5 min read

Nexus news #25: the new role of the digital twin

COVID-19 applications for digital twins, the reality of OT/IT network convergence, and self-sanitizing restrooms
A 3D, visual-model-based Digital Twin of an infected city is the perfect platform for aggregating and distributing information at scale in a time of a crisis such as the virus that is sweeping across the world today.

Good morning!

Welcome to Nexus, a newsletter, podcast, and membership community for smart people applying smart building technology—written by James Dice. If you’re new to Nexus, you might want to start here.

Here’s an outline of this week’s newsletter:

  1. 🤔 On my mind this week
  2. 🎧 Podcast Episode 7 with Thru Shivakumar
  3. 💡Nexus Pro updates & announcements
  4. 😷 Digital Twins for mapping, managing and mitigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic (via CityZenith)
  5. 😬 Building Control System Network Configurations - Perception vs Reality (via Intelligent Buildings’ Fred Gordy)


Disclaimer: James is a researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). All opinions expressed via Nexus emails, podcasts, or on the website belong solely to James. No resources from NREL are used to support Nexus. NREL does not endorse or support any aspect of Nexus.

1. 🤔 On my mind this week

Like all of you, I’m continuing to track the impact of COVID-19 on our industry and I’ll continue to share my thoughts here as I have them. Here’s the best content I read last week:

  1. How contractors are using tech to continue essential work (Construction Dive)

Scientists know ways to help stop viruses from spreading on airplanes. They’re too late for this pandemic. (Washington Post)

Boeing is experimenting with lavatories that can sanitize themselves in less than three seconds.

Buildings closed by coronavirus face another risk: Legionnaires’ disease (Reuters)

Right now, very few companies are thinking through how water systems factor into their continuity and reopening efforts. They’ve never had to deal with such low occupancy.

Here’s the thing though: I actually haven’t thought about the pandemic much this week. My thoughts are on George Floyd. I’ve been trying to listen and read and ask questions and figure out what I can do. I don’t know what to say, except that we can’t spend our days worried about better indoor experiences while ignoring the injustices happening out on the sidewalks.

2. 🎧 Episode 7 with Thru Shivakumar

This week on the Nexus podcast: a conversation with Thru Shivakumar, CEO and co-founder of intelligent buildings platform Cohesion, on a range of topics:

  • What makes a building intelligent and how deep system integrations help with that
  • Digital twins, what they’re used for, and the operating savings to be had by using them.
  • The misalignment of incentives in real estate, and much more.

Show notes | Apple Podcasts | Spotify | YouTube | Add to other podcast apps

3.💡 Member updates

  • After the interview with Thru, I did a deep dive on my reaction, my top highlights of the episode, and a full transcript (Pro members only)
  • Nexus Pro has been live for a month now! I sent out a one month review this weekend and got some great feedback. It also included a recording of our May Zoom gathering. Thank you to all of you members for supporting Nexus.
  • Our June member gathering, scheduled for June 24th, is themed “Demystifying the Digital Twin: Connecting BIM with Live Data”

4. 😷 Digital Twins for mapping, managing, and mitigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

I enjoyed this perhaps-a-little-over-hyped white paper from Digital Twin vendor CityZenith on the impact of COVID-19 on the implementation of Digital Twins in the Global Building Industry.

Digital Twins provide a uniquely powerful solution for mapping, managing and mitigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. A 3D visual model-based Digital Twin of an infected city is the perfect platform for aggregating and distributing information at scale in a time of a crisis such as the virus that is sweeping across the world today.

The paper provides three insights for digital twins in the age of COVID.

  1. A 3D, Real-time, Interoperable, Shareable Data Environment is Key
  2. Lessons from Factory Floor and Construction Site Management Applied to Crisis Management
  3. Limitless Data Correlation and Simulation Capabilities

Their perspective is reminiscent of my recent deep dive on a platform + app architecture and how it allows and supports the concept of a single pane of glass for all users of the building. They also show the emerging perspective that digital twins for buildings will grow/extend/integrate into digital twins for cities.

“When Lenin wrote: There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen” he wasn’t thinking of Digital Twinning but the observation works in the current climate.

The advanced urban digital transformation arena formerly known as smart cities has been maturing over the last few years. IoT platforms create data that is synthesised through Data Trust Models and the results made accessible with depth and context in space through Digital Twins.

They are a tool with which we can observe, track, plan, develop scenarios, communicate and share information across agencies and they are here at the right time to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

—Joseph Dignan

CityZenith also made some exciting announcements in the white paper, including the launch of Mapalyze, their version of an app store. This follows a similar 2019 announcement from Willow, a competitor in the digital twin space.

5. 😬 Building Control System Network Configurations - Perception vs Reality

I love when I come across our industry’s versions of Peter Thiel’s famous interview question:

“What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”

In other words: most people think X is true, but actually, Y is true. In his article on the perception vs. the reality of how building networks are set up, Fred Gordy of Intelligent Buildings shares his important truth.

Time and again I have had IT tell me that they are completely in control of the network. They are monitoring the switches, application server, and even the supervisory controllers. The reality is some of the things they miss are:
  • Application on the server and the users associated with the application
  • Unmanaged switches throughout the building
  • Application and operating system on the supervisory controller
  • Field level controllers

This article and the follow up released last week are important conversation starters as the worlds of IT and OT continue to evolve and merge.

OK, that’s all for this week—thanks for reading Nexus!


P.S. My LinkedIn post on Guidehouse’s “Intelligent Building Software Leaderboard” sparked a lively conversation about our industry’s independent research practices. It’s been viewed over 10,000 times. Check it out and leave your take if you haven’t yet. I’m meeting with one of the authors next week and plan to summarize thoughts from our community.

P.P.S. Nexus is a 100 percent reader-funded publication and podcast. It only exists because people like you support it. If you liked today’s edition, please consider joining Nexus Pro! Members get exclusive access to the Nexus Vendor Landscape, monthly events, weekly deep dives, and all past deep dives like these:

How technology is replacing old supervisory controls

Build it from scratch: How next-generation building automation could change the industry

The carrot or the stick? Digital transformation for building service providers

How a platform + app architecture enables a single pane of glass

Deep vs. shallow integrations and the misaligned incentives in commercial real estate

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