Unravelling the ‘golden thread’: data management in the built environment

How unique identifiers and interoperable data can power a safer, more efficient construction industry. 

Golden thread parliament

In the context of building safety, the "golden thread" refers to a comprehensive and structured approach to managing building information and data throughout the entire lifecycle of a building, from design and construction through to occupancy and maintenance. This concept has gained prominence since the introduction of the Building Safety Act 2022 which, along with a range of other sweeping reforms that will change the way buildings are designed, constructed and managed, has committed to implementing the golden thread in the UK construction industry

In a recent episode of MIDFIX’s “M&E Drop-In” podcast, Phil Thompson, an expert in information management at the Code for Construction Product Information (CCPI), discussed how adopting unique identifiers and a robust, interoperable approach to data management will provide the first critical pieces of the golden thread.

Read on for a summary of some the key points raised during his discussion.

Managing the golden thread

Phil believes that golden thread information should be viewed “like a baton” that can be easily passed on from one person the next. 

As the thread extends all the way back to the point of design and manufacturer, the emphasis should be on the manufacturers to create product data that can be used in an open, agnostic and interoperable way going forward. As the “baton” is passed along the supply chain, any stakeholder who receives it can access and use the product data that is attached to it while also adding any additional information of their own. 

This baton, and the first crucial piece of the golden thread, is the unique product identifier.

Phil Thompson

Phil Thompson, verifier at the Code for Construction Product Information (CCPI)

According to Phil, “the industry needs to get behind the adoption of a unique identifier now”. 

He described how other sectors such as retail and healthcare have been using unique identifiers for decade, achieving a wide range of safety and efficiency benefits particularly through the adoption use of GS1 standards.

In the context of the construction, all golden thread information such as product data, declarations of conformity, certifications etc. would be connected to a specific product or asset via its unique identifier.

When the manufacturer passes this data “baton” to the next person in the supply chain, the merchant or contractor for example, all they need to provide is the number (typically a Global Trade Item Number or GTIN) that captures their product’s unique identity.

Then the rest of the information could be accessed via the manufacturers website, a centralised database or any other platform that the merchants decide to use, but ultimately the means of sharing and accessing this information is communicated in a common language thanks to the unique identifier.

Adopting unique identifiers

Despite the fact that the adoption of unique identifiers has not yet been referenced in any of the regulations surrounding the Building Safety Act, Phil thinks is confident the industry would take to it well. 

“I think many people don’t realise that they are already using these codes” he said. “There are many, many products now, thousands of products, in the construction sector which already have a unique identifier. Typically, this the GS1 GTIN which can already be found on the packaging of a lot of products, especially where they overlap into the retail environment. 

“So, they're already being offered to the construction sector. The problem is that they're not really being used to drive the transactional process and support the golden thread. They're just kind of there at the beginning. Somebody has decided to adopt them, perhaps because they were selling into retail, but they haven't really exploited the use of them in the construction sector.”

construction worker

What should be captured?

When it comes to what type of information should be captured, stored and passed along the golden thread, Phil says this will vary depending on a number of factors such as the type of product, its application, the type of building it will be used in, who needs to access that information and why (i.e. whether someone is looking to install, replace or maintain the product).

He believes that as long as the data is fully interoperable and connected to a product’s unique identifier, practically anything can be shared via the golden thread.

Driving adoption

Phil argues that widespread adoption will only be possible if “people start to collaborate and view it as working towards the greater good”. 

He believes that while other sectors, particularly retail, provide a blueprint for how to effectively adopt a “common language”, the construction industry is yet to reach the “tipping point” required to drive meaningful change. 

“If you look back reports from over twenty years ago, even back then there was an understanding that the industry was fragmented. Until we really start working together for that greater good, change will be slow” he said.

For Phil, the biggest challenge that needs addressing is the culture and behaviour that currently surrounds the management of data. Many organisations are still just entering product information into their own local systems, and some are even creating their numbers to identify parts and products. This information is not interoperable and, once it is locked into a specific system, exporting that information and passing it on to the next person in the supply chain becomes incredibly challenging.

“We’ve got this kind of wild west scenario with product information” he said. “You've got duplicates, triplicates, misinformation, things that don't match. 

"Many organisations need to go back to beginning, especially if they are doing things that undermine the golden thread. That means ensuring that the whole process begins with an interoperable product identifier. Once that is in place, it will set the standard for how information is passed along the supply chain. That is how we can make the golden thread a reality.”


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