In a resource-constrained and sustainability conscious business environment, more critical infrastructure asset owners and operators are using digitally enabled workflows to automate processes and optimise human-in-the-loop decision making. Achieving this often requires integrating many internal and external data sources across organisational functions and systems.

This is why digital twins have become the preferred business tool of choice. Taking an agile approach to ingest, analyse and present data to decision makers is a great way to develop a continuous release of digital twin capabilities. However, a digital twin program is more than just data and applications.

A digital twin is generally defined as a digital representation of a physical asset or process that is dynamically updated at a specified frequency and fidelity where better data will inform better decisions.

Five key considerations

Here are five key considerations when implementing enterprise-level digital twins.

1. Digital twin sponsorship and leadership

Possibly the most important requirement is to define your organisational vision to outline your key problem statement and expected outcomes. The vision needs to be in the voice of the people most impacted by the problem statement however endorsed by senior executives which will set direction and messaging for teams to demonstrate line of sight and provide guidance to enable and hone innovation.

A shared and endorsed vision will make it easier to gain support from staff and other stakeholders, attract attention and secure the necessary resources to deliver it. Identifying key sponsors will also enable alignment with other enterprise-wide projects and allow project teams to move forward confidently.

The importance of this senior sponsorship was highlighted in a recent digital twin project we delivered for a major New South Wales utility that already had several adjacent in-flight projects. Having the right functional leadership meant there was clear messaging about what each element of the digital twin needed to achieve across the enterprise and ensured focus from individual teams.

2. Stakeholder decisions and digital twin use cases

It's crucial to have a deep knowledge of the decisions the digital twin will enable and the people who will make them. These decisions could include prioritising capital spend, predicting demand or external disruptions, enhancing workforce efficiency, mitigating future impacts of climate risk or optimising maintenance interventions. This knowledge will form the use cases that eventually become discreet digital twin applications within the ecosystem. Developing user stories that clarify the role of the user, the problems to solve, the outcome of the solved problem, the quality of available data and the potential quantifiable benefits is an effective way to capture a cross-section of needs across the organisation.

Defined use cases will allow you to design a prioritised digital twin program, identify opportunities to scale up and deliver consistently repeatable analytical components. The prioritised use cases will also help when identifying additional stakeholders to engage and who will become the future champions of your digital program.

We used this approach on a recent transport mega project. Many parts of the client organisation wanted to use digital technologies to support decision making. These were separate but related initiatives, such as reviewing designs, selecting construction materials, managing costs and engaging the community. The prioritised use cases meant the client could identify the most critical programs and their short-term benefits to secure investment that eventually supported the broader program.

3. Enable and sequence digital twin capabilities

Clarity on the individual business, technical and people capabilities needed to bring a digital twin use case to life is important. This enables each capability to be assessed in their own right or as an enabler for multiple use cases. These capabilities could include data capture (mobile solutions, IoT), data storage and integration (Cloud, APIs), analytical methods (AI/ML), modelling methodologies (simulation, discrete event analysis) and user experience (AR/VR, 3D immersive environments).

Understanding the most frequently used capabilities means you can more deeply engage with central the technology team to understand future corporate programs which may enable similar capabilities. This will allow you to achieve a stronger enterprise-wide integration and sustainable support arrangements for ongoing releases and updates. More importantly, this will identify the specific areas that need funding and delivery through the digital twin program, as well as the sequence of dependencies and enabling capabilities.

We took this approach in a recent state government engagement. Individual agencies and departments were developing multiple but discrete digital twins for their operating assets, but they needed to be integrated at a state level to enable planning across precincts and between asset classes. We helped the client identify its most frequently used capabilities to provide clarity on which ones could accelerate the program, transfer knowledge and demonstrate value for money.

4. Change, upskilling and adopting digital twins

As with all digital transformation programs, understanding the stakeholder impact and implementing a series of targeted change interventions will save rework and bring end users on the journey. This ensures teams are engaged and have a level of ownership and accountability in the digital twin program. A targeted change program goes beyond teaching people how to use software and should focus on how to create a culture of continuous innovation where people seek opportunities to make better decisions through improved data quality and sophisticated analytical capabilities. This culture drives a level of excitement and wider levels of adoption.

Successful programs drive higher levels of participation and result in even more successful outcomes. Without a deep understanding of the change impact and the required support for adoption, it's possible for teams to revert to old ways of working, meaning benefits aren't realised, the investment is wasted or rework is required.

Comprehending the overall impact of a new program and the ability of an organisation to fully embrace that change was made clear to us on a project with a major Victorian water company. It recognised that integrating multiple data sources into single presentation layer to enable a fundamental understanding of its assets was more important than quickly demonstrating 3D animations. It focused on the foundational capabilities of the twin and bringing teams on the journey. This upskilled staff at the same pace of technology adoption, resulting in a more confident workforce that was able to take on more advanced digital twin capabilities.

5. Realising benefits and monitoring for self-funding digital twins

A key part for any enterprise-wide investment is demonstrating the business case or return on that investment. Taking the use case approach to capture potential tangible benefits early in the program means organisations can track costs and associated outcomes to secure further funding for the ongoing program. Creating a baseline of costs can be challenging, but is one of the most effective ways to illustrate systematic improvement.

With an eye on benefits, organisations can pivot between digital twin initiatives that reduce costs to those that generate value. These benefits may include reduced cost of service delivery, asset ownership or data collection and management. Value generating benefits may include better project selection, better infrastructure design or commercialisation opportunities to monetise data.

We applied a benefits-led approach when supporting a government transport agency in transitioning from construction into operations and handing over infrastructure and operational data between departments. We helped create a benefits library which both departments referenced, creating a common language and informing a timeline for when the benefits would be realised. This was essential for both departments to secure funding for their programs.

It’s time to get twinning

When introducing an enterprise digital twin capability, some considerations reach well beyond software. A deep appreciation of the people, decisions, change impact and benefits will help sustainable transformation and the rolling adoption of digital twin use cases.

Leveraging a digital twin approach to take charge of your strategic and operational decisions today will take cost out of your business, reduce risk at all levels and improve service level performance for your customers.

How we can help

Regardless of the stage of your digital twin journey, we've found that securing support from a strategic partner to help build and sustain an enterprise capability is a great way to double down on the realisation of benefits and keep your program on schedule.

KPMG can help by augmenting your internal resources with people that have experience in delivering successful digital twins. We have seen the pitfalls, know the vendor ecosystem, can build complex analytical models, understand the change impact and can articulate the value at all levels within your organisation.

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