Model around What Matters – The power of Digital Twins and Semantics

Posted by Ali Nicholl on July 13, 2020

Guest Blog originally posted on TechUK.

Digital Transformation is difficult. Mature enterprises have complex legacy systems, disparate and often unstructured data, and specialisms built around vertical processes which has resulted in an oft-cited lack of individuals with the skill sets to deliver the cross-functional insights, and knowledge to deliver real change. In BDO’s 2019 survey of Digital Transformation in the Financial Services sector 73% of companies reported that one of the biggest barriers to successfully implementing digital initiatives was a lack of skills or insufficient training. Meanwhile, the most common challenge to organizations moving forward with a new digital initiative is the challenge of establishing the right metrics.

How do you establish what good looks like or how to measure it? And where do we find the data scientist and developers, who profoundly understand our businesses and operations – and can think strategically, not just about what answers can be gathered from institutional data, but which questions to ask?

In short we don’t – we need to accept that some of the highest performing individuals within organisations are those with expert domain knowledge ( narrow and deep) rather than those with holistic, but lightweight understanding of lots of diverse areas of our business (shallow and broad). There are exceptions of course, and deep domain knowledge shouldn’t be at the exclusion of all else – Ian Livingstone amongst others has spoken often about the need for digital literacy, to ensure that we are teaching skills that enable others to read and write, consume but also create digital projects and applications.

However, fundamentally we may – ironically – be asking the wrong question of skills around data – and Digital Twins can provide the answers to the right question.

The most important skill is a strategic shift to focus on what matters to your business, quoting Sean Gigremosa in his interview with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers “The issue was that we didn’t see our products the way our customers do…We saw data that was stored in different systems and our focus was on those silos. We saw the world based on our technology and process, infrastructure and delivery methodology.” The conceptual shift put in place by Rolls-Royce Power Systems was to put “what matters to customers at the centre of what we do”.

Digital Twins as semantic models of our data, provide the opportunity for organisation to stop focusing on the technology of integration, or retrospective analysis of huge quantities of dead data, and instead to focus on what matters to enterprise – modelling digital twins of your enterprise or assets, service, or infrastructure.

Agile project management revolves around refactoring  – so you don’t want your model to be resistant to change. The real world evolves, so should your model – making the “system” mirror the real world. The “mirror world” spoken of in this article in Wired Magazine. Things in the system are abstractions of things in the world. Things that happen in the real world also happen in the system. Words, actions, entities in the system mimic those in the real world.

Semantically-defined Digital Twins enable organisations to augment legacy data and create models of their world that are easily and intuitively understood, Twins that form adaptive bases for a long tail of lightweight applications. Enabling enterprises of any shape or size to iteratively define what good looks like, rapidly test against know metrics and systematically enhance, and where necessary, overhaul operations. Digital transformation shouldn’t require us to all know the final system design before we start.

Focus on What Matters

Through the creation of semantically-defined digital twins BAM Nuttall are transforming their approach to digitalisation. Colin Evison, head of innovation at BAM Nuttall, said of digital twin approaches “Overall, lessons are learned and opportunities are uncovered within the virtual environment that can be applied to the physical world and used to transform a business. This is a real opportunity to explore how we can make construction projects smarter by the adoption and development of technology solutions which have not been traditionally available before.”

Case Study: BAM Nuttall created a digital data twin of an environment – a construction site. The single view of supplier, contractor and machine data sources provides real-time actionable insights into the valuable data moving into and out of the construction site. Unlocked data silos permit selective sharing of relevant data in real-time between vendors, partners and contractors. As a result, increased productivity and efficiency have led to cost-savings and new service revenue opportunities.