Meet Your Digital Twin


by Richard Saxon, Principal at Consultancy For The Built Environment

If you are a building owner, you are probably missing out on the full advantages of going digital. Real Estate and Construction are laggard sectors in adopting technologies which can transform performance.


There are two main streams of digital innovation in the built environment: Building Information Modelling (BIM) and Smart sensors and analytics to provide management data. BIM has slowly been developing over 20 years and is now widely used by designers and builders, but not often by clients. Suppliers of design and construction are convinced by the ability of BIM to speed up their work, reduce risk and increase their ability to visualize and coordinate proposals. But clients have largely been unconvinced by BIM, seeing their own use of it as hard to learn and a cost burden with no demonstrated payback. There are government mandates to use BIM for public projects in the UK and other countries, but the private sector awaits a convincing business case.


Smart, on the other hand, is rapidly gaining converts in the private sector. This collection of sensors on the Internet of Things, including analytics and actuators, seems simple to apply and delivers payback by improving occupier comfort, space utilisation and energy economy. Tenants are asking for Smart Buildings as they see them; ones with high broadband capacity, strong Wi-Fi, good security, and detectors to enable them to manage space better and keep everyone comfortable. Owners of rental accommodation, both residential and commercial, find smart technology a no-brainer to increase occupant satisfaction and net returns.


But the real prize needs both approaches: BIM plus Smart. This combination is being increasingly called the Digital Twin. It provides a virtual duplicate of the physical asset which is able to be used in design to simulate possibilities and in operation to smooth the management of any facility. BIM is not just for the capital build phase; indeed, it delivers its highest rate of return on investment in the operational stage.


BIM provides all the data which is needed to utilise and maintain the facility. All maintainable elements can carry the requirements for their proper care and maintenance, together with their often-concealed locations. Problems can be sensed coming by the Smart detectors, but the BIM provides the facts to allow preemptive maintenance and continued service. Space allocation can be based on sensor data, but the capacities of the spaces are held in the BIM.


The concept of the Digital Twin is well established in the manufacturing industry and is being used to develop virtual prototypes for testing computationally. Machines in service are often maintained “down the line”, based on the combination of sensor data flows and the model of facts about the asset. This has enabled new business approaches, with systems leased to users, rather than sold, based on guaranteed performance. For buildings and infrastructure, this potential is now available, bringing far higher reliability and predictability of outcomes.


Every BIM is accessed through a Common Data Environment (CDE), a data-sharing site which controls user access and information quality. Rather than limiting this idea to the capital phase alone, the Digital Twin concept uses a CDE throughout the life-cycle of the asset, with the model updated at every change made to the real asset. This can come, for example, via a drone scanning the facts on the ground and uploading them to the model for validation. A CDE like Ecodomus can provide a portal to access all the relevant data streams coming from the facility, as well as its context and its occupier’s business. Facility managers can look at system performance through the model, clicking on a plant item to see its numbers, or on a space to see its use in real time.


The Digital Twin makes obvious sense to owneroccupiers; it will also become valued by developers who retain and manage buildings and by providers of Space-as-a-Service. Any tenant with a full repairing lease should be asking for access to their facility’s Digital Twin.


Please note: This article contains the sole views and opinions of Richard Saxon and does not reflect the views or opinions of Guidepoint Global, LLC (“Guidepoint”). Guidepoint is not a registered investment adviser and cannot transact business as an investment adviser or give investment advice. The information provided in this article is not intended to constitute investment advice, nor is it intended as an offer or solicitation of an offer or a recommendation to buy, hold or sell any security. Any use of this article without the express written consent of Guidepoint and Richard Saxon is prohibited.


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