skip to content

Centre for Digital Built Britain completed its five-year mission and closed its doors at the end of September 2022

This website remains as a legacy of the achievements of our five-year foundational journey towards a digital built Britain
Starting Line Image

For many engineering and manufacturing firms, digital transformation remains elusive. They struggle to emulate the success of platform-based consumer businesses such as Uber, AirBnB and Facebook. While new technologies are undoubtedly delivering efficiency gains, complete digital revolution is yet to be achieved in the B2B (business to business) world. There are many reasons why success is still to emerge for B2B platforms, including existing market monopolisation, high entry cost, shortage of capital, and lower churn rate in comparison to B2C. 

Researchers at the Cambridge Service Alliance (CSA), in the Institute for Manufacturing, University of Cambridge, set out to investigate the role of Digital Twins (DTs) as enablers of B2B business model innovation. Could Digital Twins create a conduit for customer insight and operations data, and in turn create new services in the after sales market? Players in the B2B field are often traditional companies in a heavily-regulated market. Familiar with the physical and social dimensions of operations, they struggle to transition into digital dimensions of business models. How could established firms (incumbents) respond to this necessary change? What types of business model assist DT adoption in the manufacturing and construction sectors?

Big picture

Digital replicas of physical assets, processes and systems, Digital Twins are increasingly acknowledged as a gateway to better decision-making securing greater efficiencies. Likely benefits include improved performance, faster processes, the capacity to predict and pre-empt maintenance issues, plus better quality-control and reduced costs. Cost savings alone are forecast to be impressive: Gartner forecast $1 trillion a year savings in asset maintenance as early as 2022, courtesy of digital twins, with both consumers and businesses benefitting; the global research and advisory firm predicted widespread adoption, with half of major enterprises expected to be using digital twins by 2023 (Gartner, 2019). This forecast was updated in light of COVID-19, with one-third of mid-to-large-size companies expected to have implemented at least one digital twin (associated with a COVID-19-motivated use case) by 2023 (Gartner, 2020). In the long run, for many engineering firms, digital twins must also offer new business model opportunities such as increased revenue streams and profitability beyond increased efficiencies and safety.

The case for change

Manufacturing and engineering companies are yet to fully realise the potential of digital twins to transform business in the after-sale market. A number of obstacles remain. These include the immense amount of computational power required to operate digital twins, the demand for people with the right skills to develop them, and the high cost to implement digital twins.

The project

Researchers set out to establish a framework for B2B firms, helping them understand both the opportunities digital twins can offer, and how well placed they are as an organisation to capitalise on those opportunities through a digital twin business model taxonomy. 

To help businesses think about how DTs can enable business model innovation, researchers identified DT-based pathways to change, and key forces driving change within business models, as a precursor to developing a framework that B2B firms could use. The resulting value-based framework supports organisations in assessing their digital twin capabilities and determining where their business model innovation opportunities lie. The Framework was designed by a literature review and validated and modified through industry interviews.

Visit the project page for more detailed information about outputs, core findings, benefits and active stakeholders.

The research team

Lead: Dr Erika Parn, Research Associate, Cambridge Service Alliance and Centre for Digital Build Britain (CDBB), University of Cambridge

Team: Dr Mohamed Zaki, Deputy Director of the Cambridge Service Alliance, Institute for Manufacturing, University of Cambridge; Dr Michael Grieves, Chief Scientist of Advanced Manufacturing, Executive Vice President Operations and interim Chief Financial Officer at Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, FL, USA; Dr Alexander Leischnig, Professor of Business-to-Business Marketing at the Technical University, Freiburg, Germany.

“This research delves deeper into understanding business model archetypes and opportunities with digital twins from a range of sectors already demonstrating digital twin maturity (defence, aviation, automotive, chemical engineering, transportation and manufacturing). DT technology cannot solely transform the industry unless a business model can link it to an emerging market need or a value migration in the customer base.” Dr Erika Parn, Research Associate


Discover more about the process, outputs, and impact of this project by visiting the project page.

The University of Cambridge continues to support research in this domain, especially via the Cambridge Service Alliance

Need to Know

Need to know

  • Business model innovation is considered more influential on the likelihood of firm or enterprise survival than purely relying on efficiency or product innovation
  • Enterprise churn rates (birth and death of firms) in services and construction are on average between 15% and 30% – significantly higher than the average acceptable annual churn rate of 6-10% experienced in IT services markets (i.e. Software as a Service).
  • Key drivers for growth with innovative digital business models (platforms) have been attributed to: network effects, low legislative barriers, advertising-driven business models, high venture capital investments, consumer/customer offerings, business model innovation, open to third party developers, patient investors pursuing winner-takes all approach, regulatory entrepreneurship, political economic institutional support, and multi-sided platform/markets.