

To specify to the Uniclass 2015 structure, CAWS structure use NBS Chorus (subscription):

To watch a video to learn more about NBS offerings - click below:

- NBS in 60 seconds

- NBS in 30 minutes

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: