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Monday, 2.10.2023
eGovernment Forschung seit 2001 | eGovernment Research since 2001

Mark Enzer, CTO at Mott MacDonald and vice chair of the new Digital Twin Hub strategy board at Connected Places Catapult, lays out the challenges to overcome and requirements for a widescale, connected digital twin ecosystem to come to fruition.

Q: Where did your work on digital twins begin and what are the aspirations like for a connected ecosystem?

Mark Enzer: I’m a process engineer by training, which means that I’m very much into systems thinking, focusing on outcomes, processes, and information flow – all of which is highly relevant for digital twins in urban contexts because the use of digital twins is really all about outcomes for people, society, and nature. In this field, you must start with the outcome in mind. The work that we’ve been doing on digital twins at the Centre for Digital Built Britain has been to advance the idea of a connected digital twin ecosystem. The market for digital twins is taking off and doesn’t need an awful lot of encouragement, but to get the twins to talk to each other, leading to an ecosystem of connected digital twins, is more challenging because organisations using digital twins will need to be convinced to do the same thing in the same way.

Q: What has progress been like to date on encouraging the development of a connected digital twin ecosystem?

Mark Enzer: The development of ideas is going really well. The market for digital twins is really taking off – organisations across sectors are looking to digital twins as a solution to some of their challenges, with quite a few also having done demonstrators.

When it comes to making connections between digital twins, we’re still at quite an early stage. To drive that forward, there are two aspects to consider – the technical and the social. We describe the National Digital Twin programme as a socio-technical change programme; that means that, at its core, there needs to be a semantic solution and semantic precision to enable a consistent, high-quality data model, which then enables digital twins to communicate. We also need to put in place shared reference data, plus some common access and security protocols – all things on the technical side that will help digital twins to talk to each other in the same language. The technical side alone won’t be enough, though – there’s also all the social elements to consider, like the human and organisational factors around commercial, legal, and regulatory solutions, not to mention skills and ethics. If we only have the technical without the human factors, or vice versa, developing this connected ecosystem won’t work.

Q: What kind of considerations need to be made around citizen concerns with privacy and data security?

Mark Enzer: That is a massive part of it – from a technical point of view, the whole thing must be built on a foundation of security. On the social side, it needs to be built on a foundation of ethics. If it’s not ethical and secure from the foundation upwards, then it will go wrong – it should always be built on and developed from those twin foundations.

Q: Does that come to the fore to a greater degree when considering digital twin usage in cities?

Mark Enzer: Absolutely – and not just cities, but places that have come of the characteristics of cities as well, like airports and railways stations. There’s a lot to be brought together in these places in terms of infrastructure and systems in order to serve people, so it’s vital to keep things place based. Cities are maybe the biggest example of that, where all these different services coming together – energy, water, transport – to serve citizens. These systems are all interconnected in how they keep cities running and habitable, but to get them working properly there must be a way of understanding those systems as a whole and being able to intervene more effectively, and that’s where connected digital twins will come in. That’s why digital twins are so relevant in a city context, and it comes back to one of the core ideas of what a smart city is – the concept of using information in service of people in a place.

This also feeds back into why it’s so important to begin by focusing on outcomes. The outcome that really matters in our built environment is that people and nature flourish together for generations. If that’s the aim, we have to work out how to get there but it has to be focused on people and nature – we’re increasingly learning that if nature isn’t flourishing then neither can we, and vice versa.

Q: How significant do you believe the challenge is to connect digital twins of all necessary parties together in a city context?

Mark Enzer: The challenge is huge, but it is also hugely necessary because the biggest challenges we face as humanity at the moment are systems-level challenges – climate change is affecting all systems, not just part of them. Achieving net zero, building the circular economy or achieving climate resilience all demand systems-based solutions. These issues cannot be solved in silos – we need to have this systems view, which also means we need to understand the systems. Digital twins are among the most valuable tools we have to help understand these systems – it certainly isn’t a silver bullet, but it can be part of the solution.

These are complex systems but without understanding them we cannot hope to manage them better. Due to that complexity, we’re not saying that we can control these systems or even optimise them, but we have to be able to intervene more effectively. That might mean building new infrastructure but building it in the right place at the right time, it could mean modifying what we already have or recycling it, and that’s before considering operational and maintenance interventions. Regardless of the type of intervention, we can only be more effective with them if we understand the systems better. When we add it all up, we’re essentially describing a "system of systems" – the integration of lots of different, complex systems into one. That’s what we need to understand to be able to achieve the outcomes we all desire.

Further to that complexity and our need to understand these systems is the skills gap, which exists throughout the different sectors and systems we need to connect. A digital twin makes the connection between the digital world and the physical world, with data going one way, generating insight to help make better decisions, and drive interventions the other way. There are skills gaps all the way around that digital-physical cycle, whether it’s getting data from the physical environment – requiring expertise in sensors, IoT and 5G – or in terms of the data handling, ingest and management within the digital twin. There’s also the data processing, modelling, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, plus visualisation skills, gaps in decision support, and gaps in intervention, which could be part of robotics.

Q: Taking all the above into consideration, where does that leave us in terms of moving forward with the concept of a connected digital twin ecosystem?

Mark Enzer: I’m very confident that it’s doable – the early signs are that digital twins themselves will move forward massively, and to a degree, they are already doing so. There’s a danger that some will rush into them, get them wrong, and decide it was a bad idea in the first place. That danger exists even with individual digital twins. When it comes to connecting digital twins, those setting up on an individual basis won’t necessarily be thinking about federation. Federating digital twins will require real leadership because it could be very difficult for the market itself to arrange it.


Autor(en)/Author(s): Luke Antoniou

Quelle/Source: Smart Cities World, 08.07.2022

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