Building a System of Systems

Bart Brink
By Bart Brink

The simplicity of a virtual replica of a physical situation and the wide application of Digital Twin makes this concept so special. It is not limited to a particular sector or technology. In fact, a Digital Twin brings together several different technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), among others. Another reason for the rising popularity of digital twins is the growing complexity of our world and the urgent need to deal with this complexity. There are many challenges and concerns to be addressed — be it climate change or business resilience, or issues concerning our supply chains and cities. The technologies that Digital Twin brings together can really help overcome these challenges.

The right approach

When building a Digital Twin, it is important to understand what is required of it. Therefore, before looking into the technology part, it is important to focus on the business or societal needs. A digital replica essentially solves two purposes. First, it provides an insight into what is currently happening in the physical world through dashboards, GIS maps and VR models. Second, and most important, it acts as a decision-support tool — helping make small operational decisions as well as large decisions concerning investments. Since it represents the physical environment, one can run simulations around that environment to answer ‘what if’ questions. Then, there is the opportunity to add algorithms to make predictions based on historical data and figure out how certain assets or processes will perform in the future. This can even result in situations where digital twins become the virtual operators of assets or business processes.

Netherlands Digital Twin
In the Netherlands, work is in progress to build a Digital Twin at the national level

Fusion of silos

We are currently witnessing a fusion of silos. Traditionally, there has been the geospatial space, the construction space, the infrastructure space, and there have been targeted developments in silos. However, now, when facing new complexities and challenges, it is necessary to look beyond the object level, asset level, or even city and regional levels. This is because all these systems are currently connected and the Digital Twin system enables these connections. But we can’t limit ourselves to a single digital replica; the need of the hour is to have an ecosystem of digital twins. Perhaps that is why we see the concept of national level digital twins emerging in countries like the UK, the Netherlands, and several others. Particularly in the Netherlands, the authorities have invested a lot in making the basic layer of information available. Simultaneously, a lot of work has happened on the digitalization front. We are gradually getting rid of silos and are making processes smarter and more efficient. At the national level steps have been taken to establish a National Digital Twin that connects connecting all the dots. This program is of national and European interest.

Location is key

Since a Digital Twin is basically a representation of the physical world, location or spatial data is fundamental to its creation and management. This is because the information provides us with the crucial answer to ‘where’. It’s about building a system-of-systems and location information holds the key to connecting those systems. While at the local or regional levels a Digital Twin may not require too much collaboration, when we move up one level in complexity, say at the national level, we need to have close collaboration between private and public sectors, and even research organizations. Because an efficient digital replica needs accurate data from various sources.

Bart Brink

Author Bio

Bart Brink is Global Program Director, Digital Twin at Royal HaskoningDHV; and Chair of the Digital Twin Working Group within Buildings Smart International.