DataBook: Hosting BIM product information to improve quality and productivity


Standardisation has helped to boost productivity across multiple industries. DataBook, a new service from BRE, aims to bring these benefits to BIM product information. Paul Oakley, director of BIM at the BRE Group, explains how

I was interested by the recent Budget call by the Chancellor of the Exchequer which reiterated the need for increased productivity to improve the UK economy, following on from the Fixing the Foundations report presented by his predecessor George Osborne. As someone who has spent the last 30 years helping to improve productivity, I am somewhat worried that six years into the call for UK BIM Level 2, UK construction is not reporting an increase in productivity. In fact, BIM is perceived as adding cost to the process.

When I ran my own consultancy, the Return on Investment for adoption of BIM was simple. I could show how to remove risk, liability and cost from the process, making it easier for new productivity techniques to be adopted rather than following existing methodologies. Simply put, I could work more efficiently and could create added value for my clients.

Anyone who has completed the BRE Academy BIM training will recognise the basic principles I have always taught and implemented: the principle s previously stated and that of the “single source of the truth”. A phrase that many have latched on to, but should be used where there is a definitive answer; information is stored in a known location; delivered against identified standards, methods and procedures. This is the same whether hosting projects using common data environment processes or for companies on identified servers, intranets etc. Following those principles means that the productivity gains from removing waste, which are the basis for the UK government mandate and measured through Avanti, can be achieved.

Other industries have substantially improved productivity by standardising the way things are described and removing the need/cost to interpret information. Retailers have reduced the cost of logistics while improving customer service by standardising the way products and locations are described. This means they are completely machine-readable, automating processes that traditionally required human intervention. Software applications talk to other software applications (via web services) because they know where to find the data they need and how it is structured. In design and construction, even if applications can interoperate, the product and project data require a human to interpret it. This adds cost, time and potential mistakes into the process.

Many of you will have also heard me speak about the issues regarding BIM objects at a myriad of conferences over the last few years. This is because I am passionate about improving the process of delivering structured information. The issue presently is that there are multiple object library solutions delivering other people’s information to multiple standards, methods and procedures in editable formats. Much of this information is superfluous or duplicated in other deliverables, therefore creating additional effort, risk and liability. Also, this information is often buried, making it difficult for many architects, engineers and constructors to manage, check, review and approve.

Up until now, the story has been “look, we have all this information”. Yet the quality of this information has been of no importance. This is because the industry has been intent on delivering the traditional paper deliverables with only a few instances where information has needed to be checked. But what if that information was required for detailed design analysis or possibly even a full building regulation approval? Could designers guarantee the quality of the information that they provide?

product informationSo how does the process of using BIM objects in their present format remove risk, liability and cost from the process, making it easier for new productivity techniques to be adopted rather than following existing methodologies? The reality is that it doesn’t. Which is why many architects and engineers refuse to use BIM objects from industry libraries and instead create their own where they control their risk, liabilities and associated effort in managing this.

But what if it was different? What if:

  • All product data was described in a standardised, consistent manner that allowed software applications to automatically read it, model it, coordinate it, purchase it and generate O&M information?
  • Manufacturers could know where their products have been installed, what they are being used for and when they are likely to require replacement?
  • There was a central platform where manufacturers could publish their product information to be held perpetually to identified industry standards, methods and processes?
  • It was free for manufacturers to host and maintain their information in such a platform, allowing consumers of that data to access it?
  • The information was searchable, linked to industry roles and project stage to allow delivery of agreed levels of information?
  • Architects, engineers, designers, constructors and operators were provided with tools to link and import only the appropriate information into their authoring tool, open data formats or web service applications?

This is what DataBook is offering. A solution from BRE developed with Activeplan, it is a free service for manufacturers to host their information to identified industry standards. To clarify, this platform complements, not competes with, object library services. DataBook does not hold graphical representations or 3D objects, only the product information.

DataBook has not been developed as an alternative to object libraries; there will still be requirements for someone to define the 3D geometry and provide services to help manufacturers sort their product information to meet the implemented standards. DataBook provides a service where standardised product information can be hosted and published so that appropriate information can be available to those that need it. DataBook also provides an opportunity for all object libraries to pull the manufacturer’s information from a single location in a standardised format.

How this works is that DataBook is linked to the BRE Templater Tool coded by Activeplan, the chosen tool for LEXiCON, an initiative to create standard UK Product Data Templates. While still under development, the Templater Tool has been populated by BRE with the IFC4x templates linked to various product categories. This is the internationally agreed data standard for the exchange of information and creates a starting point for manufacturers to publish their information to agreed standards. Once a data template is created in Templater, any manufacturers registered to DataBook can publish their data against that template.

Consumers are then available to link, add or review the appropriate information provided. This immediately reduces the effort, risk and liability as information being used is as it is direct from the manufacturers.

The interest generated in DataBook following on from both UK Construction Week and Digital Construction Week has seen a desire from manufacturers to standardise their information against the requirements of the Templater.

Note: BRE are currently helping manufacturers register and upload their product data to DataBook, with a full launch expected at EcoBuild in March 2018. If you would like further info then head to or contact 


Paul Oakley

BIM Director

BRE Group

Tel: +44 (0)333 321 88 11

Twitter: @BRE_Group


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