What’s the state of digital twins in 2021?

What’s the state of digital twins in 2021?

Behind every industry boom, there is technology investment and innovation. While recovery has been on the minds of infrastructure firms since the pandemic, where technology became vital in order to keep projects moving, those who continue to accelerate their technology plans could be set to emerge as leaders in the next normal post-COVID.

Following our new research report, ‘The adoption curve to visualisation in 2021’, we analysed the status of technology adoption within civil infrastructure organisations today, their relationship with digitalisation and technology, the challenges they face and the top priorities on the horizon.

Here’s what we found out…

  • 92% of civil infrastructure sector respondents were familiar with visualisation platforms, software, or tools.
  • Nearly a third (27%) had already progressed implementation to become early majority adopters of a visualisation/digital twin platform.
  • 89% of respondents stated that they see a visualisation platform featuring in their future purchasing or renewals.

Trends that are defining technology adoption

As we emerge from the pandemic it is true to say that the industry’s technology adoption has been propelled at a rate that was not expected nor experienced by the Civil Infrastructure before.

The coronavirus pandemic is reported to have plunged Britain’s economy into the deepest slump since quarterly records began resulting in the first confirmed recession since the economic shock of the global financial crisis. Construction output fell by a record 29.8% in the three months to May 2020. It’s unsurprising then, that over a third of respondents in our survey (36%) were most concerned about the economy and COVID-19.

Before the pandemic, technology uptake had been hindered by aversion to change. However in March 2020, as the world prepared to work from home, the pandemic also turbo-powered widespread technology adoption. According to the CEP-CBI survey on technology adoption, over 60% of firms reported that they have adopted new technologies or management practises since the onset of the pandemic, while a third have invested in new digital capabilities.

With this in mind, it’s logical that our survey identified nervousness around lack of support for technology, poor data management, and technology effectiveness. Over a quarter (29%) of those surveyed suggested that a combination of poor data capture, data management and data quality, lack of digitalisation, inefficiency, and tech laggards were of concern.

When asked about the top threats they see on the horizon, the qualitative results of our survey found that within the 16 common points of perceived threat, responses could be further grouped into the following themes: uncertainty, momentum, and validation. We can summarise the overall sentiment across the unique points in the following way:

1. Uncertainty (64%): Respondents at construction and infrastructure firms were worried about COVID-19 and market volatility, lack of resources, skills and materials, rising costs, as well as the perception of technology.

2. Validation (56%): In times of uncertainty, it’s no surprise that firms were concerned about a lack of trust and visibility for all stakeholders to instil confidence and validation, as well as remaining competitive and building back more sustainably.

3. Momentum (15%): Asset owners, engineering consultancies and general contractors alike, were nervous about solutions fatigue, budgets and investments, delays, technology resistance, data literacy and poor data systems as threats to momentum.

Graph to show the perception of threat grouped into three common themes

Although we don’t yet understand the long-term legacy or impact of these challenges, or how people will travel, live and work as the dust settles, what we do know is that in order to prepare for the future, we need to think of more productive and efficient ways of doing things now and this is evident in our research.

A future enabled by digital twins

Over the past five to six years we have been seeing a record of investment from venture capital flowing into infrastructure technology which has been a good indication that we are on the cusp of something incredible in civil infrastructure. Despite the challenges faced with pandemic, as we emerge almost eighteen months on we are starting to see how the industry has bounced back and how it’s relying on technology to support its future-focused recovery.

While technology has always been used in the AEC industries, it is now being embraced to a fuller extent with the promise of delivering efficiencies and keeping projects on track—which was evidenced in our survey with the acknowledged uptake of software, tools and platforms by respondents.

At Sensat we are definitely seeing large-scale infrastructure projects—that are turning to digital—coincide with greater construction output. For example, programmes such as the HS2 Innovation Accelerator Initiative are already utilising cutting-edge technology to help propel the sector forward over the coming months and years.

In our new normal we are really starting to see the adoption of digital twin technology kick in and with it the benefit of being able to work through challenges and make decisions, without having to organise a site visit.

It gives context to the problem you’re trying to solve. As the project manager I use the online platform to get a different perspective. Being able to see the project visually helps me assess and think more creatively.

James Carey, Project Manager at WSP

Although there has been endless debate over the definition of digital twin technology in the context of infrastructure, we believe that a digital twin gives you the ability to interact with your site digitally in order to see what’s happening which enables users to coordinate activities and information more easily.

Our survey found that most of the civil infrastructure sector respondents (92%) were familiar with visualisation platforms, software, or tools, with nearly a third (27%) having already progressed implementation to become part of the early majority adopters of a visualisation/ digital twin platform today. Furthermore 89% of civil infrastructure professionals see a visualisation platform featuring in their future purchasing or renewals.

This rate of adoption was not something that we saw two years ago and didn’t expect to happen for a few more years. However, the pandemic has undoubtedly served to accelerate this process of technology uptake. As we look into the coming months and years this serves as a good early indication that visualisation software is being considered as necessary for future infrastructure projects.

The adoption curve to visualisation

Download our full report on the industry’s adoption of digital twin/visualisation technologies. Alternatively, watch our webinar on-demand where our team of experts deep dive further into how you can secure your path towards recovery with visualisation adoption.

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