We’ve talked at length about the business benefits of digital twins of the built environment for managing space, data, and people. In that article, we shared some real-life use cases (such as onsite and remote inspections, progress monitoring, maintenance support, training and safety, project management, and facility lifecycle management). We’ve also written about some not-so-common use cases. We’ve even written about different types of digital twins that exist.
So you might already be convinced that your team, facility, or company can benefit a lot from digital twin technology. Now, a new challenge arises: Choosing which digital twin solution is right for you. There are different types of digital twins available on the market with different sets of capabilities and limitations. There are even more ways to build them (like photographic, point cloud, 3D rendering, 3D simulation, etc).
This whole decision process may seem overwhelming, especially when you’re blasted with all the numerous features and capabilities that providers list to get you to think you’re getting the best value for your money. But when it comes to the bottom line, we believe there are really only several key factors that matter in the grand scheme of your digital transformation. These are the major beams (or pillars, if you will) of a true enterprise-grade digital twin solution.
1. Data quality and integrity
Does the digital twin accurately depict the reality of the space? Can remote teams perform activities in the digital twin that reduce or even eliminate the need for on-site visits? Can data be shown in real-time and stay up-to-date and relevant for users? Will your end users trust the data? Digital twin experts often say, “Trust in data is hard-won and easily lost.” Once lost, it might as well spell doom for your digital twin solution.
Digital twins of the built environment, according to its definition, are virtual replicas of physical spaces, synchronized at a specified frequency and fidelity. What does this mean in a practical sense? Remote engineers should be able to walk through your digital twin and get the right data and information they need with the aid of spatial context, without having to visit the physical site every time. The information should be accurate, whether it be taking measurements of the area (doorways, ceilings, floors, etc.) or checking the status of machinery and equipment. In some cases, onsite personnel can walk through the digital twins virtually and simultaneously with remote teams to share insights that are more efficiently conveyed through verbal communication.
This is what Beamo’s client, NTT Communications, is doing with their data centers scattered across Japan, US, and Germany. By regularly updating digital twins as documentation for on-site conditions, remote engineers rely on the digital twin of the facility to perform their routine inspections. And so they save $10,000 per engineer per year in travel costs, which estimates to be $45M worth of cost savings for their whole portfolio.
“... It’s like you’re really visiting a facility and walking through the corridors, entering rooms, and checking out all the equipment.”
Hitoshi Inaba, Section Manager, NTT Bizlink (formerly of NTT Communications)
A solution might seem like it's what digital transformation dreams are made of, but will it actually scale across your enterprise? Any company can make digital twins, but at what cost? How much money, time, and effort will your teams need to dedicate? Does it merit the estimated benefits that the digital twin will provide? Can the solution accommodate hundreds of users, of different teams and levels? Digital twin solutions can easily create a 200 sqm space, but what do you do for facilities of over 20,000 sqm? What if you have dozens or hundreds of facilities? What if they’re located across regions, countries, or continents? What if they’re in a remote, hard-to-reach location, on land or at sea?
This is the dilemma that our client, SeAH CSS, found themselves in. SeAH tried using CAD to create a digital twin of one of their factories. It took a team of 8 people and 7 whole months to make an 8-minute video, rendered in 3D, that could not even integrate with their real-time data feeds. With 9 factories in total, and the smallest one standing at ~23,500 sqm, creating digital twins for the other factories using CAD would take years to finish and lose relevance quicker than it’ll take to make them.
Then Beamo came into the picture. SeAH’s engineers were amazed by how fast and easy it took to recreate one of their machines into a digital twin with just a small team, a tripod, a smartphone, and a 360° camera, without compromising on quality. Beamo allows anybody of any skill level to capture spaces and also allows simultaneous captures done by multiple people for more efficient captures of large spaces. Because Beamo takes SeAH significantly less time and effort and, at the same time, accomplishes more by integrating with live equipment data systems, SeAH has gained hope of true digital transformation of its factories.
“What took long months of work with other solutions only took Beamo a couple of hours. But the quality was not compromised at all despite the short amount of time.”
Minseok Chae, Head of R&D, SeAH CSS
Will it be easy to use? How high is the learning curve? Will my on-the-ground teams actually use it? What is your change management plan? According to Boston Consulting Group’s research back in 2019, not securing commitment from stakeholders is one of the two main causes for the failure of digital transformation solutions. The other cause is underestimating the change in how people work.
The effectiveness of a digital solution is not measured by its features or capabilities but by its usage. If teams will continue using a solution, they see and get real value from it. But if the solution is too technical, complicated, and hard to navigate, users can easily close their minds off because the learning curve is too high. They’ll say it’s faster for them to do their work the old way, despite the many real benefits of digital twins. People are just naturally resistant to change, for many different reasons: too much change, too sudden a surprise, too many uncertainties, fears, etc. (hbr.org).
So finding a digital twin solution that is easy to use (like Beamo *wink*) is only part of the battle. It’s also important to involve the would-be end-users in the decision-making process and practice proper change management. If these users perceive that the solution is going to add more work for them, the project is likely to fail before it even begins. This is how your end users’ first impressions can make or break the success of your digital twin project.
A well-planned onboarding and/or well-implemented pilot project can help end-users ease into the solution without overwhelming them. Beamo takes pride in making the client onboarding as frictionless as possible, with live onboarding sessions and a dedicated customer success team to help clients unblock barriers to success.
4. Interoperability, connectivity, and security
Can it connect to your enterprise workflows? Does it eliminate data and communication silos? Or will you just be creating another silo? Can you be assured that your sensitive business data is protected?
We’ve talked about how digital twins, when properly implemented, can negate the effect of silos and compel collaboration and facilitate information sharing in another article. Digital twins can bring transparency and help teams align themselves visually with the built environment’s reality.
And like we've mentioned in the second point of this article, SeAH couldn’t do much with their CAD-aided digital twin. The output brought them to a dead-end instead of becoming a means to achieve operational excellence. Beamo, on the other hand, easily integrated with SeAH’s Data Forge platform and displayed their equipment data charts in the Digital Twin through Tags. SeAH’s engineers are now able to do certain monitoring and maintenance activities remotely, like checking on specific machines’ health conditions and switching machines on or off.
Beamo is continuously improving its platform by making its API and SDK integration processes more seamless and allowing more code-free integrations. Beamo maintains clients’ data in their own Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) for an isolated, secure environment, and offers access controls to ensure the right people get the right information. Beamo is also adding more enterprise security features to its arsenal like data encryption, threat detection, and code quality inspection.
Is that all?
Well, we do understand that some companies and industries may have more specific requirements. But in general, these are the vital questions you should be considering when choosing digital twins to ensure you get real value from them.
Does your digital twin solution not meet any of the items mentioned? Are you having trouble finding a solution that meets your requirements? Talk to our Digital Twin experts! We’d love to help you out on your Digital Twin journey and introduce you to Beamo, a true DIY digital twin solution that’s enterprise-ready and actually scalable.