Building for the future: the importance of accurate and accessible construction production information

Author: Lee Jones Head of Product Information, NBS

The construction industry, along with all other sectors, is on the cusp of a significant make-or-break scenario. The past decade has seen giant leaps in the development and widespread use of marketing digital technologies and although the digital revolution is not the only factor impacting the construction industry, it does and will be a key element of its evolution.

Recent tragedies have highlighted the importance of improving building safety through how we design, specify and construct our built environment. Alongside this, the need to reduce the impact our sector has on the earth and its survival is paramount. The built environment is responsible for 40% of all carbon emitted into the atmosphere; in a world with a population rapidly approaching eight billion people, unless we reduce the impact we are making, we will find ourselves in a dark place within the next few decades. The commonality between both safety and sustainability is the importance to protect the lives of people not only now but also of future generations.

So how does digital technology align to these needs? Firstly, irrespective of safety or sustainable design, enabling designers to make appropriate choices is a fundamental need in the industry. For years, buildings have been designed as best as possible; after all, nobody goes into a project with the intent of doing a bad job. However, gaining a full understanding of what was being incorporated into those buildings was, and remains in many cases, a challenge. A survey conducted on behalf of the CPA back in October 2019 discovered that over half of construction product specifiers find it too difficult to obtain the relevant product information that they need from manufacturers and suppliers. This is also echoed in research by others. Insynth for example, note in an online article that ‘many businesses are weak in online marketing, choosing to invest more in their sales force than on their online presence’, which has impact on how their product data can be easily accessed by specifiers in a digital world. Difficulty in obtaining accurate data can lead to inappropriate solutions being included within designs and then transferring to the actual finished building. Further risks can then also occur if value engineering takes place, when products are substituted for what are believed to be equivalent items which in reality may be of lower quality.

Personally, I have worked in the construction product manufacturing sector for over two decades, a period which has seen great transitional shift in how data is consumed and importantly surfaced to those whom need it. What is obvious from an internal view dealing with this day-to-day in our sector, is how varied the data from construction product manufacturers is held and presented. Product data can be found in all sorts of places driven by marketing teams, from PDFs and word documents to catalogues. In some cases, product data may not be held digitally or in print, but in someone’s mind. The chances of the specifier being able to access this data effectively is minimal.

With sustainability and safety in mind, there is a clear imperative for the marketing of product data to be addressed and improved upon. This need is echoed throughout the industry; for safety, by the draft building safety bill, the establishment of a new products standards organization and the CPA’s CCPI initiative. For sustainability, undertakings such as the RIBA 2030 climate challenge and the well-established BREEAM and LEED schemes all require better data to function. As with all stakeholders within projects moving forward, accountability and the drive to do the best we can includes the manufacturers and suppliers of construction products. A cultural shift is required and there is a need for process changes and internal scrutiny within businesses to power this, but above all, product data must be honest, transparent, clear, concise and of course digital.

Digital connectivity mitigates risk through removing miscommunication and data is what empowers this. Therefore, the suppliers of construction products and how they market them are the cornerstone of the future of our industry. The challenge is set and we must take note as an industry and make a difference.