The Road to a 3D Digital World in Australia

In the last six months have been spending a lot of my time down-under, thanks to my lovely partner who decided to improve my air mile elite status by accepting a job in Melbourne. Even though I have been visiting Australia for almost ten years, I must admit I have never been involved much with what happens in the AEC industry in Australia.

I have indeed been pleasantly surprised and inspired by the significant number of initiatives and passionate individuals driving the digital transformation in the industry and while I embark in this journey of discovery, I am planning to share the key exciting facts and lessons learnt which can be applied elsewhere.

As soon I arrived in Melbourne I got introduced to Michael Haines, a very passionate digital trailblazer, who has been driving the evolution of the Governance Framework for the 3D Digital World agenda in Australia for over a decade.

Like many other countries, the Australian government is now exploring options to create a 3D Digital World.

Evolution of the Governance Framework for the 3D Digital World in Australia

In 2018 2016 Michael put together the team that wrote the Road Map for 3D Queensland (an Australian State); and in 2018 he set up a National Workgroup ‘Digital Built & Legal Environment’ (DBLE) now comprising over 150 key stakeholders to explore the development of such Digital World. Its purpose is to assist both government and industry in understanding the opportunities and challenges that the development of this virtual world may bring, and most importantly, to explore ways to govern it.

While I have come across and been part of similar workgroups in the UK, what I find interesting is the inclusion of the “legal” aspect of it.

Their vision is in fact, that the ‘official’ 3D Digital World needs to do more than mirror the physical features of the Real World, but it must also reflect the boundaries of our Real-world rights. The 3D Digital World must in fact not only provide information about the location of the boundaries in the Real World but most importantly, must also use 3D boundaries to section the models. These ‘sectioned models’ accessible according to each person’s real-world rights enable users to maintain privacy, security, and trust.

Why is this so important?

We install locks and security systems to restrict physical access to our real properties, critical infrastructure and services networks.  Yet, at most, intruders may be able to steal or destroy what they can lay their hands on.

In future, digital twins of building and piece of infrastructure will link to every bit of important information about the object; as well as being linked to sensors that are linked to our real-world power, water, telecoms and transport grids, exponentially increasing the risks from cyber-crime, terrorism and war.

Imagine if an attack disrupted our basic networks for even a few days!

We cannot limit what happens across the wild west of the internet where more and more fake news and fake identities and criminal behaviour is taking hold.

Fortunately, we don’t have to.  Instead of simply sharing models over the net, we can create a separate federated secure 3D digital world where people lodge and manage their own models for their own use.  These models would sit nestled within the official national regional and city models enabling each person to see each property in its correct spatial context (as in the real world), including inside where authorised.

It would be like the banking network, but instead of holding our money, authorised entities would securely hold our DBLE models against change, loss or destruction, while facilitating access to all authorised parties.

The aim of the DBLE is to ensure each person, each organization, each government body, and each member of the public has the same rights in the DBLE model as they have in the ’real-world’.

This principle is based on the recognition that the only reason for the digital world is to enable faster, better, less costly and less risky decisions to be made about the real world.  As changes to the real world depend solely on our real-world rights, any other approach would simply add to confusion, costs and errors, as well as the prospect of crime and sovereign risk.

Ten Critical Requirements

To achieve this effectively, the Workgroup has identified ten critical requirements:

1.      Digital Twins of each object, including their correctly dimensioned physical form, at each scale required for decision-making, linked to all information about the object, including relations to other objects, its operating parameters, and role in any process, its material content, operating instructions, maintenance history, who supplied it, its cost and who controls it, who manages it, who insures it, and anything else about it. All accessible by merely looking at the model in Virtual Space or at the object itself in the real world via Augmented reality – if authorised.

2.      Every object located in its spatial context or positioning within a geo-referenced model.

3.      All boundaries; statutory, common law, contractual, administrative and statistical to be geo-referenced and embedded in the models.

4.      The models to be sectioned by all the legal and contractual boundaries intersecting it, so each user can only see, use and update any part of a model and related data that they are entitled to view, use or update in the real world.

5.      All data relating to the laws, regulations and contract terms applicable to property within each boundary to be linked to the boundary and thence to each object/property inside the boundary.

6.      Each user accessing the digital world must be identified and be authorised to deal with any digital object and its related data (to view it, and to create a new version of it. Self-sovereign Identities may form part of the eco-system).

7.      It should not be possible to delete any data once entered. All changes must be managed via version control.

8.      All models and data must be held by authorised entities subject to a common governance framework, and on sovereign soil and/or in a distributed database immune from central attack. This is critical as more and more of our real infrastructure and services are linked to their digital twins, controlling the flow of energy, water, vehicles, data and people within our cities.

9.      Trust in the Digital World is imperative. Accordingly, all Real-world certifications (eg planning, building, fire, etc.) need to be linked to a model and locked against change. The model itself and all boundaries may also need to be certified correct (within required limits) on a case by case basis by a suitably qualified professional.

10.   Establishment of a National Governance Framework to put these requirements into law.

These basic principles can be applied regardless of the jurisdiction, not only within Australia but to all countries of the world.

What is evident is that a lot of work still needs to be done before we can create an ‘official’ 3D Digital World to support decision-making about the Real World, while protecting privacy, maintaining security and providing trust within the Digital World. As we start embracing the benefits that digital twins will bring to our built environment it is vital we create an over-arching legal framework that ensures that Real World Rights are replicated in the 3D Digital World.


To know more and to help ensure the 3D Digital World delivers on its promises, you can find out more on

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