Industry Insights

Policy Considerations for Spatial Digital Twins  

WGIC identified policy gaps in relation to digital twin technology and presented policy considerations for the geospatial industry.

Through research into digital twin technology and engagement with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the World Geospatial Industry Council (WGIC), in its report on Spatial Digital Twins, identified the policy gaps and presented considerations to address them. These policy considerations are in three main directions:  

  • the policies that work well,  
  • the policies that aren’t working well, 
  • and the actions that stakeholders should take to address the policy gaps. 

High-performing Policies 

The findings from WGIC’s research into digital twins, spatial digital twins, and SME engagements offered possibilities for establishing or modifying policies around these technologies to serve as input for the public sector and policymakers. Based on that research, WGIC identified directions of high-performing policies. The first refers to the innovation policies or agendas that public or private companies and governments adopt. These include 

  • alignment of investments to city well-being policies, 
  • digital by default policies for government services, 
  • national data strategy development, and more. 

Digital Built Britain is a good example of such policy development that incorporates the abovementioned components. The program is designed to transform how the construction industry and operations management professionals of the United Kingdom (UK) approach social and economic infrastructure through digital technology. To make it work, common minimum standards for construction were developed that mandated the adoption of building information modeling (BIM). This is where establishing the “one standard” with “one requirement” principle works well. The next step for the development of this project is digital twins. While BIM is best used for construction and design, digital twins are best used for building maintenance and operations. 

Designing tailored policies requires recognizing that digital twin technology enabled with spatial components is in the process of evolution. Such policies may be the ones that 

  • integrate as much as possible digital twin technology into business as usual, 
  • form agreements on data ownership openness and accessibility, 
  • are being liberal on data policy but firm on compliance with standards.

Poor Policies 

Due to poor policy decisions, there are a series of gaps and challenges to the effective use of digital twin technology. One example of such a gap is the absence of a single set of standards and requirements on global and regional levels. In addition, there are no clear technical definitions of standards to use or work from. 

Policies on data collection are also a big challenge as there is varied access to data and ecosystem data collection. This creates challenges related to getting organizations to adopt digital data-sharing practices. Incentives are needed, such as making data access part of contract specifications and project deliverables and policy putting data sharing as a formal part of the project sign-off. 

The narrow scope of existing policies is yet another challenge that WGIC identified. The focus of policies is more on technical solutions rather than socio-technical ones. Though technical solutions are necessary, they are insufficient. Human, as well as organizational factors must also be considered. 

Targeted Actions to Address Policy Gaps 

There should be a clear understanding of the actions that each stakeholder should take to address the policy gaps, and governments are a big part of that. However, globally, there is hesitation about the governments’ policy interventions. This has many reasons, including the trust and quality of data and computing power. 

There is a noticeable correlation between digital twin technology and BIM. This correlation opens an opportunity to avoid the mistakes made on BIM policy, leverage lessons learned, and take the best practice in designing digital twin policy. What has been identified as the best practice has been public sector policy effectively selecting or nominating a standard, such as that conducted in the United Kingdom (UK) Government’s National Digital Twin Program. Eventually, this gives stakeholders a “direction” on digital twins and a confidence level for investment in them. 

Additionally, factors that will uplift the benefits of Digital Twins include: 

  • standards-setting organizations to work with each other to ensure interoperability of standards (across standards and regulatory bodies), 
  • participation by industry and the public sector in the development of standards and policy, 
  • ensuring “open” data, information, standards, and exchange forums and repositories, and 
  • ensuring that any updates or changes over time minimize disruption for the community and have a clear purpose. 

Policy Considerations 

WGIC analyzed the findings from digital twin research and engagement with SMEs to form its policy considerations. These considerations are designed for the industry, user organizations, the government, training providers, and regulatory bodies.  

WGIC policy considerations for geospatial industry from Spatial Digital Twins Report
Figure 1: Policy considerations 

Interoperability and collaboration between all stakeholders are at the core of effective policy development. Governments and regulatory bodies should partner with industry to evaluate existing guidelines and establish standards or policies. Training providers should team up with the industry and the public sector to create educational programs focused on digital twins. Additionally, organizations should stay informed of technological advancements while prioritizing sustained operability. 

Bridging the policy gaps surrounding digital twin technology enabled by spatial components is imperative and requires targeted efforts from all stakeholders. The public and private sectors, along with governments, should take decisive action to address these gaps and ensure the technology’s full potential is realized. 

The original content of the blog post is sourced from the WGIC Policy Report “Spatial Digital Twins: Global Status, Opportunities, and the Way Forward.”

Editors of the blog: Margarita Dadyan and Bhanu Rekha from WGIC