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The rise of the digital twin and other smart building technology

Investa head of building technology Nathan Lyon

There’s no doubt that commercial buildings of the future will be smarter, more efficient and better integrated into the surrounding built environment. But how is the industry making the digital leap? Investa’s head of building technology Nathan Lyon provided his insights.


Smart buildings remained an enduring theme at this year’s IBcon Commercial & Corporate Real Estate conference held in the US, which was attended by Lyon.

“What was getting a lot of airtime was how the commercial industry is leaning on tech to improve the customer experience, but also now becoming very discerning,” he told The Fifth Estate.

“It’s about removing pain points, things that frustrate you, why can’t you have facial recognition to enter your building, for example?

“When you build up all those 1 per cent things and it makes you a frustrated person… Happy employees are more engaged and therefore more productive.”

It’s also all about making the workplace customisable to a certain degree so that occupants can adjust the colour of the light and adjust the temperature by a few degrees.

Also on the agenda was coworking and how it’s developing. Lyon says the fact that it’s becoming more specialised, with players now offering “project space”, “innovation space” and more, shows a maturation in the industry.

Indoor environment quality and the associated tech is another space to watch. Only 12 months ago nearly all sensor for measuring air quality needed to be hardwired into the building, but now the number of sensors available on the market with battery powered sensors have exploded.

He says the maturity of this technology will likely have a significant impact on the way air quality is managed in buildings going forward.

Another key development with sustainability implications is in live thermal modelling of plant equipment. Instead of engaging a consultant to do a thermal inspection at one point in time, there’s now tools available that display real time information about the energy performance and maintenance requirements.

But he says all these technological advancements rely on the existence of the “less sexy” smart building architecture.

The rise of the digital twin

Essentially a 3D representation of an asset with the building’s data attached, a “digital twin” allows building owners and other stakeholders to see exactly what’s going on in a building.

Beyond static information such as the name of a pump’s brand, the models are evolving to include live performance datasets from sensors and other sources.

He says although Building Information Modelling has been around for a while, what’s new is its maturity to the point of becoming useful.

“It’s sort of an evolving pathway, there’s more opportunities than there is money in this space, which is a great problem to have.”

This digital infrastructure means it’s easy to “couple and decouple systems as they enter market”.

“There’s so much tech that’s coming in and the speed they come is often the same speed they leave. [With this digital infrastructure] we can couple them up and at the same time detach without causing any really trauma to service delivery.”

He says the majority of buildings constructed now have BIM and it will depend on the maturity of the client as to whether this information will be provided to the customer or not.

Some big stadiums among other major infrastructure proects are heading down this path,

Occupants will make better use of building data

Lyon says there’s a real swing to sharing more of building data with customers so that tenants can make better decisions about how they use their own space.

“That’s something that building owners have long history of, collecting building data – whether it be energy efficiency or how often the front doors are used – we haven’t historically been good at sharing that data with customers so that they can make more robust decisions.”

A practical example is working out why some meeting rooms are always full but others are never used. Access to light levels and temperature ranges could show that a room gets too hot from afternoon sun, for instance, allowing occupants to rectify the problem by installing blinds or automating the existing blind system to shade the space at that time of day. 

He says the reason that this information wasn’t shared before was because the architecture didn’t exist to allow standardised and reliable data to be accessed in a controlled manner.

The rise of an “open data exchange” allows different parties to share different elements of building data.

Access to this data can also help occupants in the race to reduce energy and have high performing tenancies, and allow them to compare that data with others and their own towers in other cities.

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One Response to “The rise of the digital twin and other smart building technology”

  • Exciting times and it appears that people as a whole, care less about privacy and more about convenience, but if people want to opt out of your smart building, how do they do this?

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