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View from India: Corporate real estate to leverage digital twin concepts

Image credit: Larisa Ros |

Digital twins are one of the next big things for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Given the benefits, it’s no surprise that cities of the future are already beginning to sample digital twin technology for better outcomes.

The government of Andhra Pradesh - along with planners, architects and tech experts - has set a precedent by creating a digital twin of Amaravati, the People’s Capital of Andhra Pradesh. An upcoming green field city, Amaravati is a $6.5bn project. Its smart digital twin offers dynamic information about the urban infrastructure in a 3D format.

The city, conceptualised and executed by Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority (APCRDA), was described in a View From India article earlier this year. Let’s hope the ongoing Smart Cities initiative uses digital twin technology for optimising space and topography for urban planning.

“Digital twin, in simple terms, is the virtual copy of the physical assets of a product. It’s fed with real-time data through sensors, which gives an insight into the functioning of a product,” said Kapil Mahajan, associate director, Cushman and Wakefield. The data-rich simulation helps in optimising real assets in a cross-section of industries. It bridges the gap between the physical and virtual world and the data.

Dr Michael Grieves at the University of Michigan first used the term 'digital twin' in 2002. The technology gained momentum years later when the Internet of Things (IOT) began to be integrated to make such a digital replica relatively affordable. US Space Agency Nasa was among the early proponents of pairing technology, which then led to the digital twin technology. It’s not a new technology, but it’s a happening one. Recently, Singapore created a digital twin using software developed by Dassault Systemes.

From time to time, diverse industries in India have made news for using digital twin technology to improve operational efficiency. These include manufacturing, oil and gas, automotive and the medical industry.

Aerospace and avionics, too, have harnessed its potential. “We will launch a new commercial airplane next year. An energy-efficient aircraft, it will have a 235-feet long wing, which many airports cannot accommodate. Through model-based engineering and machine learning, the wing can be folded and the aircraft can land even in small airports,” explained Ritu Sharma, Boeing India Pvt. Ltd.

What remains to be seen in the Indian scenario is the impact of digital twins on various other sectors, including real estate. Corporate real estate (CRE) needs to fully explore the potential of the digital twin technology to address certain challenging areas. For instance, all stakeholders may not have access to a single source of data. Consequently, data is not uniform for tenants and owners. This is where digital twins help create a building replica with complete details that are accessible to all stakeholders. 

Remote property management is another function it can perform through predictive maintenance. To illustrate, in case an air conditioner needs to be repaired, the digital twin of the premises will help locate the exact location of the fault.

Clearly, the digital twin technology can monitor the progress of a product and pre-empt alerts wherever required. It can simulate how things will appear and behave in varied situations. “The size of digital twin technology market which was estimated to be $2bn in 2016 is projected to grow to $14bn in 2022 and $16bn in 2023,” added Mahajan.

Data is the centre of all the innovation and disruptions that are taking place. The kind of information it can offer is humongous. “Digital twin can be effectively utilised for design improvisation, better output and operation planning through real time. The Government of India should incentivise schemes for making digital twin technology cost effective for mass utilisation,” added Vikas Chawla, estate and facilities, SAP Labs India Pvt. Ltd.

When a CRE project is being executed, the final stage of the operation is generally sensor-led. This becomes a cost-prohibitive measure in the case of many projects. Model-based engineering and digital twin simulation help lower costs.

“Digital transformation has brought in many changes across industries and the CRE space has not been exempt from this disruption. The ability to adapt to a dynamic corporate real estate environment has led to India being considered as a potential global business and financial hub,” stated Arunabh Mukherjee, facilities head, Synopsys (India) and co-chair of the India chapter of CoreNet Global.

CRE professionals are at the core of achieving this potential and it is imperative that this space be integrated with, and supported by, infrastructure functions to power a more human experience at the workplace. “In time, the adoption of strategies is sure to make a telling impact on how we look at corporate real estate today,” said Mukherjee.

However, the quantum and the pace of data generated from the virtual digital twin are enormous. Data security is a concern as the information it offers is of proprietary nature. Digital twins and the exponential growth of device connectivity have led to the growing need for data centres, a shift compounded by India outlining a new draft policy that requires data to be stored locally. Data localisation will be a growth driver of CRE. Investors are expected to put in money towards the creation of infrastructure for data centres.  

Key industries like IT and IEes are driving the need for setting up data centres to support domestic and international operations.

Besides data centres, global trends are influencing the corporate real estate scenario in India. They include multifunctional buildings and co-working spaces which can be customised through design and engagement apps. Innovation hubs, incubators, accelerators and R&D units are other features that have resulted in generative design. In short, this is innovative tech-led designs for space optimisation. Artificial intelligence (AI) is among the technologies being leveraged to optimise space for productivity.

Workplaces are becoming more intelligent than before. Technologically advanced smart buildings with an accent on green behaviours and sustainability are other highlights of CRE. 

Technology we think is tactile, whose solutions are used to built at a cost for different CRE environments. It opens out a wider market and this migration to a wider market will happen through corporate and government collaboration. Over a period of time, the balance between cost, risk and quality of technology in CRE will all merge.

The speakers cited here all shared their views at the sixth annual India conference on 'Corporate Real Estate: Strategic Planning in A Dynamic World'. The event was organised by CoreNet Global’s India Chapter.

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