CPD articles

CPD: Information management

11 July 2012

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John Eynon FCIOB on why industry classification systems are no longer fit for the digital age - and how they are being upgraded to use with BIM.

As a young architect in the 1990s I worked for a year as a specification writer in an architect’s practice. I was using NBS (National Building Specification) on a 486 PC with 3½ inch floppy disks — remember those? I soon learnt the difference between my E20 and Z10. I’ve always been a fan of brickwork, particularly traditionally built, hand-made, so F10 (Brickwork and Blockwork) probably still is one of my favourite NBS sections (if you can have a favourite NBS section, that is).

Specification, classification and the use of project information may not be everyone’s cup of tea — after all, it’s not the most riveting subject. Nevertheless, it does affect most people involved in design and construction in some way
and it is assuming more importance with the growing adoption of Building Information Modelling.

As we build libraries of information for our BIM models, the information needs to be searchable, consistently organised and easily transferrable. In establishing the project BIM, where objects or elements are included in the geometric 3D model, attributes and data can be attached to that object. These attributes include technical characteristics, maintenance information, cost data, thermal or carbon performance, and manufacturer details.

Currently, the industry works with several different classification systems that codify the different stages of projects, as well as products and components. The Common Arrangement of Work Sections (CAWS) has been in use for 25 years, but is creaking as new sections are added out of sequence. CAWS has been taken up by NBS, SMM7 and the NES (see glossary). The CI/SfB from 1976, meanwhile, was found to have limitations within a digital environment — its combination of letters, numbers and brackets makes life difficult.

Uniclass, dating from 1997, was intended to unify the various systems in use, and also incorporates various legacy systems such as the RIBA Plan of Work, and the London Classification of Business Studies. However, it is a collection of disparate tables that have varying types of coding systems, some numeric, some alpha-numeric, with varying depths of levels of detail and granularity (classification of projects, elements, objects, components). As a consequence mapping correlation of subject matter across tables is not possible — it is anything but unified.


To be effective, BIM  needs absolute consistency of data, information and classification. Libraries of data are required that contain products, elements, or intelligent objects with attached procurement or maintenance information, costing or programming data. Rigorous classification is required to enable data to be used seamlessly and efficiently across the industry, from project to project, and business to business.

This process of data management over the lifecycle is facilitated by the use of COBie — essentially a series of spreadsheets populated with data, at the various stages of the BIM model development. These data outputs, or exchange points, are termed “COBie drops” — this is data dropping out of the model and database as it develops to be principally used by the client. This data could be details of manufacturers, products and systems to be used, an FFE register, operations and maintenance information, and asset management data.

Mark Bew, one of the leading figures in the UK BIM strategy, is leading a working group that consists of the major government department clients — the thrust of this group is to align procurement processes and their COBie requirements so that government sector procurement becomes more consistent and efficient. In the future, the COBie requirements will be stated as part of the tender specification, and will be a key deliverable of the project BIM developed by the winning team.

Coherent information

Classification and specification affects not only designers, but also those that use or rely upon the information in any way in the design, procurement, construction and FM/operations processes. The designer, in developing the design for example, will use products, components and elements. These will have a classification, which links to specification or costing information.

The specification, in its fullest evolution, might encompass the required technical performance, workmanship, quality, and legislation and standards that must be complied with. An estimator or surveyor will use this information to price the job. Whether they’re using SMM7, BCIS or NRM (see glossary), sitting in the background will be the same classification system, which gives coherence and organisation to the information.

Later in the process, a design manager, construction manager, package or site manager will use the same information to build the job, understanding the requirements of what has to be achieved in terms of the products and in terms of standards and performance. And for the FM professional or asset operator this information becomes the cornerstone of the building’s operational life.

BIM opens up the reality of being able to access, use and connect all of this information The problem is that current classification systems can take us no further on the BIM road of integration and collaboration.

We need a classification system that is fit for the digital age. Life has changed so much in the last few years, let alone the 35 years since the original CI/SfB manual was brought out in the UK. Now we need information systems that can handle all the data that we will use over the entire lifecycle as well as coping with the Levels of Detail in the BIM model. As such the classification systems above are being revised and updated for the digital age.


The new Uniclass will have the following properties:

All tables will have four levels of classification, ranging from a general classification down to the detailed and specific where possible, and five levels otherwise.

An illustration of the four levels would be: table, eg 45, for FF&E and landcsape products; group, eg 30, for roof, floor or paving products; subgroup, eg 55, for operable roof vents; and object eg 40, for hardwood-framed heat- or smoke-control rooflights. So the object code for a specific rooflight product becomes 45/30-55-40. The coding system allows sufficient space for foreseeable future-proofing and expansion.

Updating CAWS

The principal drivers for updating CAWS are to achieve a single classification system covering:

The new CAWS will provide an expanded classification system to accommodate the growth in building products and systems.


The Construction Product Information Committee has already completed much of the drafting on Uniclass with the first examples of unified tables, work sections, elements, systems and product codes available on its website — www.cpic.org.uk — for comment. The website also includes more detailed information on the timetable for adoption of the new system.

Meanwhile, NBS has launched NBS Create, a BIM-ready specification tool
that links the NBS system into a BIM environment. This is a commercial product from RIBA Enterprises/NBS. The services library was launched in November 2011, followed by the architecture library in March 2012. Other tools will follow, serving the entire project timeline from inception to demolition.

John Eynon FCIOB is director of Open Water Consulting, working on BIM, design management and work winning. He is also a member of the CIOB Faculty of Architecture and Surveying Board, chair of the Design Management Working Group and represents the CIOB on BSI B555, CPIC, and the Construction Industry Council BIM forum.

More information at www.bimtaskgroup.org/cobie-uk-2012/

Glossary of terms

BIM Building Information Modelling A common data environment for managing information over the lifecycle of a built asset.

CAWS The Common Arrangement of Work Sections. This defines an efficient and generally acceptable arrangement for promoting coordination between specifications and bills of quantities for building projects. It consists of more than 300 detailed work section definitions, all within a classification framework of groups and sub-groups. The CAWS classification, down to the level of work section titles, aligns with Table G of the Uniclass classification scheme (see below) and also forms the underlying arrangement for both the NBS and NES (see below).

CI/SfB Construction Index/Samarbetskommitten for Byggnadsfragor is the classification system used in the UK since 1976. While still used by some product library systems, its combination of alpha-numeric references makes it unsuitable for a digital environment. SfB is no longer maintained as a current classification system.

CPIC Construction Project Information Committee. This is responsible for providing best practice guidance on the content, form and preparation of construction production information, and making sure this best practice is disseminated throughout the UK construction industry. It is formed from representatives of the major industry institutions, including the CIOB.

COBie Construction Operations Building information exchange. Spreadsheets used for consistent exchange of data from the project building information model.

ISO 12006-2 (2001) The international standard for “Building construction — Organisation of information about construction
works — Part 2: Framework for classification of information.” Currently under revision, but will be preceded by the new Uniclass.

LOD spec Level of Detail or Level of Development specification. For a BIM model, this refers to the stages of design development the model goes though from concept to construction and beyond.

NBS National Building Specification. A system developed and maintained by RIBA Enterprises, the commercial arm of the RIBA. Over this time it has become the accepted industry standard in the UK for specification for building projects. NBS has recently acquired specification service Schuman Smith from Aecom, now to be known as NBS Schuman Smith. Aecom Davis Langdon will also provide global cost and carbon data that will be used in NBS Create.

NBS Create A BIM-ready specification tool that links the NBS system with a BIM environment. This is a commercially available product from RIBA Enterprises/NBS.

NES National Engineering Specification. The BSRIA and CIBSE-endorsed standard specification format for building services.

NRM The New Rules of Measurement. Created by the RICS. NRM 1, New rules of measurement, Order of cost estimating and elemental cost planning was updated in April 2012, and is published alongside NRM 2 Rules for the measurement of construction quantities and works procurement. NRM 3 Maintenance and operations cost estimating, planning and procurement is expected in to follow.

RIBA Plan of Work An industry standard for a Plan of Work for a project, indicating stages of the development process and key activities for the team at every stage. The CIC BIM Forum is working towards a unified BIM Plan of Work for construction, covering both buildings and infrastructure over their complete lifecycle.

The BIM Gateway Project (Uniclass 2012 online) A one-year Technology Strategy Board-funded initiative that aims to produce an open, interoperable version of the Uniclass Construction Classification standard and CAWS using shared data standards to create Uniclass online. www.bimgateway.co.uk/

SMM7 Since 1922 the Standard Method of Measurement (SMM) has evolved to meet the changing needs of the building industry, with RICS responsible for revising it. SMM is used throughout the world by QSs and building surveyors and provides rules of measurement for building works to assist with the completion of bills of quantities in order to obtain tender prices. The most recent edition is the 7th, revised in 1998, and referred to as SMM7.

Uniclass Unified classification system for the construction industry in the UK, first published in 1997. It comprises 15 tables, coded A to Q, each of which represents a different type  of construction information. Each table can be used as a “standalone” table for the classification of a particular type of information. Terms from different tables can be combined to classify complex subjects.

CPD test paper: Information management

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