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  • Writer's pictureDTP NZ

Making digital twins ‘world famous’ in Aotearoa New Zealand

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

In late July a hardy group of digital twin enthusiasts met at the Toitū Te Whenua Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) offices on the Terrace in Wellington to share digital twin stories and learn from one another via a panel and audience discussion (and enjoy some nibbles of course) at the Digital Twin Partnership - New Zealand North Island launch.

Jasmin Callosa-Tarr welcomed the attendees and panelists with the reminder that it is community that fuels success and urged us all to leave our organisations at the door and work collectively for the greater good. As we move more boldly into an era of accelerating digitalisation the Digital Twin Partnership is aiming to provide leadership for industry through a targeted narrative and scaling through the grass roots level, ultimately to advance advocacy, community and capability for Digital Twin adoption.

The panel was stacked with experience with Chau Nguyen, Sean Audain, Rob Deakin and Paul Stone, with our very own Sam Wiffen ably moderating with a series of questions to dig into the topic of how to make digital twins world famous in New Zealand and what data and tomatoes have in common. Here are some of the highlights

Where can digital twins have the most impact in NZ? Where they bridge the gaps in the spaces between other technologies – for example joining GIS/IoT/BIM/AI or providing a view of multimodal transport networks – then we develop the muscles to run simulations of different scenarios ahead of major works and investments. Importantly after we invest or implement policy we need to provide the ability to measure the impact of that policy in a much more granular and responsive manner – to see if the changes are making an impact. Ultimately when we test these hypotheses we can change minds, which is a prerequisite to changing the world.

What are challenges and how to address them? Getting people to invest in the vision, and back creation of a digital twin without a clear cost benefit analysis based on an expected outcome is the key challenge. Story telling becomes a huge part of the process of winning the hearts and minds. We should focus less on technology and more on the discoveries and learnings that have been made through digital twins. And on the positive side there are now great examples that can be held up from the experience at Toitū Te Whenua Land Information New Zealand, Kainga Ora and Wellington City Council. We can also double down on what we know which is centered around the BIM and Infrastructure use cases that are most common, while recognising that when we cross over between industries we are going to ultimately get the biggest impacts and insights.

How does NZ stack up internationally? NZ is doing some things well (and you can read about some of them here) but are a long way removed from the likes of Singapore or Helsinki who have embraced digital twins strategically as a cornerstone of their administrations with a long view as to the benefits. If we could create an ecosystem for digital data then we can connect up the things of interest to different twins for different purposes more readily. We quickly got into the challenges around data ownership which led us to discuss…

Government vs industry vs community led? Given there was advocacy in the room for each of these approaches it's reasonable to conclude that it’s not going to be a solely top down or bottoms up approach, nor will it be solely driven by commercial imperatives – though clearly economic incentives are a powerful motivator. Other drivers such as social equity and climate resilience may emerge and these causes represent a rallying point but also where digital twin technology can have the most impact.

What skills and capabilities do we need to develop? Digital literacy is a key skill to further develop in our communities and we can take some inspiration from the next generation who are highly engaged with the digital and online world, being digital first. Engagement with Tawa College NCEA students in the creation of a digital twin led to heightened awareness and increased digital literacy at the community board level. It’s an example of how even modest investment in the learning of the next generation can have a far-reaching ripple effect – and we need to engage early to open the door to the new possibilities digital twins can unlock for the leaders and citizens of tomorrow, alike.

Digital identity is also a big question that has be-devilled a more democratic or 'open by default' approach to data crossing the public/private domains. Who I am determines what data I can see, what data I can manipulate, or update based on my identity, and I may have multiple identities.

Data quality will underpin its beneficial use and we are all aware that you can’t manage what you can’t measure, so developing capability in terms of a feedback loop that users of the data can access to improve the data quality will lead to more trust and increased use of the data in digital twin scenarios.

Overall, the discussion was lively, and the networking was enjoyed by the attendees – it was good to see familiar faces and make some new connections as well. A huge thanks to the team at Toitū Te Whenua Land Information New Zealand for hosting the event and our panelists for sharing so openly and of course those of you who took the time to attend!

Can we make digital twins world famous in New Zealand? There was definitely an appetite to try, and a lot of inspiration to be drawn from panel experiences. There is the shared feeling that the time is right with the convergence of technology and community needs to make some progress where perhaps in the past conditions were less favourable. So how is data like tomatoes? Sean Audain suggested we consider Mediterranean cuisine without tomatoes – unthinkable these days but tomatoes were at one time newly introduced and not to be trusted. Our data and digital twins are like this, and we need to concoct a few recipes that incorporate quality data to build that trust and enable others to experience the positive outcomes of our favourite recipes!

The Digital Twin Partnership will be developing the next steps that we can take together towards this objective. Watch this space!

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