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Digital Twin Partnership South Island launch highlights unique challenges and opportunities for NZ

Updated: Jun 27, 2023

By: Pat McLarin, DTP-NZ Leadership Team

Early June saw the exciting launch of the Digital Twin Partnership in New Zealand as Anake Goodall, Chair of Seed the Change invited the full room of digital twin advocates and stakeholders assembled from a range of industries and viewpoints to ‘’light the fuse’’ and see where it would take us toward growth in sustainability and community wellbeing through the application of digital twins.

The June south island launch centered around the exchange of ideas sparked by a lively panel discussion on the topic - A Digital Twin Partnership for NZ – what gives us our Aotearoa flavour? moderated by Kat Salm, from the DTP-NZ leadership team. The panel: Keri Niven, Sam Wiffen, Maurice Wills and Rose Challies together brought a range of experience from New Zealand and overseas in infrastructure digital twins, subsurface mapping, community storytelling and regional data management. Likewise, there were diverse motivations for their participation but a shared belief summarized by Kat with an African proverb that ‘’we may go faster alone but further together’’.

The Q+A session that followed proved both challenging and thought provoking. There was a consensus that New Zealand is behind compared to international adoption of digital twins and the following challenges were highlighted in the kiwi context.

  • Need for a common language – we have talked a lot about digital twins on and off for a long time in NZ but do not share a common frame of reference for which to engage across the private sector, government, Te Ao Māori and community around digital twins.

  • Old fashioned regulatory implementation – with all the digital twin goodness and insights that can be achieved, if you want to get any development in NZ off the ground and consented the regulatory process is often interpreted and executed in digital-paper methods and processes. The opportunity is to shift this to a data-principles and a modelled set of methodologies.

  • Lack of awareness in terms of how to get started – communities may not know how to get started with digital twins and that the key is to focus on the outcomes that you are looking for and the take the plunge.

  • Ownership and sharing – perhaps the most hotly debated area of the night - the challenges around ownership and sovereignty, Te Ao Māori, technology platforms and application of AI were front and center. Current mindsets and approaches create barriers and drive inefficiencies, for example in the repeated mapping of the same assets because of data sharing restrictions. However, the question of ‘’who pays?’’ will continue to recur and be pivotal in digital twin adoption if the mindset remains fixed on ownership.

  • Balancing a long-term view while maintaining momentum short term the benefits of digital twin application are inherently long term across past, present and future but how can we transcend a short-term electoral cycle to maintain momentum of initiatives longer term.

While acknowledging these challenges the mood was optimistic and the following opportunities identified.

  • Establishing our common languageperhaps the easiest starting point is to develop our common language at the appropriate scales with traceability to outcomes sought? This will be one of the first things for DTP-NZ to tackle.

  • Measuring the use of data to drive improvements in data – to work across disciplines we need to be able to take the outputs from other disciplines and consume them to complete our piece of the puzzle in any development endeavour. We could be thinking about how in our ways of working, we measure the effectiveness of our data interoperability and usage to make it explicit where we need the next improvements. This means publishing and consuming data in a digital twin context. A lot of data for example in regional authorities is technically in the public domain but not broadly accessible to the public. A focus on making quality public data accessible from the public sector can generate a lot of downstream value in digital twins, and there is appetite for this in regional authorities.

  • Accountability and impactcan accountability be made cool? How do we unpack the mindsets around ownership to reduce barriers and create opportunity? How can we ensure digital twins are purposed for the greater good? Digital twins have a way of shining a light on issues that are otherwise unseen and this is at the heart of their value but can also be threatening to those accountable leading to fear of airing one’s ‘dirty laundry’. However closed models drive competition and decrease trust. So, the opportunity for New Zealand is to agree on the impact that we are trying to achieve and accept that it will be a long process to first expose the past and current state of that which we are attempting to improve upon and work towards better outcomes in the future.

  • Crises as opportunitiesthere were frequent references to the collaborative approaches that were initiated in the wake of the Canterbury earthquakes where a common need caused a break with the traditional way of doing things. Today we are facing multiple crises around climate, environment and wellbeing which once again creates a common need around which to unite our efforts and to align on outcomes. We know that events like Cyclone Gabrielle are going to occur so let’s prepare and be able to activate the digital twin when the crises happen.

  • Local talent and drivewe have great local talent with a lot of international experience to draw from, and a motivated community striving to make a difference.

Digital twins by nature embody the long term – capturing the past which in the New Zealand context includes the stories and Mātauranga (knowledge) of Te Ao Māori, the present which includes the current state of our aging infrastructure above and below ground and our environment and resources, and provides a common view as we look toward the future.

This opening discussion highlighted challenges for DTP-NZ to embrace and explore as we seek to advance digital twins as a critical enabler for the digital economy and in our mission to advocate and educate people, government, and industry for the greater good of Aotearoa New Zealand.

If you are keen to be involved as we establish working groups across our three pillars – community, capability and advocacy, please submit your expression of interest here.

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