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Centre for Digital Built Britain

 

By Sarah Hayes, Change Stream Lead of the National Digital Twin programme

The DT Hub was launched at the end of March 2020 and now in August has grown to over 500 members. That’s over 500 people and organisations interested in developing digital twins across infrastructure asset owners, local authorities, architects, engineering consultants, construction companies, software developers, AI companies, big tech and more. We’re discussing how digital twins do mean different things to different people but what we all have in common is the need to share data. Connecting digital twins to reduce the level of carbon use in a city will only be possible if we can share data across digital twins.

That’s why behind all the really exciting digital twin developments lies a framework. An information management framework for organising, labelling and sorting data. An information management framework for setting standards for how we share data. Because if we don’t have that framework our digital twins will all speak different languages.

The approach to developing this framework is set out in the Pathway to the Information Management Framework (the technical document) and the summary. This approach is open for consultation and feedback until 31 August and we really encourage you to respond, even if it’s with a “we like it” or more importantly, if you want to provide some feedback that might impact the approach. Our ontologists are busy building the foundation data model because we need to get on with building the framework but that doesn’t mean it can’t be adapted or improved and we need your input to ensure we get the best version possible.

With the possibility of different types of information management frameworks emerging across the economy, our focus if very much on consensus and consultation to ensure we are able to share data in a secure, interoperable way. A good example to drive home the important of interoperability is the  evolution of mobile phone technology, two different standards emerged, GSM and CDMA. GSM was driven largely by the political will of European states to have a standard mobile technology across Europe. CDMA was privately driven and proprietary, out of the States. Whilst each had their technical merits at different points in the evolution of mobile phone technology, eventually GSM became the most widely adopted technology. Interoperability in mobile phone technology is really important because people want to be able to use their phones wherever there is network coverage. Scale in networks is important where we all benefit from being able to interconnect. Imagine a different version of the internet where we couldn’t access public websites from certain computers?

Scale and quality of networks are really important where public benefit is involved. We all benefit from one high quality network rather than many small, inferior networks. In this way, getting the best input into developing the Information Management Framework is crucial. The Information Management Framework will lay the foundations for sharing data about infrastructure and the built environment globally as we ensure it emerges as the best set of standards. The foundation data model is currently being developed by a set of experts and whilst good theories are developed in the lab they need to be tested out in the open. The DT Hub provides a forum for testing. The motto of the DT Hub is “learn by doing, progress by sharing”. There is no definitive guide to Digital Twins as yet, I believe you are all co-developing it. We are all learning what is possible with digital twins and what we need to do to make them work. The National Digital Twin programme at the Centre for Digital Built Britain which is supported by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is open to your suggestions and input on developing the Information Management Framework. In order to develop the best set of standards for sharing data, we need the best input, so please respond!