The concept of a digital twin is (still) in vogue and understandably, as is the case with all buzz words, accompanied by hype, i.e., the latest and greatest elixir, “must-have”, technology. Incomplete or misinformation, however, creates unrealistic expectations. This short article attempts to add some perspective on the topic and application of digital twins in the real estate supply chain that includes everything from planning, pre-construction, construction, operation, logistics, utilities and ultimately transactions.
So, what is it … really?
It is a digital replica of a physical object/entity/process, enriched with data (batch, event and real-time), based on a defined scope to deliver specific benefits or value.
Think of it as a layer cake, with its base a defined business scope, then a digital master (a 3D representation of a building or a digital process flow chart) that is modelled with the connection and integration of relevant source data (e.g., the BMS, or quality and time-series data of completed cycle times). Beyond that, the digital model is enriched with further data (from building sensors, ERP or material tracking updates), communications, and analytics to deliver on scope and realise benefits and/or value.
It is not a one-time event, but rather a recurring, live and dynamic system. It is a bit like your favourite pet that needs, food, attention, and cleaning, i.e., it needs a constant stream of data, active modelling, feedback loops and monitoring of its performance and health status, as measured against scope requirements and perceived benefits.
So, the concept is great, but what kind of direct benefits can we expect, and do we really need such an elaborate undertaking to deliver them? The purpose of the digital twin is to deliver fact-based insights and actionable knowledge. The “secret sauce” however, is created through augmentation of human decision-making and actions, i.e., human and machine interaction that enables concurrent planning and agile operations to improve execution, coordination, and communication. Expected benefits and value depend on the specific asset or process, e.g., Commercial buildings, Logistic hubs/Ports, or a Circular supply chain, but are broadly characterised into 3 topics:
- Visibility of the asset value chain, or delivery process e.g., building operation life cycle, ESG monitoring and reporting, order fulfilment life cycle.
- Removal of threats and bottlenecks, e.g., predictive maintenance, real-time and fact-based supply chain coordination, or capacity planning.
- Development of new business models e.g., space-as-a-service, or information services to other supply chain stakeholders.
- Lower operational costs and improved operating margin, the result of improvements in decision-making and operating efficiency, or reduced cycle times and resources, through process automation that further reduce waste and errors.
- Top line growth via new revenue streams by leveraging real-time information to offer space-as-a-service or simply new information-driven services.
Expected benefits and value are strongly correlated with the level of detail captured and leveraged by the model, hence the granularity and degree to which reality is replicated. The essential point here is to establish a robust baseline with emphasis on the 5Vs of “big” data (Velocity, Volume, Variety, Value, and critically Veracity). This way, resilience is built-in from the start and allows for agility and an eagle-eye focus on doing the right things, as opposed to doing things right, i.e., creating the conditions and visibility to double down on critical success factors and avoid waste/noise etc.
The context of time is important and there should be an understanding and appreciation of the horizon over which expected benefits and value are to materialise. What would be the purpose and frequency of use, i.e., real-time decision making (now), tactical (next 3-6 months) or strategic (6 months+)? It is not necessary to choose only one, but important to understand what is to be achieved by when and why.
Lastly, the digital twin is a facilitating tool that is ultimately made valuable through human interaction. The next logical question would be about the resources required for implementation, but that would be part of a deeper, more personal conversation on what is already available and what goal or business objective is to be achieved.
About Kyanite 360
Kyanite360 is a digital platform solutions developer. They develop and deploy technology enabled systems to leverage physical assets, investments, products, services and capabilities with data and algorithms. Their vision is to be a leader in the transformation and delivery of smarter and more sustainable communities.
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