National Infrastructure Commission urges government to lead the way on digital twin projects

Report also encourages the codification of data standards

The UK needs to “turn on its head” the country’s attitudes towards data and lead the way in creating industry standards and piloting digital twin projects, a major new report has claimed.

The Data for the Public Good report from the National Infrastructure Commission outlines how better use of data could “improve services whilst saving society billions of pounds”. The report lays out four key recommendations that could help achieve this.

The first is the creation of a new “digital framework for infrastructure data”. Such a document would codify standards and formats for sharing data, while establishing security best practice. The government should task the Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB) – a partnership between the University of Cambridge and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – with creating the framework, the report recommends.

The second recommendation is that the chair of the CDBB’s task group charged with creating the digital framework should work with the chair of Institution of Civil Engineers’ Infrastructure Client Group to “lead industry engagement in the framework and cultivate a shift towards minimum levels of commercial confidentiality”.

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The third measure the report recommends is that the digital framework task group should work with government departments and the UK Regulators Network to help “strengthen the role of economic regulators in improving the quality and openness of infrastructure data”.

The final recommendation is that the CDBB should work with the Alan Turing Institute and the UK Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium to deliver a pilot digital twin project. 

Such a project would entail creating a virtual model of physical infrastructure, initially on a small geographical scale, but with the ultimate aim of extrapolating the methods developed by the project across “any future development of larger-scale or more complex digital twins”. This project should be completed by October 2018, the report says.

It adds: “A digital twin pilot project would provide the opportunity to demonstrate the benefits that could be achieved from transforming data about infrastructure assets into a shared interoperable format and the gains that can be made from having a greater understanding of the interdependencies of our infrastructure system.”

To ensure the UK uses data to best effect, there needs to be a step change in how we view it, according to Andy Green, a commissioner at the National Infrastructure Commission.

“Currently, the UK has a culture of assuming that data – particularly data gathered by commercial companies – should be kept confidential unless a case can be made for its release,” he said.  “[This] report highlights the need to turn that on its head: instead, the assumption should be that operational and asset management data should be open and shared, subject to appropriate safeguards to protect or withhold any personal or sensitive information, so that everyone can see how our infrastructure is performing, and where improvements can be made.”


Sam Trendall

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