New research reveals specifications becoming increasingly central to BIM

April 2014

The lifespan of specifications is increasing as they link to digital drawings and become more integral to Building Information Models according to the latest Specification Survey & Report published by NBS.

65% of respondents agree that in the future a specification will have a life as long as its building, whilst 75% believe they will become ever more central. More than three-quarters also expect specifications to link digitally to both 2D and 3D drawings – the latter lying at the heart of BIM.

NBS has been running the Specification Survey since 2011 to track the way in which the industry's understanding of and attitudes to specification are changing. Professionals from a range of disciplines, companies and organisation sizes provided their thoughts.

This year's study also tackled a number of new areas including the adoption rates of the new RIBA Plan of Work 2013, already being used by 13% of respondents and in tandem with the 2007 Plan by a further 40%.

Against the backdrop of more widespread use of BIM, the extent to which specifications are being used collaboratively was also explored. Encouragingly, over one-third of respondents share the specification document outside of their own organisation, with more than 40% expecting other parties to either edit or make additions. However, for the majority of specifiers, sharing the information only happens at the end of their writing process, with the documents primarily used for tendering and/or costing purposes.

In terms of the life span, the specification process is increasingly started at concept design stage (by 37% of respondents) and more than three-quarters believe that updating a specification through the life of a building "benefits everyone". Conversely, only 5% modify specifications during the handover of the building, but this is likely to rise as more buildings designed and constructed using BIM reach completion.

More widespread use of BIM should also help address some of the most commonly cited difficulties experienced when producing specifications, namely contradictions with drawings (52%) and lack of communication between disciplines (39%) or lack of collaborative working (39%).

One issue that emerged from the survey is the lack of teaching of specification in architecture schools. Three Architectural Technology students, currently working for NBS, contributed to the report and all felt that this is a real area of concern. One student links the lack of teaching of specification to the fact that three-quarters of respondents simply re-use old documents rather than creating new information for each project.

She commented: "Before coming to NBS for our placement, we knew very little about what specifications really do and how important they are; the same applies for the RIBA Plan of Work. As students, we have not been taught and informed enough about what we are expected to know once we get into practice. My understanding is that we're not unusual which suggests there needs to be far more collaboration between universities and construction professionals".

RIBA Enterprises Chief Executive Richard Waterhouse is encouraged by the overall finding of the survey. He said:

"BIM is rapidly becoming the industry standard for developing, delivering and maintaining project documentation and at the heart of this is the way we collect, manipulate and get value from information. We will always need the geometric data contained in drawings, but the real value comes from the integration of these with the specification documentation. Ultimately, specifications will be at the heart of all projects – the 'I' in BIM – from the start right through to the building being in use".

NBS Head of Content Development and Sustainability, John Gelder added:

"As 95% of respondents to this year's survey said, the specification should be integrated with the geometry and we will see the "lifetime specification" become the norm. This, which perhaps could more accurately be called the "lifetime model" will have the ability to remember every input so will, in principle be able to describe any point in the project's past, present or future. Whilst construction specifications are extremely well understood throughout the industry, there is still much progress that needs to be made with regards to pre- and post-construction information so that the "lifetime specification" becomes a reality".

The full report is available to download now (.pdf, 0.6Mb)