Double vision

For some time Building Information Modelling (BIM) has been used to create digital representations of the built environment, helping designers and constructors visualize and coordinate their creations.

While information models have been used to support decision-making, the ability to do so improves exponentially when these information models are connected to the Internet of Things (IoT). This connection turns digital models into dynamic tools capable of capturing live data which can be used to provide insights and better inform how decisions are made.

As this data grows in volume and complexity, predictive analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) can be integrated to connect and interpret this data and continually improve decision-making.

“The connection between the physical asset and the digital twin is the critical thing,” said Nick Monnickendam, Head of Services Marketing at BSI.

Beyond this example of a relatively limited application for a single asset, the UK’s Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB) has ambitions to drive the creation of a National Digital Twin for the built environment, connecting individual digital twins created by public and private sector organizations. An ecosystem of connected, or interoperable, digital twins opens the opportunity to release even greater value, using data for the public good.

Interoperable digital twins could help plan and manage the nation’s infrastructure more effectively, but this would only be possible through the secure sharing of high quality, standardized data across infrastructure and organizations.

With this ambition in mind, BSI has been working with CDBB to create and run a community around digital twins – called the DT Hub – and to facilitate discussions between members.

“The potential is enormous but getting there takes a lot of hard work,” said Nick. “We have been evaluating the needs of members, then identifying and prioritizing common opportunities and challenges for the DT Hub. Going forward, ideas developed with DT Hub members will inform future good practice and standards.”

The DT Hub was initially set up in October 2019 with a small number of major infrastructure players, such as water, electricity and transport companies, who own and operate key physical infrastructure, as well as cities and local authorities. Membership is now being expanded to other stakeholder groups including suppliers, innovators and industry bodies.

The DT Hub was officially launched at the end of March and hundreds of organizations and individuals expressed an interest in getting involved. “There is a strong desire among community members to generate greater value by collaborating around shared challenges,” said Nick.

“We facilitate activities through an online portal, as well webinars and online events. The community doesn’t want to do everything face-to-face, preferring digital solutions wherever possible – something that has proven to be even more important during the Covid-19 emergency. Working online gives us greater flexibility and adds velocity to decision-making. It also helps bring on board a wider community of stakeholders.

“The DT Hub is providing a stream of different outputs and these provide the seed content that will feed into best practice and standards. All of this is available to Hub members to read and comment on. As the membership of the community progressively increases, the Hub will continue to evolve and generate further insights.”

The speed of developing technology around digital twins and the importance of it to the future of UK’s national infrastructure has led to BSI taking a different approach to the normal standards development route.

“We are getting involved at a much earlier stage” said Nick. “We’re playing a key role in shaping how digital twins develops at a strategic level, starting with a blank piece of paper.

“We’ve held discussions in the DT Hub where we have identified areas of opportunity and then asked, what’s stopping us getting there?” This has enabled the Hub to identify blockers to the uptake of digital twin technology in the built environment.

“We’ve grouped these into three themes that cut across different sectors and pose questions that need to be answered,” said Nick. “These can be seen as foundational activities to build greater understanding and confidence, and to support more rapid adoption of digital twins in future.”

The first theme ‘Testing digital twin concepts’ considers, ‘What are digital twins, what are their main building blocks and how can we develop common understanding?’. “This understanding is essential in order to systematically plan and progress digital twins,” said Nick.

The Hub has adopted the Centre for Digital Built Britain’s ‘Gemini Principles’ and it’s definition of digital twins as a basis for moving forward (see pop-up) and work in this first theme will help to add further depth.

The second theme ‘Digital twin competencies’ asks, ‘What capabilities, skills and culture are needed to successfully implement digital twins?’. This includes looking at skills profiles and potential competence frameworks.

“Organizations operating in the built environment are at all sorts of different stages of comfort in adopting to new technologies,” said Nick. “By addressing competencies, organizations will be able to identify where there are gaps in their skills base and in their approach towards fostering innovation and they can start to do something about it.”

The third theme is ‘Pathway to value’. This addresses building and sharing value cases as well as understanding potential steps on the roadmap to increased scale and greater value. This also includes identifying the use cases with the greatest potential to deliver value and sharing examples of where this is being done today. “For all of the themes, we are looking with the members at what can be learned from other organizations and industries” said Nick.

“Our experience in BSI working with a wide range of organizations is very helpful here as it means we can share learning from other industries and identify where approaches already exist that can be applied to digital twins in the built environment.”

Investment in this area can lead towards larger scale digital twins that can deliver greater value over time – as opposed to lots of separate approaches that could result in fragmentation and reduced benefits for all concerned.

“Making the right investment decisions applies at individual business level and at a national level,” said Nick. “There is a clear requirement to have interoperability, to enable connections between digital twins, as well as to continue to foster wide collaboration between organizations.”

Linked to this is how to harness creativity and innovation in the right way to create value. “Innovators are coming up with brilliant ideas, but the question remains, how does the market adopt them? Businesses are asking, how do I procure equipment, how do I get the skills to use it and do I have confidence in it? The DT Hub provides an important forum to start to address these vital questions.”


This article was originally published in BSI's Standards Outlook - Issue five