Apps for Construction Product Information: Where Next?

Recent research, The Construction Media Index, provides valuable insight into the communication channels used by construction decision makers. As part of this Architects, Contractors, Housebuilders, Offsite Manufactures and Builders Merchants were asked how they source information. This guest blog, by Mike Rigby of MRA marketing, presents some of the findings and the usage of Apps in the construction sector.

Architects, surveyors, contractors, developers, merchants and builders of all sizes are influenced by the same social, economic, technological and marketing forces as everybody else. How we buy and sell, where we get information, what we use to get it, and even when we do our research and place an order is changing quickly.

As consumers, we’re immersed in this technological transformation, this integrated mix of online and print is the air we breathe and although early adopters and consumers who have grown up with it have taken to it quickly, business (B2B) and construction in particular was slower to adapt and adopt. But, as this research shows, construction is catching up fast, and some sectors and groups, faster than others.

It’s the air we all breathe now, whether we like it or not, but there’s a lot of ground to catch up, starting with apps, whether web or mobile based.

Most B2B apps are way behind consumer apps. Many are limited and disappointing, and there are far fewer of them, but there are some stars: TSP Media’s Specification Building Product Directory, Barbour’s very good Product Search and the excellent Building Product index (BPi).

…you can’t discuss the construction sectors specification process without referring to the key player in the provision of web apps, that is of course, NBS Plus, an incredible library of manufacturers and their products, which is linked to their now market leading software product NBS Create. Currently 3,880 companies have subscribed to the NBS specification software, 91.5% of the Architects’ Journal Top 120 practices have access to NBS Plus with around 6,000 registered users of the NBS BIM Toolkit have created 11,200 projects since its launch in April 2015.

There will always be requirements for lightweight, easy to use, handheld, product specific apps that are very visual. The real beneficial role these tools will play is going to be onsite, so mobile is important. Apps that can help engage quick creative and informed discussions about the specification of a project, will find their own successful part of the specifier’s journey.

For example, if your build project has strong heritage restrictions, and you’d like to survey local masonry, brick work, roof tiles, doors and windows to help comply with these restrictions, and reassure your client your product specification is as well researched, compliant, sensitive and as considerate to the brief as it can be, you’ll find a product like Imperial Bricks’ Brick Matcher App an excellent interactive tool.

Whether trying to find bricks to complement the existing structures in a geographical region or match existing brickwork on a refurb or extension project, or looking for bricks which add character to a new build, it really helps architects, specifiers, merchants, housebuilders, developers and self-builders, identify the right brick and mortar for their projects, directly from their iPhone.

There is huge potential for app solutions in the specifier’s workspace, with VR and augmented reality already upon us, and Apple’s new 3D scanning technology among some of the exciting technology prospects for the sector.

Commercial builders are already using apps like SmartReality and other innovative augmented reality technology.

SmartReality is a big step towards that vision of the future where we can stand with our project team, pop on some headsets, ‘virtually’ download our current model of our construction, and walk around it at any scale we choose, we can interact with its spaces and components and specify alterations from a visual BIM integrated database of every material, hardware, ancillaries and product manufacturer in the world.   Fine tuning that particular ‘tint’ of your brick, your mortar, your glass and roofing, monitoring the building’s values, impact and costs on a simple headset dash-board?

But it’s not all product and projects. Aecom’s pioneering mobile app, Without Limits, sets the standard in thought leadership. It leads in scope and breadth of sectors, in numbers of articles, and in depth and quality of insight. It’s an astonishing achievement and a joy to use.  Who and what is next?

Author – Mike Rigby, CEO, MRA Marketing
MRA Logo_v2
MRA is one of the UK’s leading PR and marketing agencies serving the construction, building material and home improvement industries.