JOURNEYING TOWARDS A NEW DIGITAL DESTINATION

Russell Haworth’s career has long been centred around using software, information and data analytics to drive positive business change. And now, as the new chief executive of Newcastle-based NBS, he’s marrying his vast experience with the leading technology platform’s services to drive watershed digital transformation across the construction sector. Here, Steven Hugill speaks to Russell to find out more.

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Russell Haworth’s passport was once crammed with stamps from travels that helped put businesses on growth journeys.

Whether as a technology and finance consultant, or as a senior figure expanding media conglomerate Thomson Reuters’ presence in the Americas, Asia and the Middle East, he was central to guiding organisations through gateways to next generation change.

And today, as recently-installed chief executive at international leading technology platform NBS, he’s central to another voyage – that of the construction sector towards digital transformation.

Integral to his work is Newcastle-based NBS’ flagship software as a service (SaaS) provision.

Built in the North East, and using advanced cloud technologies, its platform brings together construction specifiers, manufacturers and contractors to improve the quality of project decision-making, drive appropriate product use and provide critical insights.

It is led by Chorus, a software app that enables thousands of architects, engineers and designers to rapidly create detailed project specifications, and the data platform Source, wherein more than 1000 manufacturers list tens of thousands of products.

And in a world where the environmental impact of construction work is becoming increasingly more scrutinised, Russell says NBS’ offer is game-changing.

He says: “In the EU alone, construction accounts for nine per cent of GDP.

“But it is one of the least digitised industries on the planet and generates around 40 per cent of energy- related CO2 emissions globally.

“There are lots of bricks in the wall in terms of tackling that, and one of the ways we are trying to deliver positive change is by making sure architects are able to select products that are more environmentally sustainable.

“And we do that through our relationship with manufacturers – we speak to them and use that data to inform our content and technology.

“Ultimately, if we are able to give architects, engineers and designers greater knowledge around sustainable materials and what has better insulation parameters, for example, then that means buildings are safer and more sustainable.”

Russell continues: “It is the raison d’etre of NBS.

“We are an organisation at the foothills of digital transformation, and with the massive amount of venture capital and private equity going into construction technology to rapidly digitise operations, we are providing a leading service.”

As well as its pioneering technology, though, Russell says the experience of NBS’ physical workforce also delivers a significant marketplace USP.

And as the construction sector continues to evolve during the pandemic, with working practices becoming ever more fluid, Russell says NBS – which last year joined Swedish-based data and software provider Byggfakta Group – is at the “sweet spot” of change.

He says: “We are an early player in an emerging industry, a 50-year-old business that has gone from being paper-based, into the CD-ROM era and now, in the last two years, into SaaS.

“As a business, we reincarnated ourselves amid the digital transformation, with (former NBS executive chairman and now UK chairman of Byggfakta Group) Colin Smith doing a fantastic job in taking things forward.

“The two intersected at a perfect time,” adds Russell, who, prior to joining NBS was chief executive at UK internet domain registry and cybersecurity company Nominet.

He adds: “Nowadays, you’d expect most businesses to be going through a digital transformation, but the fact we did it two years ago means we’ve got so much ability to serve clients anywhere in the world.

“The pandemic has shown we all need to become a lot more fleet of foot; people are not physically in the office like they were, so the ability to collaborate through digital tools has magnified.

“Our SaaS-based platform enables users to easily access information via the cloud, and we know it is having a major impact because the number of hours clients spend on Chorus, for example, runs into the thousands every month.”

Praising NBS’ team, Russell continues: “But our uniqueness is not just in the technology; it comes too from the combined 1000 years’ experience we have in our technical content team.

“That team includes quantity and electrical surveyors, as well as architects, who are deep domain specialists. “They are able to curate content based on technical standards while drawing from their experience to provide impartial analysis of very technical areas.

“Nobody in the region, and I dare say the world, has the same level of depth of expertise and content in one place.”

And Russell, who began his career as a computer programmer with Xerox, says NBS is committed to strengthening its workforce further, to maintain both its momentum and that of change across the construction sector.

Having recruited 70 people over the last year, and, as a wider group, acquired Construction Information Service and building and planning data provider Glenigan, he says its technology is catching the eyes of increasing numbers of people.

He says: “We perhaps used to position ourselves as a construction company that sold data, but we’re now very much a content and technology company focused on the construction sector.

“That pivot is helping us attract more staff, especially those from a particular technology and product development background who want to join a forward- looking business.

“The fact we focus on sustainability and safety means our proposition is becoming increasingly more convincing for millennials and others in the jobs market.”

And these extra numbers, says Russell, will be important as NBS – which employs around 200 staff – continues to expand globally.

With bases in Australia and Canada already established, and its presence in the Nordics region boosted by its position within Byggfakta, he says the business sees great potential across North America, including the US.

Highlighting how the process of specification writing is still, in the main, completed on Microsoft Word documents, Russell says NBS’ suite of technology would make a huge difference on the other side of the Atlantic.

He adds: “North America is not very digitised, and our content and technology would dramatically improve architects’ workflow.

“The US is a very significant market on its own, and the forecasted growth for construction output across North America to 2030 is 32 per cent, so there is a lot of potential.

“Ultimately, we are a business that punches above its weight internationally, and we will continue doing that in 2022 and beyond.”

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