Our first roundtable in January brought together a wide range of experienced stakeholders with ideas on how to harness the full potential of product information management in the construction industry. It was clearly demonstrated that data became diluted as it moved through the supply chain leading to inefficiencies and unnecessary costs. Initially, our review of the Hackitt report led us to question how data was managed in the construction industry. What we found was a complex value chain with companies that rarely had a Master Data Management (MDM) strategy making it difficult to engage with initiatives aimed at unifying product data.
While many initiatives have road maps designed to enable better data flow stakeholders need to define compelling business cases for manufacturers to drive actions that will make tangible changes leading to the principles of a golden thread. During our second roundtable on this subject Iain Miskimmin, Director of COMIT Projects introduced the idea that product data should have a value and be treated as an asset that can be bought and sold. Access to standards can be bought at varying costs and as a result, cannot be shared freely on the internet. As Josef Platil, Product Owner of Digital Data Services at Wienerberger pointed out it can be a challenge when trying to agree on a common dictionary when there are these barriers to accessing product information.
Andy Boutle, Head of BIM at Kier Construction and Engagement Co-Lead at UK BIM Alliance came in with the acknowledgement that using standard references has its place while having product information that an organisation actually wants should take more of a priority. Gary Lynch former CEO at GS1 pointed out that the identifiers, schemas, standards and lists at GS1 are public domain with minimal costs that scale depending on the size of the company. Many manufacturers are already including GS1 for EAN codes along with their own product codes.
Using a globally unique identifier right through the supply chain could be the best next step that we called for in our previous roundtable. As was pointed out a unique ID is a separate issue to a common dictionary for product information that describes properties. A single source of truth for product information may be an unlikely utopia though agreeing on a unique ID could go some way to containing a more focused approach to harmonising product descriptions in the future.
Construction manufacturers that use GTIN identifiers that are shared throughout the supply chain make it easier to track accurate product descriptions. Marketplaces such as Amazon require resellers to use GS1 identifiers generated by brands and manufacturers. While sharing product information across various databases and systems it would be easier to know that users are referring to the same product and its associated properties when using a globally unique ID. This would be a step further towards a golden thread making it easier to verify that a building is built in accordance with its specifications in terms of performance and carbon footprint.
Lars Christian Fredenlund, Founder, and coBuilder was able to share insights from the Nordic construction product industry that is very active in the adoption of GTIN. Stakeholders are actively asking for GTINs on construction products. In Sweden in 2018, a group of contractors and other leading stakeholders took a decision to demand GTIN on all construction products. Recently in Norway, a group of high-profile client organisations developed a guide for tracking building materials using GTIN. Norwegian government agency Statsbygg announced last week that “All products that are part of a construction project in Statsbygg must be identified with this global standard.” This new solution is now being sent out for consultation which will be completed on April 29.
Could this be the proof and a blueprint to make some real difference to product information management in line with the golden thread principle outlined in the Hackitt report? While GS1 has proved itself to solve major supply chain problems in retail and healthcare we are now seeing adoption in construction product manufacturing across Europe. We have already seen this identifier being used successfully alongside existing product codes and its low cost makes it a likely contender for industry-wide adoption. For anyone looking at an MDM strategy, GS1 should definitely be on the list for consideration.
Many thanks to our roundtable attendees. We look forward to taking our discussions forward and waiting with anticipation to be part of the change.
Fareed Patel, Co-Founder, Hamari Agency
Josef Platil, Product Owner Digital Data Services, Wienerberger
Paul Surin, Global Lead Built Environment, IBM
Richard Bush, BCIA Technical Working Group chairman from Priva UK
Gary Lynch, Former CEO, GS1
Cliff Smith, Executive Director at GIRI Ltd
Andy Boutle, Head of BIM Kier Construction
Lars Christian Fredenlund, Founder, coBuilder
John Parsons, Director of BEAMA
Iain Miskimmin, Director, COMIT Projects Ltd
Dave Bate, ETIM Project Manager, Builders Merchants Federation
Phil Thompson, Procurement Data Manager, NG Bailey
Sandy Patience Dip Arch RIBA, Editor, GreenSpec
Knut Jøssang, Product Manager Digital Solutions, Pipelife Norway
Brian Murphy ONC HNC Construction BSc PGDip Arch (Hons+Dist)