How Digital Twinning can speed the adoption of IoT
The fourth industrial revolution is well underway, driven by new technologies including AI, machine learning, and the internet of things (IoT). Expectations about the impact of IoT on the global economy are enormous. Different studies measure the effect in terms of billions and even trillions of dollars over time. While many companies and industries are embracing IoT, its adoption in some areas is slower. Adoption is held back by many factors. These factors include the challenge of integrating IoT with legacy IT systems, cost, or fear of failure. A major problem is too much data, vital for IoT, is locked away in platforms, systems or different silos. These need to be liberated.
The emergence of Digital Twinning could be the technology that unlocks the potential of IoT and speeds up adoption across a whole range of organisations and sectors. Digital Twinning could also open up the development of an entirely new generation of IoT products.
For anyone unfamiliar, Digital Twinning is a new approach to system design. It can transform the development and life cycle of products like engines or change the way we look at implementing technology into cities or organisations like the NHS. Digital Twinning is the mapping of a physical asset to a digital platform. Created by using data from sensors on a physical asset, like an engine, a digital twin can be used to analyse its efficiency, condition and real-time status virtually. Alternatively, you can create a virtual version of a hospital or city with sensors added to almost anything that can produce data and can measure, for example, traffic flows.
Importantly, the digital twin can bring together live data with historical operating data into a virtual environment. It helps liberate all the different data sources allowing companies to map, and bring together multiple streams, and see how the interact. A real twin can show how a system or a machine acts in the real world, not just a virtual representation of itself.
Digital Twinning resolves some of the problems limiting IoT adoption which is too often viewed as a subset of the fourth industrial revolution, rather than the core technology driving change. IoT devices measure and deliver data combined with AI or machine learning, which turn that data into insight and actions. By being able to apply this virtually to a twin, the impact of an IoT device can be truly measured before implementation. Implementing into a live environment is one of the challenges that slows adoption.
For example, a large organisation which has already established, expensive enterprise systems like SAP, one of the problems will be integrating the new IoT device into the existing network. The business case to adopt new IoT technology is severely weakened if to make it work requires the investment in a whole new IT system. By creating a digital twin, companies can test the impact of the introduction of an IoT device, how it works within the existing environment, making adjustments, before implementation.
For cash-strapped, risk-averse public sector organisations like local councils or the NHS, this ability to virtually test a product before implementation can be the difference. National and local governments often have a long -legacy of technology investment, they need to have confidence a new IoT device will work.
For these larger more complex, systems it also creates the opportunity to build a more detailed holistic picture of what is happening. A digital twin of a city can not only show congestion but by adding in new data sources can help understand the impact of the weather or delayed trains. A richer, more detailed understanding of what is happening minute by minute, as the environment changes, opens up the opportunity to develop even more products and services.
Another advantage of Digital Twinning is it creates a more level playing field for start-ups to break into big companies or public services. These organisations can often be reluctant to work with start-ups. The danger in any new technology is that it entrenches the dominant position of large companies, who have the budgets and resources to continually test and fail. If you consider Thomas Edison was said to have failed more than 1,000 times when trying to create the light bulb to which he was alleged to have responded, “I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb." Many organisations and smaller IoT companies lack the time and budgets to follow that approach.
With access to a digital twin, IoT start-ups can test how their products work with the established enterprise systems like SAP and IBM. They can monitor their products in real time, and how it is actually used by customers. They can test, fail fast, and leverage existing assets.
Digital Twinning will also mean companies can focus on what they are really good at. The likes of SAP and Microsoft Azure can work on the big back end networks, while IoT companies can just focus on innovation, and not worry about the IT implementation. Twinning means bringing together the big IT engines with little IoT devices.
Getting this right is important. Speeding up the adoption of IoT has social and economic benefits. Look at the UK, low productivity, caused by poor industrial innovation and social problems like congestion, remains the historic challenge for the economy. IoT can provide the answer. Combining it with Digital Twinning might be one way the country can begin to make a real dent in the problem.