Digital twins: Catalyst for transformative infrastructure
Future demand for infrastructure continues to grow exponentially – imploring governments to identify ways to not just deliver more, but to deliver smarter and faster. Enter digital twins: the key to delivering next-generation infrastructure as well as meeting its efficiency, equity, and resilience requirements.
Society’s demand for core services is outstripping the capacity of the infrastructure required to deliver them. This is impacting the economic, commercial, and social development of our communities – large and small.
Increasing costs, shortage of skilled labor, tightening public budgets and supply chain pressures are not the only challenges influencing the delivery of infrastructure. Modern infrastructure is now expected to fulfil multiple roles, from equitable service delivery through to managing climate impact – creating the need for material change to the traditional ways of infrastructure delivery.
As a result, governments are finding themselves faced with the question of “do we simply need more infrastructure, or more innovative infrastructure, or find alternative solutions to infrastructure?” - the answer to which is 'all of the above'. The future success of infrastructure delivery will be predicated by the ability to leverage diverse and complex data to support how infrastructure is planned, delivered, integrated, operated and maintained. Enter the digital twin.
The value of digital twinning for infrastructure
Digital twins came to maturity two decades ago with simulated modeling in manufacturing. In infrastructure, a digital twin is a digital representation of an asset or process from the physical world, enabling an increased ability to gain deeper insights and make better decisions through processing vast volumes of big data, identifying intricate patterns and correlations, and automating decision-making.
From upstream capital planning through to asset operations, digital twins can be used to drive better infrastructure decision making by providing more intelligent scenario planning and options analysis. A digital replica of a roadway with sensors to monitor road traffic, for example, could help operators identify existing traffic bottlenecks, enabling future decisions that help reduce traffic, wait times, and redundant investments.
Research suggests that governments can achieve approximately US$9 return on investment for every US$1 spent on digital twins for infrastructure. KPMG professionals see UK’s National Underground Asset Register (NUAR) as an example of a digital twin, which reports a return on investment of 30:11. Digital twins could help governments reduce design costs by 50 percent, cut construction permitting times in half and reduce overall maintenance costs by a fifth2. That means infrastructure gets delivered faster, at a lower cost and higher quality.
The value of digital twins grows exponentially as systems and inputs integrate. But it is only when digital twins start to communicate with each other, that complex relationships between assets and opportunities for system optimization, such as by enhancing public safety response, healthcare or city planning, are revealed.
Governments must take the lead
Creating a collaborative digital twin ecosystem requires market trust, common policies, standards and legislations, as well as up-front investments and centralized coordination to provide the platform that unlocks the collective benefits.
As individual organizations may currently not have the incentive, capacity or authority to coordinate the industry reform required for this change, governments are often the only entity with the appropriate motivation and political capacity to correct the market failure and drive progress on the digital twin agenda at an aggregated level.
Defining the conditions for success
Digital twins offer a high value and return on investment opportunity. But what does it take for government to create a sustainable digital twin ecosystem and an environment that encourages uptake and utilization? A look at existing digital twins across jurisdictions suggests there are three important conditions for success:
- Solid technical foundations
Foundational digital twin mechanisms, including roles and resources, core processes, and a technology enablement backbone, are critical for accelerating adoption of digital twins.
- Quality data
Accurate, standardized, up-to-date and accessible data sets are essential to informing better infrastructure decisions. And that, in turn, requires regular data sharing, enhancement and maintenance, guided by appropriate legislation and governance standards.
- Practical use case application
A careful selection of use cases with a relative ease of implementation is the key to translating strategy into actions, testing technical delivery capabilities, understanding stakeholder requirements, engaging industry leaders and forming a ‘coalition of the willing’ from public and private stakeholders.
A path to digital twin maturity
Harnessing the full potential of digital twins is multi-faceted. KPMG professionals believe that successful governments progress through four distinct levels of maturity: Developing Foundations, Accelerating Adoption, Delivering at Scale and Embedding as Standard.