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2nd generation digital twins: Game changers for businesses

  • Posted on April 25, 2022
  • Estimated reading time 3 minutes
2nd Generation Digital Twins

Digital twins – the pairing of virtual and physical worlds using data gathered by smart components – have been mainstream since around 2002, but the idea originates from pairing technology first developed by NASA for the Apollo 13 mission. Roll the clocks forward from that ill-fated moon-shot mission, and digital twins have evolved immeasurably – opening up opportunities for organisations across all sectors.

A digital twin in a nutshell
Put simply, a digital twin is a virtual model of a product, service, system, or physical process. Think of it as a bridge between the physical world and digital world. Smart components that use sensors to gather real time data are integrated into the physical environment that is being monitored/analysed/assessed. The components are connected to a cloud-based system that receives and processes all the data from the sensors.

This pairing of the virtual and physical worlds has traditionally been used to simulate the physical world, allowing it to be analysed and understood in order to gain insights into performance, potential problems and areas of improvement.

Up until recently, 1st generation digital twin models have mainly been applied to the engineering, manufacturing, automotive and healthcare sectors. However, the proliferation of Internet of Things (IoT) has made digital twins cost effective to implement, and as a result, models have been maturing and growing in complexity. They’ve since moved from being digital representations of single items to virtual models of systems of interconnected things. 

Introducing the 2nd gen digital twin
In the last two years, we’ve seen a seismic shift in the evolution of digital twins. The 1st generation models were hierarchical. Think of the concept of a smart building’s hierarchy. Buildings have floors, floors have rooms, rooms have sensors. This gives you a two-dimensional pyramid shaped structure of the building’s information.

2nd generation digital twins extend this concept to allow us to create more complicated relationships between structures and entities within them. Business systems have been siloed since eternity, but 2nd gen digital twins in combination with Data Science and Artificial Intelligence, allow us to build a completely connected data view across an entire organisation. This powerful combination enables us to represent entities as ontologies and not just include physical assets in the data model, but also processes and resources. Here at Avanade, we refer to it as the “autonomic business”.

The ontological representation of entities enables us to assign semantic meaning to data, allowing us to assign and move data with shared characteristics and examine how different entities are connected together. As a result, we can connect data in a completely different way.

2nd gen digital twin applications
2nd generation digital twins can be applied to pretty much any environment. That’s why, here at Avanade, we’re taking this ontological approach to the next level to help our customers achieve a deeper understanding about the things (entities) they’re dealing with across their business.

Essentially, new digital twin models can run your business for you. With data science models providing the required intelligence, they will understand your financial and supply chain positions, and they will know what your inventory looks like. The digital twin will include the appropriate levers, metrics and KPIs for your business and by connecting data systems through an ontological model, it can manage decision making processes from everything from general ledger and inventory to ordering and aged debt.

They can help to manage, guide, monitor and recommend what your business does at any particular situation to create the right outcome. They can even run prediction simulations. The goal is to take the burden of doing repeatable decision-based processes away from humans (although they will still oversee it) so that their time can be applied to more value-added activities.

It’s the next generation of robotic process automation – where we’re not simply automating existing processes, we’re putting in a huge amount of intelligence to guide how processes are undertaken. My prediction is, it’ll completely change the way businesses do things over the next two years.

Read more about what’s possible with our digital twin and IoT solutions.

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