Developing the underlying framework for a national digital twin

Published: 5 Oct 2018

By: Mark Enzer

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Image suggestive of a digitally connected city

From how we travel to how we communicate, the use of big data now underpins efforts to improve great swathes of our daily lives but, excitingly, we have only just begun to scratch the surface of what we can achieve when we unlock the value of data in the built environment.

Nearly a year ago, three key publications helped build momentum towards using information more effectively across the country’s infrastructure.  The first was the Government’s Industrial  Strategy, which set the tone for the future of the infrastructure sector.  The second came from the Infrastructure and Projects Authority and examined how to transform infrastructure performance.  And the third, the National Infrastructure Commission’s Data for the Public Good report, offered a long-term view of how we can deliver better outcomes for people by making the most of our infrastructure data, using new technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence.

The Data for the Public Good report is visionary, not just in recognising the critical importance of data sharing for improving infrastructure performance, but also in recommending that we move towards having a “National Digital Twin”, which would help us to understand, manage and plan our infrastructure better.

The vision is that, rather than one huge singular digital model, the National Digital Twin should comprise a wide range of twins of different infrastructure assets and systems joined together in a secure and resilient way.  This should lead to better decisions, based on better data, leading to better outcomes for the public and better value for money. But for all this to work, the Commission’s report highlighted the need for a digital framework to underpin it and for a task group to make it happen by bringing together efforts from a range of different organisations.

This Summer, the Treasury confirmed the Government’s support for the Commission’s recommendations and the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, Robert Jenrick, launched the Digital Framework Task Group (DFTG) on his visit to the Centre for Digital Built Britain at Cambridge in July.

Since then, the DFTG has got straight on with its task of steering the development of the Framework for the built environment.  In line with the Commission’s recommendations, this Framework is intended to establish all of the building blocks that are necessary to enable effective information management and secure, resilient data – in a way that means different systems can use that data.

As its first deliverable, the DFTG is planning this autumn to publish the “Gemini Principles”, a document that sets out the high-level definitions and principles for guiding the development of the Framework and the National Digital Twin.   And by the end of the year, the DFTG is looking to produce the “Roadmap”, a prioritised route for delivering the Framework.

With Government and industry support, the DFTG seeks to provide the coordination that is needed to unlock the value of information in the built environment and to realise the potential of improved data sharing that was identified by the National Infrastructure Commission.

Mark Enzer is chairman of the Digital Framework Task Group

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