Megatrend Digital Twin | Part 1

Table of Contents

Does complexity really exceed human capabilities?

Can humans still manage the rapidly increasing complexity in this world?

They are on everyone’s lips – digital twins. Of buildings, plants, cars, aeroplanes, ships, railways, simply of everything. What do we use digital images of physical objects for, or do we really use them?

We live in a world of growing complexity and strongly interconnected tasks and processes. We are all experiencing this very close interconnectedness very clearly right now through the impact of disrupted supply chains on our daily lives. As a result, risks have increased enormously in recent years, and at the same time requirements for sustainability and safety have been and are being defined by law.

These challenges of our time, which are great in themselves, are met by another, partly home-made problem: the shortage of skilled workers. It has been known for many years that the birth rate and the number of young people in the labour force are not sufficient to fill the vacancies in Germany in the medium term. Yet in recent years, this issue has not been given the attention it deserves, either politically or in most companies. Since spring 2022, the shortage of skilled workers has been taken up again and has since received the necessary attention.

All these factors together mean that a rethink is necessary if we want to maintain the functioning of the economy and thus the prosperity of us all. Our task will be to manage the continuing increase in workload with fewer workers. To do this, we can either increase (weekly) working hours, which individual business leaders have brought up, or we can finally start to push ahead with digitalisation.

There are also numerous start-ups in Germany waiting in the wings to meet the challenges of our time with innovative solutions. But the existence of good answers alone is not enough. There must be a change in thinking that business as usual is no longer an alternative. For this to happen, established companies must open up – mentally and actually – and invest. Just as they do with research into their own products, they must also invest in the future of their operations. Only those who quickly come to this realization will successfully master the current challenges.

If we look specifically at digital twins of buildings, increasing sustainability requirements are another hotly debated topic:

In the past, insurance companies, banks and other companies with large portfolios did not give much importance to the quality, sustainability or availability of a building’s data. The most important key figures were and are the location and profitability of the property. This way of thinking is slowly changing, but in recent times it has been made much tougher by the requirements of the European Union in the form of the EU taxonomy. This places an obligation on companies to evaluate their investments according to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria. The classification of real estate as “sustainable” or “green” already has increasing relevance for investors and buyers/tenants.

How do the issue of skills shortages and EU taxonomy fit together?

We humans have the ability to see through complexity and interrelationships to a certain extent and to communicate information or what we have learned to our fellow human beings or, in our professional lives, to our successors. Up to now, people have been able to manage the information and tasks quite well and successfully. They had enough information, either learned independently over a longer period of time or received it from other people. The complexity of the tasks could be easily managed through people’s knowledge or through the networking of knowledge. In the real estate industry, this knowledge and the accomplishment of tasks has led to buildings functioning and people being able to live, work and use them for the purpose for which the building was created. But not beyond that either.

As already described, the demands on real estate are increasing inexorably. Due to high turnover and the current shortage of skilled workers, the passing on and building up of knowledge at every level of a company can no longer be guaranteed. This means valuable knowledge generated over decades leaves the company or the property. Thus, the EU taxonomy poses great challenges for companies in the real estate sector. This is because the knowledge and information they need for the assessment of ESG criteria is mostly in the very heads that will leave the companies in droves over the next few years. This loss of knowledge can be observed in facility management, asset management or property management, among others. 

At present, attempts are being made to use energy balances and, if possible, other information available about a building or a portfolio for ESG assessment. However, this only considers the “E”, i.e. the environmental assessment. And here, too, only a condition is described. In order to map the sustainability of a building portfolio in the long term and also to bring about an improvement in the portfolio, property-related information and knowledge needs to be consolidated and networked.

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