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Power of two

New guiding principles for managing data in digital models or ‘twins’ paves the way for business and society to gain much greater value from economic and social infrastructure, writes Oli Hawes.

What are the greatest risks your organisation faces, and which should you prioritise? How do your customers use the services you provide – and how do they view you? What physical assets do you have, and how do you make best use of them? Where would it be most useful to invest time and money?

They are familiar questions to most business leaders, and growing numbers are starting to capture, sort, analyse and manipulate data in pursuit of better answers. The range of uses data can potentially be put to is as limitless as the challenges and opportunities business, government society face.

Building digital models or ‘twins’ to record, represent and analyse physical things has been done for decades in industries such as aerospace and automotive manufacturing. But the growth in power and reduction in cost of data processing and storage has only recently made digital twinning practical in the built environment. Now that it is, digital twins will proliferate.

A new paper, ‘The Gemini Principles’ from the Centre for Digital Built Britain (a partnership between the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and the University of Cambridge) explains why: “Up to 30% of annual spend across the built environment is lost in inefficiencies related to poor quality data. This is seen in waste, rework and lost productivity across economic and social infrastructure. Effective information management will enable better decisions, leading to financial savings, improved performance and service, and better outcomes for business and society per whole-life pound.”

The report’s authors explain that, based on data from the physical asset or system it represents, a digital twin unlocks value principally by supporting improved decision making, which creates the opportunity for positive feedback into the physical twin. It gives two examples:

  1. A dynamic model of an asset, with input of performance data from the physical twin via live data flows from sensors and providing feedback into the physical twin via real-time control.
  2. A static strategic planning model, with input of long-term condition data from the physical twin via corporate systems and providing feedback into the physical twin via the capital investment process.

But the purpose of the paper is not to argue the case for creating digital twins, or to define them (although it does this well). The authors take it for granted that soon, in pursuit of greater value from available data, organisations and individuals will want to connect twins and the data within them. They point out that “lack of interoperability is a key constraint” and set out fundamental “guiding values” to overcome this. These are the Gemini Principles. Whether or not you intend in future to share your digital models with others, or to draw on theirs, the principles should be built into your approach to information management.

Appropriate detail

A digital twin must represent physical reality at a level of accuracy suited to its purpose. The extent of realism depends on three essentials:

  • Data – the quality of the data on which the twin is based.
  • Model – the fidelity of the algorithms, the validity of the assumptions and the competence of the code at the heart of the digital representation.
  • Visualisation – the quality of presentation of the output.

Clear purpose

Every digital twin must be valuable in use.

  • Public good – must be used to deliver genuine public benefit in perpetuity
  • Value creation – must enable value creation and performance improvement
  • Insight – must provide determinable insight into the built environment

Trustworthy

Public trust in twins is very important. Loss of trust would constitute a serious loss of value.

  • Security – must enable security and be secure itself
  • Openness – must be as open as possible
  • Quality – must be built on data of an appropriate quality

    Function

    Twins must work effectively, be available when required, and provide ease of interoperability.

    • Federation – must be based on a standard connected environment
    • Curation – must have clear ownership, governance and regulation
    • Evolution – must be able to adapt as technology and society evolve

      The commercial logic for joining individual twins into federations will be irresistible, the paper’s authors anticipate. They look ahead to the creation of a complex web of twins spanning sectors and regions – a national digital twin – which will give benefits to:

        Society: Improved stakeholder engagement. Better outcomes for the ultimate customers (the public – taxpayers/bill payers/fare payers/voters). Improved customer satisfaction and experience through higher-performing infrastructure and the services it provides.

        The economy: Improved national productivity from higher-performing and resilient infrastructure operating as a system. Improved measurement of outcomes. Better outcomes per whole-life pound. Improved information security and thereby personnel, physical and cyber security.

        Business: New markets, new services, new business models, new entrants. Improved business efficiency from higher-performing infrastructure. Improved delivery efficiency, benefiting the whole construction value chain – investors, owners, asset managers, contractors, consultants, suppliers. Reduced uncertainty and better risk management.

        The environment: Less disruption and waste. More reuse and greater resource efficiency.

        The Gemini Principles provide guidance but are also a launch point. Developing consensus and an industry standard approach will take collaboration and considerable effort. The rewards of finding better answers to challenging business questions will make it worthwhile.

        Please read the Gemini Principles here:

        Oliver Hawes

        Head of Smart Infrastructure Business

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