An Article By, David Tan, Chief Technology Officer
Traditionally we like to write an article at the beginning of the year about upcoming trends and technologies that we expect to see emerge in the next 12 months. When I started to think about and do that this week, I realized that I had covered most of the topics that were high on my radar in the last few newsletters. I think I’m just so excited about the emerging trends in technology that I find myself shouting about it from the rooftops whenever I can get someone to listen! So rather than revamp some of the same ideas, I’m going to talk a bit about something I’ve never mentioned, that in many ways brings it all together.
First, let’s run through some of the things I have been saying will dominate our business technology in the very near future – if they aren’t already. Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Virtual and Augmented Reality and Internet of Things to name a few. What do you get when you bring them all together? You get Digital Twins. That’s what I want to talk about – Digital Twins and how they will disrupt every industry on the planet and beyond.
First, what is a digital twin? A textbook definition would be a computerized replication of something in the real world generated by sensor data. Let me try to explain that in easier to understand terms, using something very large. Let’s say you operate a huge farm of windmills that harness wind to generate electricity. These windmills are very maintenance intensive, very expensive to support and probably spread out across large distances. If you could leverage IoT technology to monitor every aspect of the operation of those windmills, combine the results from all the different windmills and put it into a computer simulation model, you’d have a digital twin. From here you’d be able to optimize performance, perform preventative maintenance, streamline operations and test theories without having to employ a small army of engineers.
The scope and range of what you can accomplish with digital twins is hard to even comprehend. The windmills are a great example, but probably outside of the scope of thought for most small business owners. Same with things like jet turbine engines or industrial manufacturing machinery among just a few of the applications that companies like GE are testing with. GE happens to be one of the industry leaders in creating and leveraging this technology. They even created some interactive games you can play on their website to get a better grasp on the power of the technology. For a minute, let’s think about this in a way that probably talks more to you and your business.
Let’s say you are a company that distributes and manages coffee machines to business offices. In this scenario you charge monthly for the machine and supplies, and perform all maintenance and replacement on the machines. By the way, coffee machines could be anything from printers and copiers to telephones, washing machines, or pizza ovens – it really doesn’t matter. Anyway, you may have hundreds of these machines in the field and you need to employ a fleet of engineers to check, service and replace them, often in a reactive mode. If you could take all the sensor data generated by those coffee machines and create a digital twin, you’d be able to predict failures before they occur, evaluate what changes in conditions or environment would mean to your business, and even test the performance and profitability of different monthly service plans. All without leaving the office. Think of the cost savings and improvement in customer satisfaction this could bring.
The concept of Digital Twins is a little larger and more grand than I typically like to talk about in these columns. I like to talk about technology that will impact businesses of all shapes and sizes, and on the surface, the things that companies like GE are doing don’t exactly speak to that. I do believe however that the concepts are important and powerful enough that the impact will be incredibly far-reaching. Like I said, this has the potential to disrupt every single industry in the world. Plus, it’s always fun when the different topics and technologies I have been talking about for years come together to form an even greater opportunity. This is probably not something that will impact your business tomorrow, but as 2017 progresses, this trend will grow and within 3-5 years, hundreds of millions of things will be represented by digital twins. That’s something that’s worth paying attention to.