Property and facilities management – that is, the day-to-day operations of a building – in some cases still entails poring over paper files and conducting maintenance-led site inspections.
Technology is changing this. And one of the tools making the biggest difference right now is the ability to create a digital replica of a physical building.
These so-called ‘digital twins’ enable building managers to point their smart phones at any part of a building and, with data received by sensors, get real-time alerts about what they see – from energy consumption, to structural or facilities defects, to the location of people.
Research company Gartner counted digital twins as one of its top 10 Internet of Things technologies for 2018 and 2019. Tech giants like Microsoft and IBM are investing heavily in research and development around it. The digital twin market will be valued at US$13.8 billion by 2025, compared to US$1.24 billion in 2019, according to MarketWatch.
The technology joins a growing assortment of digital appliances, including facilities management platform Carrigo, and predictive software tool, Skyline AI, that are enhancing efficiency and transparency in property management.
“The digital twin creates a platform that captures every piece of data across the entire building lifecycle and generates a real-time, interactive model of the building,” says Walter Rafin, JLL’s Head of Solutions Development for Australasia and Pacific.
When information gathered by sensors is meshed with architects’ drawings, maintenance manuals, device warranties and the like, the digital twin provides a holistic view of a building.
Later this year, developer Investa will formally unveil Sixty Martin Place in Sydney as a completely digitally enabled office tower. Investa has worked with Australian technology company Willow to generate an interactive digital copy for its new building.
“This platform unlocks the value of data in real time,” says Rafin. “It provides powerful insights and analytics that transform the efficiency, compliance, standards of construction and operation of a building. As a result, owners develop more highly valued buildings and better experiences for their tenants.”
Digital twins are more than just a virtual representation of an object. They also replicate processes.
Unlike widely used Business Information Modelling, digital twins can work across the entire portfolio of a building’s assets , or even across buildings collectively, so every stage of a building’s history can operate as a whole.
Mark Tait, group executive and Head of Commercial Development at Investa, says digital twin technology is transforming the business by providing complete transparency about a building to the owners and occupiers.
“In practical, day-to-day terms that means building management has a far better relationship with tenants,” says Tait. “The real-time, live data sets allow them to respond far quicker,” he says.
“For example, a maintenance request in the purely analogue world may have had a building manager scrambling through 50 lever-arch folders, looking for asset specifications or the associated warranty. With a digital twin, that’s all available on a smartphone or tablet, allowing instant action.’’
As well as helping better understand how a building is functioning, the digital twin promises building owners significant savings through equipment management and maintenance.
Deployed correctly, and with insights used wisely, digital twins can transform a myriad of processes for its users.
Building managers will be able to visualise and manage building equipment and systems in real-time; disparate systems can be connected, promoting traceability through a common digital thread; and building operations can be optimised with predictive analytics. In the past, managers could tell how many times a piece of equipment had broken down and how much it had cost to repair, but not be able to predict when it would next break down or the cost to the overall business operation.
Digital twins can also troubleshoot equipment from a distance – a concept not new in theory but typically dominated by labour intensive processes and historically guarded by service providers as a means of margin protection.
“Significantly, digital twin technology is on the cusp of breaking out in dozens of industries and changing the way we do business,” Rafin says.