Thursday, 30 June 2011

Structured Data

The best software is extremely user friendly and has great functionality. But what is often overlooked is the quality of the structured data that makes this possible.

Looking at two of the biggest websites in the UK and, the one thing they have in common is the quality and quantity of well structured data. This allows their web developers to create great functionality and an extremely well designed application.
Fig 1 - Filter a huge dataset to find exactly what you want

The screenshot above shows that within the user has very quickly found a car through selecting from a number of questions.

Interestingly, within this blog service (, these blog posts are well structured and may now be viewed in many different ways. Select and you can see all of the posts presented in some wonderful ways. Equally, the same content can be displayed differently depending on the device the blog is viewed on (PC/Mac or mobile device).

Fig 3 - Blogspot mobile device

At RIBA Enterprises we strive to do the same. Improve our data. And then provide excellent functionality and usability on top of this. A current example of this is with our manufacturer product data. This is structured to quite a fine level: (1) Product name, (2) Product reference, (3) Optional properties, (4) Default properties, (5) Third party approvals, (6) Links to literature, CAD objects and CPD.

By finely structuring this data - it allows us to display the same data in a number of different ways in a number of products:

Fig 4 - The Zest cubicle at

Fig 5 - Specifying the Zest cubicle within NBS Scheduler

Fig 6 - Specifying the Zest cubicle within NBS Building or Engineering

Fig 7 - The RIBAE data for the Zest cubicle on the manufacturer's own website

The work we are currently doing with our products and services follows this principle quite strongly. To keep an eye on our NBS 2012 developments and how the structure of the data gives huge benefits keep coming back to this blog.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The launch of BIM Academy

Last night I attended the launch of the BIM Academy There were a number of speakers including Lord O’Neil,  chairman of the Nuclear Industries Association and Bill East, Senior Research Civil Engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

It was also particularly interesting to hear James Brown, Head of Model Development and Specification at ASDA speak. Largely through Wallmart's lead, Asda now insist on the use of BIM on all of their jobs and are building up a digital asset record of their 500 buildings in the UK. The use of BIM through the design stages has cut 12 week processes down to 6 week processes and has allowed them achieve fee reduction.

Discussions and questions also took place on public sector work. In particular, the aim of creating effiencies so that the tax payer gets better value from the £38billion that is spent each year on government owned buildings.

It was great to see ex-NBS R&D team members Professor Steve Lockley and Dr Jane Matthews from Northumbria playing a big part in the event. It was also encouraging to hear Helen Whitfield RIBA Enterprises Exec-Director talk to the delegates on how NBS and BIM Academy hope to work together more closely over the coming months.
"Looking to the future, our relationship is set to grow. RIBA Enterprises and NBS will be working with the BIM Academy on a number of key industry initiatives which we hope will bear considerable benefits in the advancement of BIM adoption in the UK",
Helen Whitfield, Exec-Director RIBA Enterprises

Monday, 20 June 2011

NBS Create - The specification as a rich information model

Last month I blogged about how our new "NBS 2012" specification product allows outline, performance and full specifications to be created.

This month, the article below looks at how the project specification will no longer be simply "words on paper", but it will be made up of objects with pre-authored relationships and constraints that describe the building.

1. Starting with Systems
The screenshot below shows that the project specification is made up of the systems in the job, for example, biofuel supply system, solar heating system, natural ventilation system. This example uses engineering services systems, but it could equally apply to architectural systems such as windows, doors, walls and floors.

Each of these can be opened in the editor to display an outline of the products that make up the system. The screenshot below shows the solar heating system being described in terms of its components such as the heat source, pipelines and insulation. Against each of these NBS have pre-defined the links to the most likely candidate products. For example, against the Thermal insulation component the user may pick from three different types of insulation products.
Alternatively, the user may specify this system in terms of its performance, this was looked at in last months blog post.

In addition to the products that make up the system, at the base of each system outline clause there are pre-authored relationships to clauses describing the execution and completion of the system. For example, what the installation, documentation and servicing requirements of the system are.

2. Products
Moving down the system editor, the products clauses that have been included in the job are defined. The example below shows the definition of a flat plate collector for the solar heating system. This is familiar to users of current NBS.
However, the principle of parent and child relationships is also continued here. The screenshot below shows the relationship between the flat plate collector and its corresponding installation clauses.

The example installation clause is shown below... 
3. Visualising the system
In this example, the project specification now describes the the systems (and the spaces they belong to), their child products and their installation and completion requirements for these. Behind the scenes this is a very rich data model that allows some great functionality that will provide better efficiency and accuracy to the user. This is a rich information model describing the building.
One immediate benefit of this is the ability to visualise the system, to see all of the child items and the relationships. This is shown below. As well as a simple visualiser, this view also works as a navigator to open the clauses in the job and the technical guidance also synchronises.

4. Reports
Over the coming months I will blog about the great functionality that this now allows. But to finish this post off, a screenshot of one of the automatically generated reports is shown. The user has clicked to see a report of all items in the job that the contractor has design duties. The user has clicked on an item that is "contractor's choice" and the software has then jumped to the correct item.
Other types of instant reports include manufacturer products, reference documents and user note reports. The user will also be able to define their own reports and it will be possible to publish these reports.

Further reading...
For all blog articles on NBS 2012 - click the NBS 2012 hyperlink to the right of this page.

To join our Beta Testing Program and help us develop this product, please see:

Saturday, 18 June 2011

BIM Academy Launch

If any BIM fans are in London on Tuesday evening then I'd recommend attending the launch of the BIM Academy at Kings Place London from 6pm.

RIBA Enterprises have a long history of working with both universities in Newcastle and we are currently involved in two big research projects with Northumbria looking into BIM.

Details from the press release are in screenshot below. I'll be attending and maybe having a glass of wine or two.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

New version of is now live

The new version of is now live. is the online extension of the printed RIBA Product Selector – the market-leading product directory for specifiers and other construction industry professionals. Enhancements include:

1. For construction professionals
The entire website has been overhauled to make searching for what you need quicker and easier.

Start typing "loft" and suggested search phrases are presented....
The search results can be refined to quickly narrow down your search...
Products have detailed technical specifications, PDF data sheets and links to associated documentation such as catalogues, installation manuals and case studies. Once a product of interest is found, then the user can easily browse to find out about related items...

Where a manufacturer has CPD material this is also displayed...

2. For manufacturers
Manufacturers can now manage their own data on - a number of services are available:
  • A completely free company listing for all manufacturers in the construction trade
  • The ability to add and manage your own product literature
  • Many other RIBA Insight marketing solutions such as NBS Plus, CPD and the inclusion of case studies in monthly newsletters
 The free listing is as simple as displaying your contact details to improve the number of leads.