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BCIS celebrating 40 years online

Published: 10/04/2024

In more than 60 years of providing construction cost data to the industry, BCIS has a proud track record of driving innovation. This month we’re marking 40 years since we launched our first online service for subscribers. 

Although the World Wide Web would not be invented for another five years, from April 1984 BCIS offered subscribers a direct connection to its database using modems and the telephone line. 

In this way, subscribers could access project analyses dating back to 1973 – analyses that are still accessible on the BCIS service today. To make use of the analyses, BCIS also provided background information and a range of indices. 

The four BCIS dial-up modems, which enabled four subscribers to connect at the same time had a transmission speed of 1,200 baud, equivalent to 0.001 Mbps and around 120 characters per second. 

Lead Consultant Joe Martin joined BCIS in 1971 after working as a quantity surveyor at Franklin + Andrews. 

He said: ‘Much of the history of BCIS is aligned with computerisation. When BCIS Online was launched in 1984 it was a joint venture with PSA, the Property Service Agency, which managed all centrally held public sector buildings and works. 

‘The BCIS database also held the PSA information and, with the privatisation of the PSA, we retained both the public and private sector data. From then we have been constantly developing our online offering.’ 

Largely responsible for the research and initial efforts to ‘go online’ was Ian Pegg, who joined BCIS after graduation in 1977 and is now Data Solutions Architect. 

He said: ‘There was no computer when I arrived, just an up-market Texas Instruments calculator.  The first computer we had for internal use only, in around 1979, was a NorthStar Horizon, which was a desktop box with a separate monitor. It had an 8-bit processor and came with twin 150Kb floppy disc drives and 48K of RAM.  

‘The computer purchased to host the online service, and perform background processing on BCIS data, was a PDP 11/44, which was a floor-standing unit about the size of two three-drawer filing cabinets. The software used to interrogate the system was originally written for a terminal with paper printout so, despite BCIS using VDUs, the text scrolled up the screen.

‘It was innovative at the time because we were encouraging users to download our data to their own computers when most online databases were trying to prevent users from taking electronic copies of their data. The computer that subscribers needed to access the service was a CP/M microcomputer, which had an 8-bit processer and, if you were lucky, 64Kb of memory.’ 

The BCIS office in 1979, when the first computer was installed, including current team members Joe Martin and Ian Pegg

Since 1984, the service has never stopped changing as BCIS has incorporated and adapted to advances in technology. Other highlights in the latter half of the 1980s included making user software available for MS DOS, then IBM PC compatible, when the PDP 11/44 was replaced by a MicroVAX, and of course launching an internet version on the World Wide Web. In 2003, the first APIs (Application Program Interfaces) were launched, which allow subscribers’ own systems to directly query the BCIS database. 

Through all these changes the data has been at the core of the service. Today, there are well over 21,000 analyses published through the system; over 3,000 index series with close to 467,000 individual index figures; 348 models for residential rebuilding costs; over 100 life cycle cost estimates; life cycle data on 415 components, and daywork rates and wage agreements for 96 operatives.

James Fiske, BCIS CEO, said… ‘Our industry has undergone significant changes over the 40 years since BCIS started providing data online through dial-up modems – I can still hear the noise now! From the handwritten cut and shuffle papers I first trained on, to moves to electronic estimating and take-off, development of life cycle costing principles, integration with BIM and more recently quantification of carbon data and AI.

‘The world of estimating and surveying has changed massively and BCIS has remained the trusted and independent data source at the core of it. I am incredibly proud of what BCIS has achieved and very excited about our future plans and how we hope they will support our industry for many years to come.’

To keep up to date with the latest industry news and insights from BCIS, register for our newsletter here.


The Building Cost Information Service (BCIS) is the leading provider of cost and carbon data to the UK built environment. Over 4,000 subscribing consultants, clients and contractors use BCIS products to control costs, manage budgets, mitigate risk and improve project performance. If you would like to speak with the team call us +44 0330 341 1000, email contactbcis@bcis.co.uk or fill in our demonstration form

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