Over 900 guests joined the Connected Digital Twins Summit either in person or online to hear industry specialists discuss latest developments, new technologies and next steps.
Connected digital twins offer excellent opportunities to improve the delivery of infrastructure construction and maintenance through a variety of technology platforms, we heard at the Summit. But they also promise improved interactions between industry stakeholders and a better chance of engaging with the public positively over new proposals.
“By placing people at the centre, we can design and optimise systems to meet the needs of the individual,” said Dr Alison Vincent, the Chair of the Digital Twin Hub’s Strategic Board and a Non-Executive Director of Connected Places Catapult, in a keynote address to delegates at the Connected Digital Twins Summit.
“The result is a more open and collaborative digital twin ecosystem for the good of everyone, helping to improve health and wellbeing, mobility, access to essential resources, and economic opportunity.”
Platforms like the Digital Twin Hub, continued Alison, “have a role to play in bringing together people and expertise to focus on connecting digital twins, and to make sure the latest tools, guidance and programmes meet the needs of our communities.
“We are driven by our motto ‘learning through sharing and progressing by doing’ and our desire is to be the world-leading, go-to resource on digital twins. We aim to boost the strength of understanding and knowhow in the community with the drive and passion to innovate.”
The Connected Digital Twins Summit was opened by Transport Technology and Decarbonisation Minister, Jesse Norman who launched the Transport Research and Innovation Board online Transport Digital Twin Vision and Roadmap to 2035.
In addition, a new partnership with Cranfield University was announced to launch a CPD course in digital twin skills in October.
Providing the public with compelling stories
Several speakers throughout the day echoed the sentiments of Dr Alison Vincent around the need to use digital twins to bring people together.
Janet Greenwood, the Director of KPMG’s Infrastructure Advisory Group said that digital twins “have a massive role to play, particularly around storytelling” when it comes to explaining new proposals for the built environment for the benefit of the general public.
“What we are facing in the future are massive environmental and social changes. Being able to articulate a future vision and set out possible interventions to mitigate risks and make the most of opportunities are where digital twins have a key role.”
Janet later said that digital twins can help people to imagine what a future vision for an infrastructure development would look like, adding: “It is incumbent upon us as industry experts to be able to articulate a future vision.”
During a later session on digital skills and building capability within the DT Hub Working Group, Anglian Water Services’ Chief Data Officer, Matt Edwards spoke of the need to better communicate digital goals within organisations.
“Storytelling is such an important skill in our world, to help build business cases,” he said. “What we would really like to do is create guidance that helps any number of organisations learn how to become more comfortable communicating about opportunities through digital twins.”
Effective communication around the importance of using digital twins, he added, can help to “drive digital investment and engage the workforce at all levels. It is our job as leaders to make it happen.
“We are missing a trick if we aren’t showing business communities the art of the possible and showing them a window on the future.” Digital twin storytelling, added Matt, is about “making the narrative and the technologies accessible”.
Another advocate of promoting digital twins more thoroughly was Melissa Zanocco OBE of the Infrastructure Client Group and Co-Chair of the DT Hub Community Council. She told the Summit: “The power of storytelling is just as important as the digital skills. It is about being able to win hearts and minds and put everything into a language that others can understand.”
She added that digital professionals need to ensure they can “talk boardroom language, so that board-level people have the right information to make the decisions they need.”
Digital Twin Hub Director, Justin Anderson spoke of the group “fostering a collaborative space for members to exchange knowledge about digital twins and creating safe spaces to share knowledge about digital twins.
“Our role involves chronicling insights from various sources like community calls, work groups and panel discussions,” he said. “All of these insights are freely distributed among our members, creating a well-stocked repository of valuable resources.”
World Bank Senior Consultant and GeoEnable Director, Steven Eglinton agreed. “Communication is absolutely the single biggest thing for me.” People, he added, have varied skill sets and expertise about how to implement digital technology for infrastructure. “How we use digital twins incrementally will be the challenging part.” Connecting digital twins together, Steven added, promises to bring people together too.
Delegates to the Summit also heard from Innovate UK’s Head of Digital Twins, Simon Hart who spoke about six new cyber-physical infrastructure projects to accelerate innovation in the UK. He encouraged SMEs to engage with Innovate UK’s new ‘Innovation Hub’ and a newly launched ‘Moonshots for the UK’ initiative. Simon asked the audience to submit ideas for ‘moonshot’ projects that could help to accelerate research and development in the UK around digital twins. “We want to hear from the public if they have identified any gaps,” he said.
Transparency is the new gold
During another session on unleashing the power of connected twins, Kjell Eriksson of DNV remarked that while many people see ‘data as the new gold’, “maybe moving forwards transparency is the new gold”. In future, he added, “there will be increased demand for sharing what is going on”.
Fellow panellist Miranda Sharp of Metis Digital added: “The definition of transparency has moved. If you are not sharing data and if you regard it as ‘gold’ and maintain it in your organisation alone, it does nothing but attract cost. people who share data effectively will create more value than those who hoard it.”
Miranda added: “We are all learning together, and there isn’t going to be one big winner in this space.”
She spoke about the challenge of adopting a digital twin approach: “We are doing fantastic research and collecting some interesting use cases, but if all we do is collect a whole host of isolated digital twins that are unconnectable, we will have failed in both a technical and social way.”
Fujitsu UK’s Centre for Cognitive Advanced Technologies’ Managing Director, Keith Dear remarked that digital twins could become “as profound a revolution as to how we interact with information as the introduction of the internet, and that will need a business model that doesn't yet exist".
Also at the event, Sarah Hayes, Engagement Lead for the Climate Resilience Demonstrator digital twin project CReDo remarked that climate change is the biggest challenge we face, but that we are not ready for extreme weather events caused by climate change.
However, she said that sharing data and collaboration across sectors will help to increase the resilience of critical infrastructure in response to climate change.
Sarah set out three industry challenges: the co-ordinated understanding of infrastructure interdependencies; data sharing across sectors; and co-ordinated strategic resilience planning and investment.
“This is all part of our journey towards connected digital twins, so we can share data through some sort of ecosystem distributed architecture we all need to develop," she said.
Article by Mike Walter, Connected Places Catapult