House of Digital Twins

As a vocal and passionate advocate for the adoption of Digital Twins for our built assets, I keep finding myself standing in, what feels like, the middle of a house of cards, observing its always rocky structure in constant danger of collapse. A wobbly system threatened by the tremors stressed by one of the most prominent digital revolutions that our construction industry has ever experienced.


This booming industry trend is gaining speed at a rate that the construction industry has never experienced before. Construction has always been slow at innovating and still holds its title as the least digitalised industry, but the Digital Twin revolution has now found our location and is ready to disrupt.  I often witness how these forces attempt to pull down the cards, but, to my surprise, their resilience is what keeps holding the house together. Hold on, is this resilience or resistance? 

From the inside, it feels like being a part of the House of Cards movie plot where each card represents a character: the construction technology political parties with their secrets and well-established relationships, the religions in the form of OpenBIM Standards, file formats, and Industry standards, and the flourish of new construction technology solutions coming to the market bringing fresh insights into a stagnant environment. The existing technology market players push back as they fight to maintain their market share and the static legal landscape; solid like a rock but unable to change and adapt. Companies focus on the profits dichotomy of short term versus long term targets and the health and safety standards and protocols put in place to lower risks; yet, contributing to its innovation resistance and lastly, the educational institutions, attempting to inform and explain the new theories and environment to make sense of this evolving world. 

As construction professionals, we are the ones who decide how our world should be built, look, behave, and perform. It is more than a job; like physicians swearing at the Hippocratic Oath to uphold specific ethical standards to “do no harm”, we are responsible, and held accountable, every single day for our actions. As construction professionals, we all adhere to codes of conducts, face huge responsibilities and liabilities upheld by industry associations, reaching chartered status; yet, to me, it feels like there are still not enough doctors to practice CPR, let alone enough to find the right medicine to cure the powers at play.

When I embarked on my journey lecturing and educating on how we could use the latest technology advancements like Digital Twins to improve our built world, I had one goal in mind: do whatever I can to avoid incidents such as the “Grenfell Tower” in London, or, more personally, the collapse of the Morandi Bridge in northern Italy. Why? Because it was personal. As someone who was in awe every time they travel over the bridge as a child, it shattered my heart to think that my loved ones, or myself, could have been there as I had been traveling on that bridge in Italy on the exact same day, a year earlier. Because from my home in London, we all watched live the tower on fire to what can only be described as a horror movie. As a construction professional who had been supporting the digitalisation of the industry in order to improve its efficiencies and overall outcomes, I have made it my life’s purpose to do whatever I can to prevent such incidents from happening again, because, to me, it felt that I failed to uphold my “do no harm” commitment to industry and society.  

Our industry has been under pressure for too long and the thinning profit margins have pushed so hard that, unfortunately, the likelihood of these incidents can only increase. There is simply not enough money left on the table to refurbish our built assets on time, as well as meet the global demand for housing and infrastructure. We must find a better way. We have to leverage innovative new approaches to overcome these challenges and find redemption from our previous mistakes.

We must accept that we are not here to judge but to serve a bigger purpose that leaves a legacy of better, safer, and more resilient cities to future generations.  

The adoption of digital twins for our built assets is the biggest opportunity to digitalise, innovate and adopt our industry for the better. Construction is a key foundational pillar of our society and we have the chance to change it into one of the most impactful, and profitable, sectors of our time. Not only because we can, but also because that is how it should be.

The value proposition for digital twins is clear. Digital Twins can give us the ability to design, build and operate our built assets more efficiently and enable more resilient cities. Digital Twins are in the interest of the asset owner, the main driver of improving long terms asset performance. But in the end, as the ultimate users of our built environment, we are the beneficiaries.  

The construction lifecycle is a long and very fragmented industry. Short-term gains outweigh long-term benefits are working against each other like there are enemies instead of being a continuation of each other. Digital Twins ROI means investing in the CAPEX phase with the goal to improve the OPEX.  Asset owners need to mandate better decision-making throughout the lifecycle of the building, but this requires better information. Digital Twins are an information management challenge that delves for technology to be its greatest supporter and advocate.

Digital Twins are an information management challenge that delves for technology to be its greatest supporter and advocate.  

The adoption of Digital Twins requires senior management to stop seeking short-term “solutions” and invest in a successful methodology capable of driving information management along the entire lifecycle. Because Digital Twins cannot be bought off the shelf, they require development by a robust methodology and strategic plan which focuses on the successful management of the flow of information across the entire construction lifecycle.  

As human beings, we are the ultimate users of our built environment. Regardless of our industry, we need to work together as we are all THE TRUMP SUIT OF THE GAME and we are all interdependent members of the house of cards. It is up to us and our ability to work alongside each other, glued together by a shared common purpose that will dictate the ultimate outcome.


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