Standardised identifiers key to construction product information management

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In this second online roundtable, hosted by co-founder of the Hamari Agency, Fareed Patel, AEC industry experts argue that standardised product identifiers are key to construction product information management

It was clear that some ground had been covered since the last discussion on product information management. Agreeing on industry standards, dictionaries and identifiers for products have become such a broad subject that focusing on specific pain points was prioritised.

Reducing barriers

Opening remarks centred on the perceived value of product data. The view that data can be added to a list of capital assets like property and machinery is one that is gaining ground. While a company’s product information should be freely available to the supply chain, manufacturers are adding value by providing data that their buyers want.

In regards to standards information both Josef Platil, product owner of digital data services at Wienerberger and Paul Surin, global lead built environment at IBM discussed how barriers to standards could be reduced. Josef suggested that access to standards should be free while Paul pointed out that non-profit standards organisations should be able to cover their costs.

Unique identifiers

During the last two product information management roundtables, the principle of a golden thread as recommended in the Hackitt report has led these discussions. Many voiced the opinion that product data standardisation for all construction products is an unlikely utopia though adopting globally unique product identifiers is possible and can help encourage organisations to harmonise their data when listing properties.

Supply chain transparency

The Building Safety Bill drafted to implement Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review and the golden thread is currently in the consultation stage with the Bill expected to be introduced into Parliament later this year. This is a short window of opportunity for stakeholders to determine how construction products will be identified during the design, construction and buildings life cycle.

Product identifiers such as bar codes for globally unique product numbers have been a universal solution in retail. GS1 unique IDs like GTIN have helped overcome critical supply chain issues with healthcare and food. The uptake with construction product manufacturers has been slow but stakeholder demand is starting to increase.

Marketplace compliance

Globally unique identifiers are a separate issue to the description of product properties which still remain one of the biggest challenges when it comes to a golden thread. The roundtable GTIN expert Gary Lynch, former CEO of GS1 pointed out that when products have IDs that are recognised and adopted throughout an industry this makes it easier to contain the way products are described.

Marketplaces such as Amazon have started demanding GTINs when listing products that already have these codes generated by the manufacturer or brand. This is increasing transparency online where buyers can search with GTIN codes and see discrepancies between distributors describing the same products.

Transactional product IDs

This increased visibility of products being distributed through a supply chain can enable manufactures to better understand how their products are being sold while contractors can quickly identify stock with confidence. As Phil Thompson, data procurement manager at NG Bailey mentioned, the consumers of data need to show manufacturers that they are using their data effectively to encourage widespread change. When looking into this after the call Kevin Gutteridge, data services technical director at TrimbleMEP Division was able to tell us that their TSI Code is being used for data exchange between supply chain partners while this isn’t always the case with the GTIN EAN, “To provide some background to my comment, Luckins has included EAN codes within our data services since the early 1990’s – Today, 44% of our 1.52 million live SKU’s have an EAN.”

Master Data Management (MDM)

It’s not uncommon for users of product data to have two or three columns of product codes. For example; a manufacturer code, a third party database code and a GTIN code. However, when these products are sold these codes are not always transacted. So while the adoption of GTIN codes for construction products may grow, contractors need to embed them into their systems to encourage manufacturers to use them more.

As unique identifiers are seen by many to be one of the most likely candidates for standardisation a robust master data management (MDM) system will be needed to take on this extra flow of product data. An extra column for a new universal product code like EAN that’s then transacted with all suppliers and customers will go some way to achieving the prescribed recommendation of a golden thread of information.

Lars Christian Fredenlund, founder of Cobuilder was able to share insights from the Nordic construction product industry that is very active in the adoption of GTIN. In Sweden, during 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 while 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.” It could be well advised to plan for similar changes while those in the UK hoping to export to these regions should review their product information management and MDM strategy.

Participants include:

  • 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 digital 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 of Green Calculator, ONC HNC Construction BSc PGDip Arch (Hons+Dist)

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