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Database solutions are a new home for house-building specifications and standards

Managing house-building specifications and standards can be a huge challenge. The level of detail required to specify those expectations for a single new build house is considerable. When you extend them to multiple home designs, floor plan variants and finishes, then manage them across either large sites or multiple sites, they can become unwieldy very fast.

Meeting both quality standards and the promises made either to clients or future home-owners in terms of the specifications and finishes they have chosen is a business essential for commercial house-builders. Building based on commonly held and implemented approaches is also a foundation for cost-efficient and well-planned procurement – an essential for every construction business.

Volume house-building specifications and standards

Regulatory compliance has always been part of building houses. Builders must obviously meet Building Regulations spanning essential health and safety, electrical, environmental standards. There are many other standards too, such as those set by the British Standards Institute and NHBC, not to mention Government regulations that set minimum levels for habitation in general and social housing in particular.

However, the need to meet standards also impacts house-building businesses on a far wider basis.

  • When building to set house-building standards and specifications, such as those that might be set by a local authority for social housing in their area, builders are used to receiving hefty PDFs and other forms of documentation. These might outline expectations for anything from the external appearance to internal finishes, accessibility standards or specifications for insulation, guttering and garden paving.
  • For private developments, things can be more complex still. Commercial house-builders usually deliver a combination of templated standard designs on any development – and may well have to deliver a different combination of the same designs on another development in a different location. These standards and specifications are closely tied to the marketing offers and imagery used to secure home-buyer sales.

Although house-builders are often used to taking a templated approach to programme management, using tools such as Powerproject to ensure they can manage planning and progress management on every plot without reinventing the wheel, they often do not take the same structured approach to managing their standards and specifications.

Meeting expectations of home-buyers and business finance

When layouts, spaces, external finishes and internal décor and fittings are part of the product marketed and sold to home-buyers, delivering a home that closely meets established expectations is critical to brand reputation and customer satisfaction. Today’s home-buyer is quick to respond and share any dissatisfaction in the public domain on social networks and review sites.

The expectations of business owners and CFOs also matter. Using standardised, pre-planned material specifications or establishing bulk supply deals based on underwriting certain volumes of product procurement also acts as a control factor for costs that can increase when anyone goes ‘off script’ in any way. It means that it is essential for people right across the business to know exactly what those standards and specifications are, along with any specified suppliers they must use.

The days of house-building standards and specifications manuals must end – even in PDF form

The days of distributing doorstop-sized manuals of standard data for materials, plans, images, sources and more around teams gave way to use of electronic documentation long ago for most companies.

Today many such companies try to keep specifications and standards central information either in monster Excel documents or hefty PDF documents, making use of email to ensure people around the organisation have those standards and specifications in hand.

A centralised approach to information management and distribution is already used by many associations and industry bodies, such as the NHBC which provides a comprehensive electronic resource centre – although these often still contain many PDF-based data sets.

The problem with using PDFs as a sole or partial data repository is that they can become as unwieldy as their paper ancestors, and can be a headache to maintain, and bring risks due to the methods used for distribution

  • Huge and hard to navigate: Because the specs of any standard element have to incorporate every aspect of every item – from light location to light fittings to light-switches to light-bulb, and even to the height and location of said switches just to ensure they aren’t placed somewhere peculiar or at a height that only a 6-foot sparks could comfortably reach. This level of detail is essential for a modern house-builder’s quality and marketing delivery. And it may need to be articulated around every single major and minor aspect of the product, from the size of the brick, to the thermal standards of the windows, to the colour of the front door, and the brand and model of hob.
  • Often out of date: large house-building specifications manuals are rarely up to date – not least because there is a constant churn of available products and materials, shifting pricing models which drive decisions about supplier choices. The launch of each new house design brings significant additions. But even small changes create impacts. Central owners can’t issue a new version each time a roof tile or insulation product is discontinued or updated. So, they wait until there is a critical mass of changes to redistribute. As a result, people in different areas of the company can be using different issues of a supposedly-standard document.
  • Untracked, insecure distribution: PDFs are often distributed via email, with little or no ability to audit who has received and taken note of the contents. For house-builders, new design specifications can be commercially sensitive, yet there is no way to know who may be passed a newly issued PDF document about a new house model that you hope will differentiate you from the competition.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Today, database-driven specifications and standards management solutions such as IconSystem help companies in numerous industries serve up easily accessible data to their teams and buyers across geographies and divisional boundaries from a single, centralised source, and see exactly who has received and is accessing data. Information can be updated in real time as specifications are evolved – and instantly be available to everyone who needs them.

Is your house-building business groaning under the weight of its specifications and standards, struggling with consistency and accessibility of house-building specifications and standards across geographically distributed project teams? If so please call us on +44 (0)1858 468 345 or email iconsystem@elecosoft.com.

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