A Digital Twin is a digital replica of physical world features and processes that incorporates and aggregates any available associated data into it.
We can create a digital replica of anything, from a single object like a park bench to a building, an entire city and, eventually, the whole world. To these digital replicas we can add data about almost anything from any available source – potential and actual physical assets, processes, laws, places, systems and devices, all georeferenced to their physical world location and semantically segmented. By synchronizing the digital replica to its data in real time, we create the Digital Twin – a real-time virtual representation of a physical world entity.
Digital Twins can deliver significant benefits for businesses across any industry. In a snapshot:
Digital Twins use real-time and historical data to represent the past and present and, from this data bank, simulate predicted futures.
Digital Twins deliver unparalleled insight that accelerates holistic understanding, optimizes data-led decision making and streamlines processes.
Digital Twins can be built on data tailored to use cases to deliver targeted outcomes and effective action.
For the real estate industry in particular, the understanding of these benefits and what they can do for businesses at each stage of the lifecycle is growing exponentially.<
Digital Twin applications at each stage of the real estate value chain
Investing in real estate
Investment can relate to any phase and category of a real estate project. From the blank canvas of building on an undeveloped plot of land to the renovation and redevelopment of existing buildings, the rezoning from one use to another (for example residential to commercial) or the assembly of combining different plots and buildings for a new use.
Investors take on the risk of financing a project with the expected outcome of making a profit. But responsible investment needs to incorporate several processes that involve numerous industries to have a chance of profitability.
We can use Digital Twin technology to answer many of the challenges this creates and in doing so mitigate the risks investors face. Business intelligence through Big Data is empowering investor decision making and Digital Twins are a conduit to it, not only for collecting and collating Big Data but also for making it accessible and understandable. Bringing together disparate data streams and making them filterable and searchable allows businesses to make informed decisions based on comprehensive and accurate market analysis in the context of their own projects without investing huge amounts of resource and time. And it’s already happening with Praedia.
This same data and the application of it through Digital Twins works not just for investors at the development level, but also for real estate agents and prospective home and property buyers at a residential and commercial level. Applying business intelligence helps agents showcase the right properties to the right people, reducing workload and improving customer experiences.
Planning real estate projects
The planning stage brings in architects to design and finalize the details of the build, whether you’re starting from scratch, redeveloping or renovating an existing building or plot. This will also involve regulatory bodies, surveyors and structural engineers to ensure all the necessary structural, safety, environmental and land regulations are adhered to.
Digital Twinning optimizes the planning process. By contextualizing buildings in their real world locations and giving designers and architects the power to manipulate, test, redesign and rebuild them virtually, we can create more efficient designs, reduce impact on surroundings, test everything from noise levels for residents to light and shadow implications for neighbors. These kinds of spatial services are already bringing planning projects to life, helping companies plan, design and visualize their projects.
Digital Twins also give us the power to explore potential solutions and building materials that may never have been considered using traditional planning and design methods, facilitating a technological leap in how buildings perform and how well they’re constructed.
“Digital Twins create a digital dress rehearsal to perfect a building’s design and performance before starting to physically build it.”
Accessing real-time and historical data on how tenants use existing buildings and spaces helps architects refine how they design and redesign new ones to deliver value-added services and improve user experiences – and with it quality of life. Using smart technologies like building sensors automates the data sourcing and aggregation, reducing downtime and so costs.
Buildings can therefore be analyzed under different scenarios and then optimized to meet targeted use cases – residential, commercial, industrial or office. This acts like a digital dress rehearsal to perfect a building’s design and performance before starting to physically build it.
As technology progresses, Digital Twins are also powering generative design – automated software that generates designs to set briefs using data. Generative design is not just a set of architectural plans but a full lifecycle solution that includes engineering, performance and financial aspects to ensure each design is buildable, compliant and cost-effective.
Building, renovating and redeveloping real estate
Construction is of course a major part of any real estate project, from the smallest renovation to the biggest commercial or industrial developments, getting the build right is vital. This will involve not only primary building companies but also an array of sundry services and contractors – everyone from labourers, bricklayers and glaziers to electricians, carpenters, plumbers, interior designers and tradespeople.
The Digital Twin of a building can contain resources to help any and all of these trades, from structured information like BIM and CAD data to unstructured information like operating manuals. It also enables a range of tools to help optimize workflows.
Automated progress monitoring helps remove the risk of human error from progress monitoring. Manually checking a project’s progress against a predefined plan is subjective based on the cadence of a project’s progress at any one time, and this can lead to overly ambitious (or, equally, understated) expectations of how long the project might take to complete. By setting up automated data collection that feeds directly into a building’s Digital Twin, we can create a clearer, more precise progress report and estimated timeline.
The Digital Twin can also monitor resource planning and logistics automatically, meaning companies can monitor and allocate resources they need for the build dynamically based on up-to-date data, adjusting to cater to changing project parameters. In doing so they can reduce waste, avoid shortfalls and manage processes more efficiently. That resource management can even extend to workers and equipment on site, with digital record keeping plugged directly into the Digital Twin to monitor comings and goings with automated entry and exit, check to see where equipment is and if it’s in use and in good condition – all useful for safety regulations as well as time monitoring.
Lastly, ongoing quality assessments through the Digital Twin can greatly reduce the likelihood of problems appearing later in the build – and the associated costs that come with them. Construction managers and inspectors can conduct remote site inspections to check the condition of building materials using image-processing algorithms via photos and videos, and if they do spot a problem like a crack, they can monitor it over time and if necessary make the necessary repairs early on.
Managing real estate
The fourth stage in the real estate lifecycle is property management, which incorporates every possible facet of maintaining the property once the build is complete. Property management firms take care not just of the rental – be it a single occupant for, say, a residential property or multiple residential, commercial or industrial tenants for everything from a housing development to a shopping mall or industrial park – but also the building maintenance and relationships with tenants.
Depending on the initial investment plan, this could also mean selling the property, properties or parts thereof once the build is complete. This brings in realtors to market and promote, brokers to facilitate the sale, and professional services like lawyers to finalize the process.
Having a Digital Twin that shows the history, capabilities and status of each building in real time presents significant return on investment (ROI) potential. This could be anything from monitoring the building at a structural level with sensors to ensure it meets health and safety regulations, or understanding why problems have occurred by referring to historical data, to checking smaller issues like, say, a blown light bulb. This extends not only to where these problems are but also how to fix them (what bulb is needed, when it was last changed, if an electrician is needed to check a wider fault etc) and whether tenants need to be alerted to any potential risk from the problem (if that bulb is in a dark stairwell or fire escape, for example). While this previously would have required paperwork, man hours and human intervention, the Digital Twin automates and collates all this data into a comprehensive maintenance record that can be accessed at any time instantly.
This is of course a very specific example of a small issue. But if you extend that to every facet and asset in the building, the time and resource saving alongside speed and accuracy of response combines to create significant cost savings and risk reduction, which only improves ROI. So much so in fact, that Gartner now predicts that more than two-thirds of companies that have implemented IoT (internet of things) will be using Digital Twins by 2022 or before.
“Gartner predicts that more than two-thirds of companies that have implemented IoT will be using Digital Twins by 2022.”
As we touched on earlier, we can extend this Digital Twin functionality to improve not only property owner returns but also tenant experiences. Traditional management systems tend to operate with an information gap that provides incomplete data without the context of operational and strategic information. Via Digital Twins, dynamic space planning and resource utilization can help property managers allocate resources more efficiently, recognize and act on inefficiencies, improve tenant-building interactions and reduce overheads to maximize efficiencies and increase returns.
We can apply the benefits of Digital Twin technology not only to property managers but also to sales teams. Providing potential buyers with detailed data and 3D visualizations of a building – whether it’s been built or not – is an undeniably compelling sales tool. Turning traditional sales material like floor plans into semantic data buyers can use to understand everything from optimal floor layouts to development potential and accurate running costs reduces the what-if factor and allows for accurate hypothesis testing. Moving from static sales plans and photos to interactive 3D, real-time resources that showcase a building’s potential and capabilities is quite the leap, but one that is already becoming invaluable to both real estate sellers and buyers.
Digital Twins shaping the future of real estate
Taking a step back to look at the real estate industry holistically we can see that Digital Twins are already having a significant impact – and that’s only going to increase as adoption of the technology grows to city, country and global scale.
Think of the potential benefits large scale adoption can bring – city planning backed by real-time data will create more efficient, interactive, creative and livable urban spaces, not only the buildings but also the ‘negative space’ between them – parks, squares, streets etc. Digital Twin technology will help cities become more creative, more resilient, more sustainable and more efficient.
“Digital Twin technology will help cities become more creative, more resilient, more sustainable and more efficient.”
There are of course some challenges to overcome. The most obvious is access to data we can apply to the Digital Twin – much is privately generated and owned, some is controlled at a federal level, and some is incomplete or not yet available due to a lack of sensors, resources or the infrastructure to effectively access it. Alongside this, a lack of data standards presents a significant hurdle – is the data available in a format that can be easily integrated into the Digital Twin and how do we ensure it is open standard rather than proprietary, especially at an international level? Lastly and perhaps the biggest challenge is to create a cooperative approach to data sourcing and gathering, aligning implementation and expectations for different sectors and locations and ensuring it doesn’t just become the domain of the biggest businesses with the deepest pockets.
But these are challenges we can and will overcome, especially as the understanding of the value of Digital Twins continues to grow. From local administrations using them to make better policy decisions to families searching for the most suitable homes to multinationals getting the greatest ROI, the combined benefits far outweigh the challenges. And with it we will all benefit – transparent business practices, sustainable and smart cities, societal change – from true digital transformation.