At the end of November, I presented a webinar about the Golden Thread of Information. As promised, this article shares the key ideas I presented together with links to the resources where you can find out more.
What is the Golden Thread?
The phrase ‘Golden Thread’ is totally ubiquitous and has been for the last five years, since Dame Judith Hackitt first used it in her review of the building regulations regime in 2018.
I like to think that Dame Judith had a classical education alongside chemical engineering, because the concept of a golden thread comes from Greek Mythology – the legend of Theseus and the minotaur.
Theseus comes to Crete to kill the minotaur but to do so he has to enter the labyrinth, a maze that no one had ever come out of alive.
Princess Ariadne decides to help Theseus and gives him a spool of golden thread which he can unravel as he travels deeper into the labyrinth, and after he kills the minotaur he is able to gather the thread back up and escape.
Dame Judith describes the golden thread as an up-to-date digital record of building information maintained throughout the lifecycle of a building.
I like this analogy because at any point in the life of a building you can look back and find the source of decisions, see the evidence of what was installed, know how to maintain it, it is all connected together.
Golden Thread only applies to “Higher Risk Buildings”
It is important to know that the Golden Thread as it is now laid out in the new building control regime only currently applies to “higher risk buildings”.
Higher risk buildings:
- have 7 or more storeys, or are 18 metres high or higher, and
- have at least 2 residential units.
All buildings like that must apply the new regime (including the golden thread) in design, construction and occupation.
The new regime also applies to hospitals or care homes BUT ONLY when they are undergoing design or construction (ie not through the life of the buildings). Hospitals and care homes of this height are included in the regime only during their design and construction phases, but residential buildings which meet the requirements are required to comply with the regime throughout their life.
I’m not going to go into all the minutiae of what constitutes seven storeys or where you measure the 18m from. This is set out in the guidance.
If your product will be used or could be used in these buildings, then the information about it will likely be part of the regime including the golden thread.
[Guidance on the criteria for being a higher-risk building https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/guidance-on-the-criteria-for-being-a-higher-risk-building
Why the Building Safety Act matters for everyone (August 2023): https://projectsafetyjournal.com/why-the-building-safety-act-2022-matters-for-everyone/]
The Definition of the Golden Thread
The definition of the Golden Thread was published by the MHCLG Building Regulations Advisory Committee in July 2021 as part of their Golden Thread Report.
[Policy Paper: Building Regulations Advisory Committee: golden thread Report (21 July 2021) Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government and Building Regulations Advisory Committee. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/building-regulations-advisory-committee-golden-thread-report
Direct link to definition: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/building-regulations-advisory-committee-golden-thread-report/building-regulations-advisory-committee-golden-thread-report#golden-thread-definition]
Part 4 of the definition reads:
“The golden thread information should be stored as structured digital information. It will be stored, managed, maintained and retained in line with the golden thread principles… The government will specify digital standards which will provide guidance on how the principles can be met.”
Whilst these digital standards have not yet been produced, in their publication of the outcome of a consultation on the new safety regime in October this year, DLUHC confirmed that they would not mandate “a single IT system” for the golden thread, but “information and documents should be able to be transferred electronically to other persons without the data in it being lost or corrupted.” DLUHC confirmed they would work further with the Regulator to develop guidance on the golden thread.
[Consultation outcome: Consultation on the new safety regime for occupied higher-risk buildings, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. 18 October 2023 items 4.18 and 4.24. https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/consultation-on-the-new-safety-regime-for-occupied-higher-risk-buildings ]
It’s worth reading the golden thread definition because it also includes a number of principles about how it should be applied, which underly what it will become.
So what does this mean for us?
My Definition: “The Right Information”
I’ve been working with the Fire Protection Association to help insurers understand what information they need to insure buildings effectively. This work has focused on understanding how it might be possible for insurers and owners of buildings to get “the right Information”. How do you know that you have the right information?
My argument is that actors in the supply chain need to deliver the following:
- The right products and systems,
- with information attached that is necessary to enable design, construction, operation and maintenance throughout the life of the building.
- These products and systems must be installed correctly, and
- They must be installed by competent people.
If all these criteria are met, then the information received by insurers and building owners will need to have travelled a secure, reliable data journey and will enable an audit trail back to the source of the information, be that the manufacturer of the product, the designer who made the decision, the installer who installed it correctly.
Three things to consider:
- How people will choose the right products (and know they have chosen them)
- How those products can be traced through the construction process
- How those products fit within a fire strategy and asset management strategy
My work with the FPA goes into the details of these four key criteria. It will be published and obviously I’ll be happy to share it.
Who is the best source of Golden Thread information?
The Building Safety Act 2022 made the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) the building safety regulator (BSR) in 2022. from 1st October 2023 the Regulator is the building control authority for higher risk buildings, implementing the new regulatory framework for these buildings.
But the HSE also has new responsibilities to oversee the entire building control system as well. So your source for information about the golden thread is ultimately the HSE.
HSE now has a page on their website about the golden thread, which leads to the definition and principles page too.
The Importance of Gateways
The level of information about higher risk buildings which needs to be provided to the BSR is considerable. You have no doubt heard about the Gateways –
Gateway 1 – before planning permission is awarded
Gateway 2 – before construction starts and
Gateway 3 – before handover.
The golden thread interfaces with these gateways in that there are some key points at which information to be provided must be approved by the Regulator:
- Before undertaking building work (this point is known as Gateway 2 and is in effect building control approval)
- When making major changes to a previously approved application (via a Change Control process) and
- On completion and before a building is occupied (known as Gateway 3 and resulting in the Regulator issuing a completion certificate).
A key difference here is that after Gateway 2 (ie Building Regulations) Approval, changes to the approved scheme may require a further approval process.
For example, the change control process states that major changes will require an application to the regulator. Major changes include:
- A change to the external wall
- A change to active or passive fire safety measures
- A change of a product or element to that of a lower classification in terms of reaction to fire
If the team has to make an application to the regulator, work on that part of the building has to stop and there is a MIMIMUM period to determine the outcome of SIX WEEKS.
HSE Gateways 2 and 3 Regime
The building control regime is set out in this HSE document published in August and came into force in October. It’s really worth a read if you want to understand what architects and contractors are now working to achieve for all new higher risk buildings.
To nail the point, failure to comply with the regime now includes criminal offenses which can attract severe penalties, such as unlimited fines and up to two years imprisonment.
[Building Control: An overview of the new regime, HSE https://www.hse.gov.uk/building-safety/building-control/regime-overview.htm]
An Emerging Regulatory Environment
We need to recognise that we are living through an emerging regulatory environment.
Whilst the Building Safety Act achieved royal assent last year, much of the secondary legislation, and the guidance that accompanies has not yet been published.
Industry will be adapting over time to find ways to meet the requirements.
With the internet awash with articles and opinion about the building safety act and the golden thread, some of which were written in the past and are now out of date, it is important to remember to go to the definitive sources. These are:
- The HSE – they are the BSR and regulator of all building control activities, and
- The governments’ own websites ending in .gov.uk.
Remember that people are in the process of working out what this all means, and they may not be right.
Try to make sure you are looking at the latest guidance as your primary source.
What does this mean for Construction?
Of course, the bottom line is what your customer wants, and what your responsibilities are as a manufacturer of products.
I’ve already heard of a number of changes happening as a result of the new requirements, as they begin to affect the work on new buildings and the registrations of existing ones.
Here are a few things which have been shared with me. I wonder what changes you have seen so far?
1. Specification Decisions
Specification decisions will need to be taken earlier and be much firmer because after a higher risk building receives Building Regulations Approval (Gateway 2) all changes must be recorded in a Change Control Process. Designers will need your information earlier, and they need to trust you more.
Key Question for Manufacturers: How can you make your information available sooner and more reliably? What will need to happen for you to do this?
2. Collaborative Working
One of the intentions of the new regime is to make procurement more collaborative, shifting more design decisions to before construction starts on site.
This has led some architects to speculate that the commonly used ‘Design and Build’ procurement process, whereby the contractor takes over responsibility for the design at tender, will become ‘Design before Build’.
[Round Table: The Future of Fire Safety. September 2023. Reported in Architecture Today. https://architecturetoday.co.uk/the-future-of-fire-safety/
CIBSE article on changes to Design and Build November 2023: https://www.cibsejournal.com/general/design-and-build-will-have-to-change-impact-of-the-building-safety-regulations/ ]
The government has produced guidance for clients and the industry on Collaborative Procurement which breaks down the concept into four areas:
- Selection by value
- Early involvement of the supply chain
- Collaborative relationships and
- The Golden Thread
[DLUHC: Collaborative procurement guidance for design and construction to support building safety, 2022 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/collaborative-procurement-guidance-for-design-and-construction-to-support-building-safety ]
Key Question for Manufacturers: What can you do to work more collaboratively with designers and contractors?
3. Supply Chain Requirements
Another area to consider is the whole issue of lead times and product availability. If making changes to products is more difficult, the reliability of the supply chain becomes even more important to designers and contractors because problems with supply will delay the programme, but so will requirements for substitutions.
Key Question for Manufacturers: How can you make your product availability more reliable?
4. The Importance of Information
And the last one brings all these together. Making reliable information available in an accessible way will be even more essential.
Key Question for Manufacturers: How can you make your product information more reliable and accessible?
What does the Golden Thread mean for Product Information?
Clients are working with large amounts of data
This is a photograph of an O&M manual provided to me by one of my contacts who works in fire safety. Even the most forward looking and innovative projects, the manuals are still analogue.
Why? Because the information provided is analogue.
It isn’t that manufacturers don’t use data already – they are some of the most innovative companies in construction.
But these data processes are internal, and many construction product manufacturers don’t supply digitised information to the supply chain. Whether it be to third party platforms, architects, contractors, distributors, installers or customers of any kind.
And that’s because the digital information is in silos within their businesses and not connected in ways that will enable them to do that.
What Information should be
What we are talking about is the information you provide about your products now to the supply chain – via your website, third party websites, hard copy and pdf brochures and through your communications with specifiers, contractors and customers via email and other methods.
In order for these people to find the right information and make swift decisions, we need to provide them with information in different way.
Your product data will need to be
- Structured. Organised according to a predefined schema, so that data becomes machine readable and easy to analyse.
- Secure. Only available to those you authorise to view it.
- Verified. Confirmed to be accurate by being traced back to the source (you).
- Interoperable. Able to be transferred accurately between software platforms, such as those used by different actors in the supply chain.
Here are some examples of how the modern method of structured, interoperable data means that you are able to provide more reliable information to the customer.
These examples are taken from the IET’s Plain Language Guide to digitisation.
Digitisation is simply turning your analogue and disconnected data into connected, digital form. It is about joining up your sources of information, so they can work for your business more efficiently and effectively.
It is different to digitalisation, which is the process of making use of the data in your business, for example ecommerce, product tracking and so on.
It is different to digital transformation, which is about creating new business applications, new business models such as AI powered predictive maintenance, custom manufacturing, Platform DfMA and so on.
Digitisation is simply the process of getting your information structured and connected. That’s all. Everything else is optional.
How do we get to Structured Data?
How do we digitise our product information so we can provide it to the supply chain?
This is not about Marketing
Firstly, it is important to say that this is not about marketing. It is not a marketing exercise you can give to your marketing department. It is about changing the use of information in the whole of your business so you can create a single source of truth about your products, so that you can supply reliable information to the supply chain.
A single source of truth may be a single database or a series of linked databases. The key thing is that for each instance of data there is only one record. If a database pulls in information from another database, it can only by changed in the original. So there are no duplicates which can change separately.
What is more, you only need to enter data once.
A single source of truth also needs a robust operating procedure where there is
- A controlled environment
- Clear ownership of data sets
- By Named Responsible people
Each of the arrows in the above diagram represents the sharing of that data between your company and other actors in the supply chain.
In each case an agreed subset of data is shared.
Your Data Already Exists
As a manufacturer, the data you need to provide already exists in your systems.
You won’t need to provide any information that you don’t already have, you probably won’t need to provide any information you don’t already provide. You simply need to provide it in a reliable, digitised form.
And remember, the data about your products, belongs to you. You made the products; you made the data. Keep control of the data and share it.
Benefits of digitisation
There are many benefits of digitisation. We set out some of these in the plain language guide.
- Firstly, you’ll be able to provide information reliably and accessibly, which means you’ll be able to comply with the requirements of the Golden Thread.
- Secondly you’ll be able to comply with the data requirements of the Construction Product Regulator, where the integrity of your information will be crucial.
- Then, digitisation will help your company meet any future needs for information, such as sustainability requirements, whether it be digital building logbooks, requirements for net zero or any other initiative such as the circular economy. All these initiatives will rely on structured data as evidence not just for you and your products but for anyone who uses them throughout their life.
- But finally structured data also has commercial benefits. An internal study by IBM has shown that implementing a programme of digitisation can improve the bottom line, from increased revenue and margins, reduced costs and improved brand perception.
Steps to digitisation
At the core of the Plain Language Guide is a suggested methodology for getting your data in order.
Whether you’re an SME, mid- level company or a major international corporation, you will probably encounter similar issues and the principles will be the same.
And it’s ok to start small and grow. The key message is to start.
The process is based upon starting from where you are now, with the resources you have now, and identifying practical ways to move to a single source of truth.
At the end of the process you’ll either have succeeded in consolidating your data or (if you’re a company without in house expertise or with complex data requirements) you’ll have a good understanding of what the challenge is and a brief to get the right support.
The guide also includes advice on working with third party consultants, platforms and software suppliers, when and if you need to.
[Download the Guide: theiet.org/product-manufacturers ]
When we started our product data work in 2018 with the UK BIM Alliance, we got a load of manufacturers and clients in a room and let some construction data vendors in to listen. All the clients said ‘you give us loads of crap we don’t know how to deal with’ and all the manufacturers said ‘no one will tell us what they want’.
A robust regulatory system is a crucial part of the effective control of safety in buildings. However, it will only be effective if it also relies upon clear, accurate and unambiguous information and on professionals’ abilities to implement its requirements. Indeed, without the correct information a professional cannot do their job.
I’m a huge advocate of manufacturers refusing to take the lions share of responsibility for sorting out the lack of digital literacy in the construction industry. But there is something that manufacturers need to do and that is to get their own house in order so that when someone wants information they can provide it reliably. I think the time for those requests is now arriving.
Many thanks to Sean Foster of SpecifiedBy for inviting me to talk about this topic. I hope you’ve found it useful.
We had several questions asked after the session – here is a summary of my responses:
How do you know that manufacturers are not already digitised? We are!
Congratulations! Some manufacturers have but most are not digitised. It may be because many are micro businesses – 67% have fewer than 10 employees.
This Spring the IET commissioned some some independent research with telephone interviews of 80 C-Suites in manufacturers who supply products into the UK construction supply chain. The sample breakdown was similar to recent data on the distribution of manufacturers by size and more than half said they supplied safety critical products, but the vast majority provide their product information via printed and pdf documents and via manually updated websites.
They are not thinking about digitisation in the context of safety critical information, compliance information, or giving the supply chain structured product data. When asked about digitisation they tended to refer to the recent “making tax digital” government campaign.
So we know there is a problem with much of the sector.
What sort of timescale are we looking at for the new information requirements?
It’s likely to be very tight.
Construction projects can take years to come to fruition, but that means that decisions about buildings which are going through planning now are already coming up against these requirements.
The impression I get is that there is concern about the ability of the regulator to meet the resource needs of the gateways process. There is even talk of the whole system grinding to a halt in the Spring when things come to a head. But that isn’t a reason not to get going now because what you need to do will take time.
Come back to the ‘Right Information’ challenge. How can you ensure that users of your products have access to the right information to make decisions? They will be making those decisions right now.
What information will need to be in a golden thread?
Detailed guidance hasn’t been published yet – the October consultation response confirmed that industry wants more detailed guidance and said that the government will set out the required information in regulations. Para 4.51 gives a list of key information that will be included.
I think it is safe to assume that if your products have any likelihood of being involved in the identification, mitigation and management of building safety risks (that is risks of fire spread and structural collapse) then the information will be required.
Even if your products make any minor contribution to this, the decisions made about them will be part of the process of producing golden thread documents, and therefore information about your products will need to be trusted.
If we digitise our information, there will be security issues. Won’t we be giving away our IP?
First thing to say is that security and interoperability are not mutually exclusive. You can provide structured data securely and decide which information will be made available to which actors.
Remember, the information you are going to provide already exists, and most of it is already in the public domain – no IP will be lost. EG essential characteristics in a Declaration of Performance.
If you think about it, the internet is awash with information about your products about which you have no control. That is much more of a risk. Designers will be looking for trusted sources, so they can satisfy themselves and others that the information is accurate and up to date. Your company and your website are likely to be those trusted sources.
If you provide information to third party sites, you should satisfy yourself about their security procedures, resilience procedures, ownership and control and so on. This is outlined in the plain language guide.
Won’t it be extremely expensive to provide digitised information to all these platforms?
No, I don’t think it will.
At the moment the major costs of using a third party platform are in the cost to participate (fees and so on) and in the cost of repeatedly arranging information in different ways manually. With the former, it’s a case of deciding whether the visibility is worth the fee, and whether the offer is right and the terms of the contract are secure enough for you.
Back in 2017 Construction products Europe identified 400 companies already offering data services to product manufacturers. It would be a false economy to provide information manually to even a fraction of those. If you are doing it now, you are probably not keeping it up to date.
It will be much cheaper with structured data. Once you structure your data you can map the information against the platform requirements once, and then it is done.
Ask me a question
Do you have another question? Why not ask it in the comments?