by Chris Smeaton, Associate Principal – Digital Leader, Insite and Regional Lead for Abu Dhabi, UAE
After being absent from the UAE for the past four years implementing digital practice across southeast Asia and client advisory, I have returned at an exciting time for the construction industry and asset owners as they look to digitisation and data to drive high-value business decisions.
Our relationship with data has been increasingly changing over the last decade with the increase of digital connectivity, our buildings and cities are more tech-savvy than ever before with the growth of e-commerce, and the bolder climate commitments that are now coming into play in 2022 is set to be a year to really kickstart the transformation of our environment and how we interact and live in them.
For the last two years, everyone from individuals to governments has struggled with COVID 19 and adjusted accordingly to deal with the pandemic. As we move into the first half of 2022 and the world begins to live with the virus, the effects of this global pandemic will have a much longer life and continue to affect society far into the future.
This has seen an increasing focus on digital twins, and the benefits promised by making data-driven decisions. March 21stsaw the launch of the MEA region’s first-ever dedicated conference on Digital Twins, where I was lucky to be able to attend the day of presentations and a day of group workshops.
Once I got over the fact that I was now standing in a room with more than just a few people, it became evident how much focus was really on digital twinning. Looking around at over 100 people having coffee and excitingly expressing their passion for this topic, I noticed the variety represented, from consultants, clients, tech companies to governments, contractors, and students.
I was amazed to find delegates who had travelled from around the Middle East and across the world, such as Egypt, Jorden, UK and the US, to mention a few, to attend this conference cementing the significance of the topic.
Day one was full of examples highlighting vision statements, potentials, technology and just great all-around presentations, which I have been told will be made available, so it is worth keeping an eye out for. Still, the best part of the day for me was the panel discussions, networking and workshops.
I did find the conversations always tilted toward the technology side, and the potential benefits for asset owners with little around the business case for consultants and how we are going to pivot to respond to this need and manage education and upskilling of the teams, Mike Turpin summed this up with this tweet “Not much mention yet of the people side of change needed to achieve Digital Twin success. Tech is easy, people take time. #DT22”.
BSI had a significant presence at this event, and it was great to see a lot of talk about standards and information management frameworks specific to Digital Twinning.
Day two, “Digital Twins for the built environment – A interactive workshop” was the day I was most excited about, and it did not disappoint. The event organisers managed to attract some fantastic talent to lead the workshops David Glennon, Wajadi Mereb, Andy Boutle, Amr Saad, Mike Turpin and, moderated by Rahul Shah BIS representing a significant section of the industry here in the middle east.
Paul Doherity, President & CEO of The Digit Group INC, also gave a fantastic presentation on defining the vision and roadmap for successful implementation. He gave great examples of city-wide digitisation and how technologies are being used to create virtual representations of real work and fantasy, and how this is changing the way we approach industries such as entertainment and filmmaking. He also explained distributed computing and its potential to leverage Edge computing and how this is being incorporated into our new and exciting cities.
Mr Doherity also talked about the potential of the Metaverse and the massive business opportunities as it starts to incorporate Web3 technology enabled through blockchain technology. This created a considerable debate around a lot of topics such as risk, security and safety that I am sure could have carried on all day, but it is great to see this conversation happening, and I feel we need more of them. My only criticism is this was the second to last session of the day, and I think it would have been best to kick start the workshops before we drilled into the nuts and bolts of how we can get it to work.
The workshop was sessions whereas follows
• WORKSHOP TOPIC 1 – POLICIES, STANDARDS, AND PROCESSES
• WORKSHOP TOPIC 2 – BUSINESS VALUE AND OPPORTUNITIES
• WORKSHOP TOPIC 3 – IMPLEMENTING DIGITAL TWIN
For the workshops, we split into groups and had tasks to complete and feedback to the wider group for discussion. I found this interesting. It was great to see so many different viewpoints tackling the same questions, which gave me a great sense of where the maturity within the region.
BSI led the first workshop and had laid out some excellent reading material. Our group’s big takeaway from this session was that there is a risk of too many standards, but a core document to start with is the Gemini Papers: What are connected, digital twins? Is a great place to start and look at Built environment – Digital twins overview and principles and the pathway towards an information management framework.
Workshop topic two led by David Glennon and was fantastic. Really focused people to look at the business case for digital twinning and the investment, priority and ease. We all wrote down our business case for digital twins and then had to group them as below:
Interestingly my group found grouping them very easy as we spotted trends and similarities in our business cases. We natural group them into three sections, Change / Tech – InFo + Capability “The Bridge” and Output / Value.
This is how we laid it out in the chart:
The last workshop was run by Mike Turpin and was very interesting, Mike focused on change management and used this as his approach to show how to extract value from digital twins, which is a crucial part of the journey, he demonstrated processes to capture and assess your company’s capability of creating a Digital Twin, inkling how to develop a road map and mission goals. The session looked at implementing Digital Twins whilst considering leadership, technologies & standards, capacity building, and communication. All of these are essential points for a successful implementation.
For me, this event was a great success, and I truly hope this continues and look forward to more being held in the region and seeing how people have taken what they have learnt and applied it to their business and service offerings.