Article
8
min read

October digest: what the digital twin conversation is missing

October 30, 2020

Hey friends, happy Friday!

Please allow me the opportunity to try something new with this monthly digest concept… a collection of ideas I’ve been working on and thinking about this month. Let me know if you like this, and perhaps we can do it again next month!

---

1—A preview of the November 4th Nexus Pro member gathering

For this month’s member gathering, we’re going to go 100% breakout room. We’ll split up into 3 different breakout sessions (meaning you’ll meet ~15 fellow smart building nerds!) with different discussion prompts for each one. If you want to think about the topics ahead of time, here’s a preview of the topics:

  • Breakout room 1: What’s your 2030 vision for our industry? Describe what the operational and occupant experience looks like in ten years.
  • Breakout room 2: What are the biggest obstacles to your 2030 vision?
  • Breakout room 3: Please suggest your ideas by leaving a comment!

---

2—Digital twin insights from a stacked IBcon panel

This week, I had the honor of moderating what I thought was one of the most stacked panels at the Realcomm | IBcon virtual conference. My learnings started right away in the prep session we did the week before the conference. This quote was one of my key takeaways:

“In the next 10 years, if you don’t have a digital twin for your office building, it won’t be Class A.”

—Dean Hopkins, COO of Oxford Properties

Here are a few others:

  • The chicken and the egg debate: do you centralize the data, get it in a twin, and then figure out the use cases later? Or do you pick one narrow use case and expand from there?
  • The beginning of the cybersecurity process and the digital twin deployment process are actually the same. The leading thinkers on digital twins are tying these two universes together. Locate and secure each device and get the data into a twin platform at the same time.
  • Another myth about digital twins, and there are many, is that the use cases are limited to digitizing that one building. There are actually immense value props for the portfolio of digital twins.

This last point, to me, is why I buy into the buzzword and why I’m excited to moderate panels like this. Digital twins are about enabling use cases across the organization. Most of what has come before is… well… let’s talk about that next.

---

3. The value of contextually-integrated applications and the gravity of the platform

A missing piece of the digital twin conversation is the value of contextually-integrated applications. Over the last month or so, I’ve been noodling on this and working on a whitepaper on the topic with my friends at Facilio. Let’s unpack it.

In order to convey the value of contextual integration, we need to first point out that most smart building software applications are what some call “point solutions”. They pull data from one or more siloed systems in the building but use it to provide applications that are essentially new silos.

The new apps are built for just a few user personas and just a few use cases. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but most real-life workflows require users to switch between these applications, adding unnecessary friction. When users switch, those siloed applications often aren’t aware of each other and aren’t even using the same data or data model.

This applies to many types of point solutions, but one example is analytics or FDD. Analytics can be used to enhance a bunch of different workflows in the average building, from energy management to equipment maintenance to commissioning, but think about this fact: the user needs to exit out of the analytics application to actually get shit done.

The alternative is contextually-integrated applications. What if smart building applications were instead built around workflows? And what if related applications were actually natively integrated with each other? To continue on the same FDD example, what if there were energy management, capital planning, equipment maintenance, and commissioning apps that were based on the actual workflow of each user persona and underpinned by the same analytics, context, and data set?

For example, if I get a hot/cold call and I open it up in the maintenance app, wouldn’t it be nice to see the active faults on upstream equipment, the status of preventative maintenance tasks, historical trends on how many people were in that space, the design occupancy of the space, and a calendar feed that shows how many people will be in the space for the rest of the week?

And when my FDD app discovers an energy conservation measure I want to implement, wouldn’t it be nice if I could pull that into an energy management and/or capital planning app, where I can group it with similar measures into a project and analyze the financials, seek budget approval, seek financing, etc? And wouldn’t it be nice if the other apps were aware of the progress of implementation so they didn’t bug me with new alerts about that opportunity? And when the energy conservation measure gets implemented, couldn’t it trigger a workflow in the commissioning app, which would rely on the analytics in a slightly different way to track the completion, facilitate functional testing, and verify the results?

This is where we get to the gravity of the platform. Why, if my core workflows are being enabled and optimized by core applications with all this context and automation capability, would I ever add another siloed application that requires some sort of integration? I wouldn’t… but only if the platform can extend and add the applications I need. That’s where the marketplace concept comes in. Besides the sheer effectiveness of the core apps, the gravity of the platform also increases with its extensibility.

When I talk to vendors, I see that some of them grasp this progression and some don’t. I think some of them see the digital twin as an independent data layer that provides data to siloed point solutions.

And I think there’s definitely value to that—but is that incremental improvement really going to get us where we need to go?

---

4. The digital twin as a tool for managing (and maintaining) the digitization process

Another missing part of the conversation—and I think this applies beyond digital twin solutions—is that we need a software-based tool for managing the digitization process itself. Whether I’m planning, deploying, commissioning, operating, or modifying a digital twin, I believe the software itself should support that process. The building itself is a living, breathing, evolving thing, so the digital replica needs to be just as adaptable.

I think we as an industry need to close a gap here and we need to be intentional about how we do it. Let’s not view the digital twin as a finished and static entity. Let’s not give the building owner a black box that can only be kept up to date by the digital twin vendor. Let’s not let the scalability of the smart building depend on that vendor’s staff alone.

Why can’t we put an open digital twin management tool in the hands of the building owner, their staff, and that of their roster of already trusted vendors? The closest I’ve seen to this is Switch Automation’s Dx3 device. What do you think?

---

5. Members-only

Besides this digest, there were 5 deep dives / members-only posts in October, in case you missed any of them:


Thanks for reading and thanks for being a Nexus Pro member. As always, I’d love if you hit reply and let me know how I can improve your membership.

And I’ll see you next week on November 4th at our monthly gathering!

—James

✌️

Upgrade to Nexus Pro to continue reading

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Hey friends, happy Friday!

Please allow me the opportunity to try something new with this monthly digest concept… a collection of ideas I’ve been working on and thinking about this month. Let me know if you like this, and perhaps we can do it again next month!

---

1—A preview of the November 4th Nexus Pro member gathering

For this month’s member gathering, we’re going to go 100% breakout room. We’ll split up into 3 different breakout sessions (meaning you’ll meet ~15 fellow smart building nerds!) with different discussion prompts for each one. If you want to think about the topics ahead of time, here’s a preview of the topics:

  • Breakout room 1: What’s your 2030 vision for our industry? Describe what the operational and occupant experience looks like in ten years.
  • Breakout room 2: What are the biggest obstacles to your 2030 vision?
  • Breakout room 3: Please suggest your ideas by leaving a comment!

---

2—Digital twin insights from a stacked IBcon panel

This week, I had the honor of moderating what I thought was one of the most stacked panels at the Realcomm | IBcon virtual conference. My learnings started right away in the prep session we did the week before the conference. This quote was one of my key takeaways:

“In the next 10 years, if you don’t have a digital twin for your office building, it won’t be Class A.”

—Dean Hopkins, COO of Oxford Properties

Here are a few others:

  • The chicken and the egg debate: do you centralize the data, get it in a twin, and then figure out the use cases later? Or do you pick one narrow use case and expand from there?
  • The beginning of the cybersecurity process and the digital twin deployment process are actually the same. The leading thinkers on digital twins are tying these two universes together. Locate and secure each device and get the data into a twin platform at the same time.
  • Another myth about digital twins, and there are many, is that the use cases are limited to digitizing that one building. There are actually immense value props for the portfolio of digital twins.

This last point, to me, is why I buy into the buzzword and why I’m excited to moderate panels like this. Digital twins are about enabling use cases across the organization. Most of what has come before is… well… let’s talk about that next.

---

3. The value of contextually-integrated applications and the gravity of the platform

A missing piece of the digital twin conversation is the value of contextually-integrated applications. Over the last month or so, I’ve been noodling on this and working on a whitepaper on the topic with my friends at Facilio. Let’s unpack it.

In order to convey the value of contextual integration, we need to first point out that most smart building software applications are what some call “point solutions”. They pull data from one or more siloed systems in the building but use it to provide applications that are essentially new silos.

The new apps are built for just a few user personas and just a few use cases. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but most real-life workflows require users to switch between these applications, adding unnecessary friction. When users switch, those siloed applications often aren’t aware of each other and aren’t even using the same data or data model.

This applies to many types of point solutions, but one example is analytics or FDD. Analytics can be used to enhance a bunch of different workflows in the average building, from energy management to equipment maintenance to commissioning, but think about this fact: the user needs to exit out of the analytics application to actually get shit done.

The alternative is contextually-integrated applications. What if smart building applications were instead built around workflows? And what if related applications were actually natively integrated with each other? To continue on the same FDD example, what if there were energy management, capital planning, equipment maintenance, and commissioning apps that were based on the actual workflow of each user persona and underpinned by the same analytics, context, and data set?

For example, if I get a hot/cold call and I open it up in the maintenance app, wouldn’t it be nice to see the active faults on upstream equipment, the status of preventative maintenance tasks, historical trends on how many people were in that space, the design occupancy of the space, and a calendar feed that shows how many people will be in the space for the rest of the week?

And when my FDD app discovers an energy conservation measure I want to implement, wouldn’t it be nice if I could pull that into an energy management and/or capital planning app, where I can group it with similar measures into a project and analyze the financials, seek budget approval, seek financing, etc? And wouldn’t it be nice if the other apps were aware of the progress of implementation so they didn’t bug me with new alerts about that opportunity? And when the energy conservation measure gets implemented, couldn’t it trigger a workflow in the commissioning app, which would rely on the analytics in a slightly different way to track the completion, facilitate functional testing, and verify the results?

This is where we get to the gravity of the platform. Why, if my core workflows are being enabled and optimized by core applications with all this context and automation capability, would I ever add another siloed application that requires some sort of integration? I wouldn’t… but only if the platform can extend and add the applications I need. That’s where the marketplace concept comes in. Besides the sheer effectiveness of the core apps, the gravity of the platform also increases with its extensibility.

When I talk to vendors, I see that some of them grasp this progression and some don’t. I think some of them see the digital twin as an independent data layer that provides data to siloed point solutions.

And I think there’s definitely value to that—but is that incremental improvement really going to get us where we need to go?

---

4. The digital twin as a tool for managing (and maintaining) the digitization process

Another missing part of the conversation—and I think this applies beyond digital twin solutions—is that we need a software-based tool for managing the digitization process itself. Whether I’m planning, deploying, commissioning, operating, or modifying a digital twin, I believe the software itself should support that process. The building itself is a living, breathing, evolving thing, so the digital replica needs to be just as adaptable.

I think we as an industry need to close a gap here and we need to be intentional about how we do it. Let’s not view the digital twin as a finished and static entity. Let’s not give the building owner a black box that can only be kept up to date by the digital twin vendor. Let’s not let the scalability of the smart building depend on that vendor’s staff alone.

Why can’t we put an open digital twin management tool in the hands of the building owner, their staff, and that of their roster of already trusted vendors? The closest I’ve seen to this is Switch Automation’s Dx3 device. What do you think?

---

5. Members-only

Besides this digest, there were 5 deep dives / members-only posts in October, in case you missed any of them:


Thanks for reading and thanks for being a Nexus Pro member. As always, I’d love if you hit reply and let me know how I can improve your membership.

And I’ll see you next week on November 4th at our monthly gathering!

—James

✌️

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⭐️ Pro Article

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