The 2019 report Common Challenges, shared responses, produced with the ICE’s Infrastructure Client Group, uses Mott MacDonald’s Smart Infrastructure Index© to assess progress since Project 13. In the third in a series of four articles based on the report, Mott MacDonald's Thomas Joseph takes a look at digital twins.
There’s a lot of hype around digital twins. The term has been enthusiastically adopted from other sectors but is subject to varying interpretations. Many offerings are little more than static 3D models, and despite a ubiquitous presence in our industry, the essentials of what constitutes a functional digital twin are only just emerging.
Data from the Smart Infrastructure Index© supports this. A staggering 95% of people say that poorly organised information prevents them from realising its full value. Owners must develop robust asset data models and prioritise where they invest to improve data quality. Digital twins should be developed with a clear purpose aligned to corporate objectives.
The data from the recent Smart Infrastructure Index© survey also reveals relatively low levels of maturity in sense-making, customer insight and decision making across Infrastructure Client Group members. These factors rely on better digital integration, data availability and information management to develop more sophisticated digital twins. However, 74% of those surveyed said there are significant omissions or inconsistencies in their asset register, indicating that owners should focus on operationalising existing high value analytical models within their current data footprint. By using existing analytics, owners can capitalise on previous intellectual property and the inherent learning capability of a well-structured twin, no matter how small, will help identify areas where additional data capture will improve insights.
How to build an enterprise digital twin
Digital twins are really a convergence of better information management and analytical modelling. Organisations need to develop a clear understanding of how their progress in adopting information management sits in a wider context, engaging closely with stakeholders responsible for asset management and operational functions. Enterprises should look at their decision-making processes from the perspectives of different personas to understand what information is required, where it resides, and how it can be federated into a consistent source.
To guide the development of your enterprise digital twin, embrace an open, federated approach that promotes innovation from partners without resulting in software vendor lock-in. Promoting an integrated information architecture is more important than choosing a specific software or cloud provider, so define your strategy first, then select systems and suppliers that support your vision.
Security is essential and must be considered from the start – the potential risks from aggregating information have to be balanced against the benefits of generating richer insights to inform decision-making. Clear information requirements should be defined to ensure that what’s delivered from new or upgraded assets can flow through into your digital twin.
All owners and operators face common challenges in understanding and implementing digital twins. To support a shared response, the Centre for Digital Built Britain has established the Digital Twin Hub for those who own or are developing digital twins.
Take an incremental approach and start creating value today
Asset owners cannot afford to wait for all the answers – the opportunity cost of delay is simply too high. Our data reflects this – 60% said decisions are made based on experience and instinct rather than being informed by evidence. However, these ‘instinctive’ skills are diminishing with the next generation and we must move towards a more data-driven approach.
Given the complexity and age of our infrastructure systems, it is debatable whether asset information will ever be ‘complete’. Owners should prioritise opportunities by business need and identify pilot projects that are feasible to deliver now. In this way you can generate momentum and accelerate learning while delivering real value to the organisation.
Develop a clear digital twin plan and encourage innovation so that champions across the business have appropriate guidance and autonomy to develop solutions that meet their needs and can eventually integrate into the enterprise twin. This coordinated approach will ensure alignment with your corporate strategy, while helping to justify investment and target further efforts to improve information assets or rationalise systems.
Thomas Joseph is head of asset performance optimisation at Mott MacDonald Smart Infrastructure.
Richard Shennan, group digital business development director at Mott MacDonald, comments:
“If you can measure it you can manage it.” It’s a saying commonly used in our industry, and it’s clear that having a standard methodology for measuring digital maturity will help infrastructure owners and operators accelerate digital transformation.
"The Mott MacDonald Smart Infrastructure Index© provides that standard. It enables organisations to plan change based on a clear understanding of their current position and provides a methodology for implementation and measurement. It also provides a valuable benchmark with respect to peers."