Figure: Business value drivers of a digital twin
Typical Barriers to Digital Twin Adoption
There are many benefits when using a digital twin, but the challenge lies in being able to build the necessary IT infrastructure. Consider that many typical commercial buildings have been modified for decades by different system integrators with very diverse technological environments. This presents five major barriers to adopting a digital twin.
The digital twin will access data from physical systems. Considering the number of systems prevalent in every building, and the likelihood that multiple legacy technologies have little to no security controls, the threat of cyber-physical attacks becomes forbidding.
Any modern facility has a heterogeneous collection of devices, sensors, actuators, controllers, along with different non-IP protocols. These issues are compounded by different naming conventions used by the system integrators. Any one property can have anywhere between 10-15 different protocols being used simultaneously, often in non-standard ways.
3) Data ownership
Buildings may have sensors installed, but they’re not always operational. Or perhaps the data collected by functional sensors is owned by the automation vendor, leaving the property manager without access to the data. Difficulty in capturing or accessing the data, or challenges around ownership, can prevent commercial real estate companies from realizing business value.
Integration plays a major role in any digital twin project. A commercial building, for example, can have HVAC, lighting, plumbing, energy management, and access control, among other systems. With the prevalence of legacy protocols and legacy automation systems, it can take upwards of four months just to document, discover, extract, and understand the data. And that’s even before app development, where the actual value realization happens.
It can take months to map all of the existing devices, sensors, actuators, and controllers in a building, especially when capturing data about their make, model, firmware version, protocols and function. Even when a digital-twin proof-of-concept or pilot delivers the desired ROI, sometimes a building owner simply doesn’t have the resources, time, or budget to scale it across multiple properties.
A Blueprint to Overcome the Barriers
It takes an ecosystem of partners to create a viable digital twin blueprint, one consisting of a system integrator and program manager, preferred cloud service providers, and product vendors. Each party brings its own set of products, platforms, and services to build a digital twin and modernize the existing building infrastructure to accommodate the necessary interoperability.
A single point of contact should be responsible for setting up the entire digital twin, coordinating the efforts of all providers, and defining and testing the associated use cases. This methodology would include, among other constructs, a platform-centric approach to enable modularity, extensibility, and future scalability.
Specifically, the platform construct to build a digital twin should include:
Multi-protocol connectivity – A gateway with standard protocol translators (BACNET, MODBUS, LonWorks, KNX, CAN, etc.) and out-of-the-box device profiles to cover all major building systems such as HVAC, lighting, access control, elevators, etc.
Automated device discovery – AI and ML techniques to automatically interface with any physical system or device, to discover, extract and map them to a normalized data model that is consistent across all makes, models and locations.
Building data model – A standardized data model that provides abstraction by maintaining consistency in how the north-bound applications interface with the building devices and systems.
Access controlled APIs – A single API layer on top of the building data model will allow different applications to query the underlying data model.
Pre-built dashboards and analytics apps – Responsive visualization built with various re-usable dashboards, visualization widgets and analytics apps to create actionable insights that enable decision making by building managers.
Shared services – Various shared services such as authentication/authorization, IT infrastructure monitoring, DevOps pipelines, etc. meant to quickly and in a standard way, develop and deliver business applications.
Connectors to building information modeling (BIM), facility management and asset management systems – Trigger actions from analytics promote taking corrective or preventive steps before any of the issues become critical by creating service tickets for equipment or facility maintenance.
With a digital twin for commercial real estate, property owners can integrate facility management, monitor and optimize their energy usage, perform predictive asset management, and integrate the command and control center and BIM. These functions enable companies to improve their operational efficiency and reduce their energy needs (e.g. scope 2 emissions). Digital twins also have the potential to reduce real estate operating costs by up to 35% and enable energy-consumption savings by up to 50% over its lifecycle.
Digital Twins: The Future of Commercial Buildings
For years, building owners focused on controlling costs. Now, they have the additional pressure to reduce carbon emissions. Digital twins provide a solution to both. Digital twins bring commercial real estate into the 21st century, empowering property owners with an integrated command-and-control center for centralized monitoring of all systems, from utility meters and smart lights to solid waste management and access control. Technology aside, digital twins also support real estate companies’ sustainability efforts by providing visibility into energy and resource consumption and the ability to optimize that usage to reduce their carbon footprint. In short, digital twins are the future of commercial real estate.