The National Digital Twin - an insurer's perspective

Fladgate’s Garbhan Shanks and Sarah Rock discuss the legal challenges faced by building a national digital twin and review the project from an insurance perspective.

What is a digital twin? A digital twin is a real time digital representation of a physical asset or piece of infrastructure. The construction world is beginning to embrace Building Information Modelling (BIM) and the standard form building contracts are adapting to reflect this. A huge advantage of using BIM is its use in operating an asset – NEC has developed its Facility Management contract to allow for this. However, in reality very few, if any, models created using BIM during the design and construction phase of a built asset are handed over for the owner to use and manage their asset smartly. There are a few possible reasons for this: - Lack of IT infrastructure at asset owner/operator level; - Lack of skillset at asset owner/operator level; - Reluctance at contractor/consultant level to take legal responsibility for an ‘as built’ model.

Why are digital twins important? All of the crucial information relating to an asset stored in the model (created by the contractor and consultants) can provide an effective and smart way to manage the asset. This digital twin of all of the data relating to the building can be kept up to date, allowing for relevant sharing of data for safety reasons. For example, post Grenfell the Hackitt report has encouraged their use through the ‘golden thread’ of information. Digital twins of high-rise residential buildings are to be maintained throughout the built asset’s life cycle. These models can be shared with firefighters who will be able to access the building’s layout on tablet type devices as the fire engine races toward the fire. The use of GPS sensors and augmented reality visors could help the firefighters safely navigate the building on fire. This potential use of digital twins brings with it obvious privacy and security implications which need to be considered during the readings of the Fire Safety Act and the Building Safety Bill through Parliament. What is a national digital twin? A national digital twin is not one giant model of everything in the country, rather it is intended to be a series of federations of digital twins which interact with one another. Each twin is linked to another by secure sharing of data. This use of the internet of things and 5G technology could allow for a better planning system or disaster readiness. One simple example of this new system is rubbish bins in the streets. Presently refuge collectors visit each bin in turn on their round and empty what is there. Smart rubbish bins could ping the refuge collector’s vehicle once full, allowing the refuge collectors to only visit and empty the bins that need emptying.

This simple but effective approach could save time, money and most importantly of all the carbon footprint of the refuge collectors.

Who is driving this forward? The Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB) has been tasked with making the national digital twin a reality. The CDBB is a partnership between the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and the University of Cambridge to deliver a smart digital economy for infrastructure and construction for the future and to transform the UK construction industry’s approach to the way we plan, build, maintain and use our social and economic infrastructure. The CDBB brings together industry, academia, and policymakers to consider the wider effects of the digital agenda on society and the economy.

Launched by HM Treasury in July 2018, CDBB’s National Digital Twin (NDT) Programme and Digital Framework Task Group were set up to deliver key recommendations of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) 2017 “Data for the Public Good Report” notably: to steer the successful development and adoption of the information management framework for the built environment, and; to create an ecosystem of connected digital twins – a national digital twin– which opens the opportunity to release value for society, the economy, business and the environment.

What legal problems does this pose? There are clear and obvious data sharing implications related to creating the national digital twin. Existing data may not be up to date or as accurate as required for the project – who is responsible for this? The governance of the national digital twin needs to set out clearly where the Intellectual Property in the data sits. Existing standard form contracts and methods of procurement (particularly in construction) are going to need to adapt to respond to the changes that lie ahead. Further, insurers, funders and asset owners will need to adapt themselves as well as their ways of working legally to cater for the changes which are coming down the line. There are no issues with creating a national digital twin that are deemed to be insurmountable from a legal point of view. Informed legal mindsets and agile thinking can assist in making the national digital twin a success that will help all of our futures.

The insurance perspective This technology provides a clear opportunity for a strategic partnership with insurers to allow them to better understand and also input on improving the risks of any construction project from the outset. This is especially important for policyholders looking to purchase Construction All Risks and Property cover in what is currently a hard insurance market, as constructing an asset digitally beforehand means construction projects can be completed quicker, safer and greener, which will be attractive to insurers, resulting potentially in more favourable terms and premium rates for the policyholder. Fire losses are a key risk for underwriters to assess – Digital Twin technology allows predictive models to anticipate and mitigate against risks, such as fire, but it goes potentially further - for example, if fire crews had access to a digital map of a building when tackling a fire, this could ameliorate their own safety, their ability to rescue persons within the building and ultimately to control and put out fires. Such effective risk management tools would significantly improve the insurability of construction projects and buildings with the benefit of a digital twin.