Defining digital twin purpose

Tell me what you want! What you really, really want!

by Dean Douglas | December 17, 2021 |  5 min read

Defining digital twin purpose
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The pursuit of digital twin is ever growing, with evermore organisations seeming to have one, want one or be in the process of developing one. 

But in this aspiration, it is vital to remember that a digital twin is the means and not the ends. Digital twins are the culmination of numerous technologies, processes, and theoretical understandings coming together. It’s this that allows us to gather vast quantities of data about our assets over long periods of time and potentially in real time, then taking that data and interrogating it further to provide us with insights and understanding into how we interact with our assets, what are the effects our interactions in an asset have on its design, construction, operation, and management. 

Digital twins are fickle beasts, they are literally a complex system of systems. Therefore, it is not enough to just want a digital twin. At the very outset/inception of that want for a digital twin, organisation must ask themselves what they want from that digital twin.

Making it crucial that organisations define their purpose for a digital twin. It’s often said that data and information management are the foundations of any digital twin. If this is true, then the clear and comprehensive definition of its purpose is the bedrock for these foundations to rest upon. 

This idea that purpose will define and guide digital twin development is enshrined in the in UK’s development of a national digital twin. With it being said:

“The high-level purpose of the NDT is to help to improve outcomes per whole-life pound (economic, social, environmental, safety and security outcomes), so each part should have clear and transparent purpose.” 1

It’s given such importance that purpose form ones of the three key tenets of the Gemini Principles. They set out that the purpose of a digital twin must take into consideration the following three elements:

Public good – The purpose of a digital twin ought to start with end-users’ needs in mind and help to deliver inclusive outcomes.

Value Creation – It is essential that a digital twin enables sustainable value creation, performance improvement or effective risk management.

Insight – A digital twin should provide insights based on better data that in turn enable better decisions and lead to better outcomes for an organisation.

And these provide us with great high-level considerations for when we are first asking ourselves what we want from our digital twins. But beyond this we need to take these considerations further and begin to interrogate what these principles and the digital twin mean to individual organisations. If we are to make targeted developments towards a fit for purpose digital twin, then we must define and quantify the parameters that characterise each organisation’s specific purpose. 

So, what are some of the characteristics that we can begin to quantify? Here are some of the considerations we think could help you shape your digital twin’s purpose.

The desired outcomes

These are the questions that you want your digital twin to answer and what sort of insights would render these questions answered. It is also about understanding who is asking what questions as expectations and needs will differ depending on who is asked within an organisation. With factors such as their profession, how they perceive they will interact with the digital twin and where they fall in the organisational hierarchy all playing a part.

This all aids in selection of data, technology and skills as well as developing an understanding of the necessary analytical capabilities of the digital twin to be developed.

It’s important to remember that while some questions may not be right for this iteration or stage of development of your digital twin this is not to say that they won’t be in the future. The possibilities for digital twin are endless but we have to be pragmatic about what we can achieve and when. This might mean that the biggest question might not be the first to be answered.


Here we begin to outline what organisational work process are to be targeted in the development of your digital twin. In doing this allows for these processes to be examined to identify elements such as the data produced how it is used in the process who uses it. Similarly identifying the technology already deployed, understanding how it is utilised.


Scale simply looks at the physical massing of the digital twin to be developed, specifying the geographic size and the impact that will have on the data that will be used and collected for the digital twin. Whether the digital twin is of a single component or machine at one end of the spectrum or an entire rail network at the other end or everything in-between. These all bring implications around the information that can be captured and about the granularity of information that can be successfully conveyed.

Connectivity to the digital twin ecosystem 

Here we look at where there may be possibilities to connect the digital twin being developed to other digital twins whether that be within the organisation or externally. Answering this crucial question will define how, where and to who the information will be stored, shared, and received. As well as begin to make considerations about the security measures that are required. 

This provides a brief foray into what may be defined in an organisation’s purpose and its requirements for digital twin development. This list is by no means exhaustive but helps steer us in the right direction. The definition of digital twin purpose forms a fundamental step in the framework for digital twin being created by BIM Academy as part of our PhD research Northumbria University.

If you’d like to know more or even be involved, get in touch.

  1. CDBB. (2018).
    The Gemini Principles
    . 15.