What Can Digital Twins Do in the Digital Workplace?
In October, the Digital Twin Consortium, whose mission is to raise awareness and adoption of digital twin technology, published some guidance into how organizations can secure digital twins and use them in their digital transformation strategies.
There are many new technologies coming into the digital workplace, and digital twins may seem like yet another one companies must wrap their heads around. But a deeper dive into what digital twins are shows they have significant implications for the workplace when it comes to data management and cybersecurity.
What a Digital Twin Does
Digital twins have been around for a number of years, but what they are and what they offer remains unclear for many.
IBM, who has been a player in the field for some time, defines digital twins as "a virtual representation of an object or system that spans its lifecycle, is updated from real-time data, and uses simulation, machine learning and reasoning to help decision-making."
In simpler terms, a digital twin is a virtual model that has been built to represent a physical object. In the physical world, these objects have been fitted with sensors that continuously gather data and feed it into the virtual model, the digital twin.
The objective of a digital twin is to help users understand how the physical object works and how it might react to different circumstances.
There's tremendous power in this technology if you consider how it can be scaled. According to Statista, digital twins can be replicas as large as smart cities. For now, though, the most common use cases are quicker risk assessment, predictive maintenance, real-time monitoring, better collaboration and decision-making — but companies like IBM are investing for the bigger picture and what that can mean on a global scale.
Digital twins are gaining traction in the digital workplace for various reasons, but it is more prominent across industries like manufacturing, where the digital twin market is expected to be worth $6 billion by 2025, according to Statista.
Capgemini Research Institute's Digital Twins: Adding Intelligence to the Real World report, which surveyed industry executives and academics across more than 1,000 organizations, found that 80% have ongoing digital twin programs and 55% consider digital twins a strategic element of digital transformation.
Related Article: Current and Future Uses of Digital Twins Across Industries
The Power of Digital Twins
In a very simplified nutshell, digital twins provide enterprises a mirror image of anything that happens in the workplace.
According to Sharad Varshney, CEO of OvalEdge, a data catalog and end-to-end governance solutions provider, digital twins hold tremendous potential because they can give an enhanced virtual, real-time and AI-driven model of any application, system or object in the enterprise, which in turn drives efficiencies, improvements and product development.
As examples, he cites NTT’s work to produce a digital twin of the Tour de France and, perhaps even more groundbreaking, the Living Heart Project, a collaboration between Dassault Systèmes and the FDA that utilizes digital twin technology to revolutionize cardiovascular science.
Varshney said an important factor in the success of the technology — and one that is often glossed over in the forward-looking speculation — is that a digital twin is only as strong as the data it uses. While this may seem self-evident, the challenge here is that the data needed to power a digital twin is taken from real-world locations, where adherence to privacy laws and regulatory practices is mandatory.
“Any digital twin project needs to take privacy and security considerations into account in order to have a model that can endure," Varshney said.
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Digital Twins Take Over the Metaverse
There is a newer, more recent application of digital twins, adapted for the metaverse.
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Varshney believes that ultimately, the metaverse will be comprised of digital twins that are virtual replicas of everything, from products and office spaces, to customers and employees.
He points to Accenture, which is currently creating resources to help clients adapt to what they term the “Metaverse Continuum.” Accenture defines this as a “spectrum of digitally enhanced worlds, realities and business models poised to revolutionize life and enterprise in the next decade."
And the use cases? Because the metaverse is relatively new, most businesses are choosing to have their virtual office completely mirror their physical office to create familiarity and increase buy-in, Erin McDannald, CEO of Lightning Environments, told us.
Having an enhanced digital twin of the physical workspace builds an important psychological connection to a company and its property, she said — though looking to the future, metaverse environments are likely to expand beyond a digital twin of the physical space, with businesses feeling more comfortable creating branded offices specific to that digital environment.
Related Article: Why You Need Data Observability in the Digital Workplace
Other Digital Twins Uses
As earlier mentioned, manufacturing is a big driver of digital twins in business environments, but so are telecommunications companies that are tapping into the technology to develop their networks,.
As the telco space works to deploy 17 million 5G microcells and towers worldwide by 2025, Mike Flaxman, head of product at Heavy.ai, said digital twins are a great tool because they provide a fully interactive 3D model of network planning. By coupling digital twin technology with multiple data sources like RF planning workflows, historic network performance data and customer experience data, companies can validate decisions before investing in physical tower and microcell placements.
“This kind of accelerated business decision further enables telcos, as they shift to a 'plan, build, operate' model, while reducing capital expenditures and site-deployment costs, and maximizing service quality," Flaxman said.
Beyond telecommunications, there is also an established use for digital twins in the marketing space. According to Kent Lewis, chief marketing officer at Deksia, digital twins offer brands an opportunity to create engagement with employees and customers across platforms. While physical products are essential for manufacturers, twinning provide additional opportunities for increased engagement, community building and revenue.
Lewis said brands like Puma, Adidas, Nike and Gucci all have demonstrated the potential of twinning to expand audiences, product lines and, of course, revenue. And this, too, is evolving in the direction of the metaverse.
“Digital twins are unique, trackable and smart in that they can provide unique access to the brand, peer communities and the metaverse,” Lewis said. “We’re at the early stages of development with [digital twins] … but this is indeed the tip of the iceberg regarding what is possible.”
About the Author
David is a full-time journalist based in Ireland. A partisan of ‘green’ living and conservation, he is particularly interested in information management and how enterprise content management, analytics, big data and cloud computing impact on it.