Digitizing the built environment and asset management in China

Jiang Zhe is the president of NXPark, which develops turnkey, sustainable, digitalized commercial and industrial parks under the umbrella of Aden Group.

Aden Group has been developing in China for more than 25 years. In the earliest days, our business focused on traditional facility services including catering, security, and cleaning. Gradually we have developed into a diversified group that can undertake most of the non-core business services of industrial and commercial enterprises.

Since we began serving the Chinese market in 1997, we have accumulated many high-quality customers, including more than 300 Fortune 500 customers, as well as many outstanding Chinese state-owned enterprises and high-growth private enterprises.

Currently, we have more than 20,000 employees in China and teams in more than 80 cities. We also have a presence in Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America, covering 25 countries.

What is Integrated Facilities Management Service, or IFM? What does IFM cover?

FM, facility management, is traditional property management. This is more like some of our earliest single services, such as security, cleaning, facility maintenance, and greening projects. The IFM we are talking about today is more of a trend in Europe and North America. For the client, he can manage all his non-core business through a single point of contact.

The pandemic has highlighted this as a comparative advantage. During the outbreak, many of our clients were required to operate in a closed loop. In this case, clients needed to have a coordinator like Aden to provide all the non-core business services that they need during operation. The convenience of IFM allows customers to concentrate their resources, manpower, and investment in their core business.

Through overall management, we can improve traditional services and improve the lives of employees. Our new business and technology have expanded the scope of our IFM offer to include services such as energy efficiency management, asset digitalization, and ESG-related process optimizations. Those are the advantages that IFM can bring. Compared with the European and American markets, the overall proportion of IFM in the Chinese market is still relatively low, but we believe that this area will be a growing trend in the future.

digitalize building operations

The new incremental market for IFM

For us, the future IFM market in China is a big opportunity, because we can also see that ESG is becoming increasingly important for enterprises over the past two years.   The concept of ESG itself is based on investment logic. In the past two years, we have seen that there is a real demand in the financial market and the consumer market for enterprises to improve their ESG performance and many of those metrics overlap with China’s “dual carbon” goals.

In the past, the concept of ESG may not have been clear to everyone. Some people think installing a photovoltaic roof is considered low carbon or donating to charities at the end of the year is considered social responsibility. This approach may no longer be able to meet the real needs of investors and consumers. More and more people are inclined to transparent and measurable ESG standards. There are many opportunities here, such as how to make ESG standards transparent. Transparency requires digitization first. Real-time data should reflect corporate governance, carbon emissions, and social responsibility.

Another opportunity is to achieve the national “dual carbon” goals. “Dual carbon” is about energy production, energy efficiency management, energy storage, and the use of clean energy to help industrial production. On the other hand, it is about how a product measures its carbon footprint and reduces its carbon footprint throughout its life cycle.

Aden’s service case in carbon emission reduction

With the help of our digital tool Akila, Aden Group has been able to make some very concrete successes in carbon reduction for clients. I will give two examples.

One is our industrial park project in Xi’an – which is a greenfield construction project (i.e., there is no existing structure on site). We use our digital platform, from initial design to construction to final operation, to manage the full life cycle of all assets. At the beginning of the design, we take the carbon footprint of all the materials used (embodied carbon footprint) and do a rational calculation. This calculation is accurate down to the carbon emissions in the production process, and even down to the carbon emissions in the post-purchase transportation process, etc., to calculate the embodied carbon emissions of the entire life cycle of the building.


NXPark Campus Xi’an

Second, in the design process, we also fully considered the use of energy sources such as heat, cooling and electricity in the building and thought about how to optimize it. Then we used a combination of ground source heat pumps, photovoltaics, and other low-carbon solutions to be used to power the building and operations as much as possible. In addition, we use Akila to combine the energy production assets and the data output, including linkage with electric loads, energy storage, and consumption through the technology IoT with AI algorithms.

For example, if you only use a ground source heat pump technology, it is not intelligent by nature. Its working mechanism is simply off and on. When it reaches a peak between off and on, it will have a relatively high energy consumption. Is it possible to save energy with an intelligent algorithm before it reaches the peak or avoids hitting the highest peak each time?

Our strategy follows three steps: first is to calculate the carbon footprint of the entire building itself, second is to control the proportion of new energy used in its energy consumption links, and third, overall optimization, where we can achieve zero carbon in the building itself. The requirements for the entire carbon footprint are also far stricter than the requirements of our customers. This is through our efforts to drive the implementation of digital management tools on new projects.

Akila Asset platform

Akila Asset platform

The second example is the application of Akila on a brownfield, or already existing, project. This project was for a well-known furniture retail chain. The buildings are existing malls that are not intelligent or digitalized. We made these buildings smart by installing IoT sensors in various key areas and on key equipment to evaluate the entire energy consumption. After collecting and evaluating the data, we used AI optimization without any additional investment to reduce energy consumption by 25 to 30 percent, especially in the HVAC system.

The client wanted us to roll out the same solution in all Chinese stores and even wants to promote this application to some other business areas in the world. We are also very happy to see this kind of “China to the World” practice.

Innovation opportunities in cooperation with industrial and commercial customers

About 80 percent of Aden’s clients are industrial and commercial customers, mainly industrial. In addition, we have many international hospitals and international schools, including some enterprises and institutions. In the future, our task is to continue to innovate and tackle the pain points facing them today regarding sustainability and energy consumption. Many people believe that IFM and the property management industry are still very traditional, but we just don’t think so. I believe this industry is still driven by innovation, so the future of this industry will become more and more specialized and more professional. We can see that many professional industrial service giants have been born in Europe in the past two decades, and at the same time, market segment companies have been further differentiated on various racetracks.

From our point of view, we believe that the future of development, following the country’s “dual carbon” and high-quality development goals has a real need for what we have built at Aden group – driven by innovation and technology. There is ample opportunity in many domestic sectors, industrial or commercial. We believe that our solutions can benefit a broad spectrum of industries including shipbuilding, aviation, new energy, nuclear energy, and medicine. There are many advantages we have to offer, and they’re all driven by innovation.

Through innovation, we are helping customers prolong the life of assets and improve production efficiency. This is something that applies to every business that works in the built environment. In our industry, innovation cannot be completed by just one company behind closed doors. In many cases, we rely on partners to help us achieve common goals.

We very much welcome innovative companies that can enhance the value of the 2B companies in key areas such as environmental services, employee quality of life, carbon emissions, and digitalization to cooperate with us and grow together. The width and in-depth of the industry racetrack will be expanded as well. I believe the entire IFM and property management industry will be a trillion-level industry, so we must be full of imagination and cooperative spirit, and work with everyone to expand and deepen their respective areas of business.


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AR technology is broadening the vision and scope of facility management

Augmented/assisted reality technology is finding practical and beneficial applications in IFM, especially in maintenance.

Written by Guillaume Gimonet Aden Group’s Head of Technical Services Solutions.

Making strategic choices in operations and technology applications has been helping Aden tremendously to provide value to our clients, even under harsh conditions like the recent Shanghai lockdown. For many of the sites, the lockdown restrictions are still in place after two months, and this makes the case, once again, for resilience, creativity and strong tech integration facilitating remote team collaboration.

This challenge is a golden opportunity for Aden’s clients to fully appreciate the capabilities we build through our long in-house operation of remote site management, and a disciplined approach to maintenance plans execution and monitoring.

With 25 years of experience, Aden has leading expertise in the built environment and is anchoring the next big revolution in facility management with cutting-edge technologies. Aden’s technical asset management solutions now utilize Akila, the digital twin platform incubated by Aden Group which is at the core of our digital transformation.

AR is future-focused technology

We’re thinking beyond the traditional technical facility management, and new technologies are catalyzing the ways technical assets are maintained and managed. One of the technologies that in particular attracted the attention of our readers is AR (augmented/assisted reality). In an industry where even the most basic steps of digitalization are hardly implemented beyond glossy pictures in company brochures, how can such tools find their place in the IFM arsenal at Aden?

I found the remark extremely interesting. I have been toying with the topic for at least five good years, with many failed attempts on this tough journey. Between solutions providers overconfident in their offering, often overweighting the new product’s benefits, and actual professionals on the ground that must consider switching costs and are prone to status quo bias, the path to adopting AR technology is a bumpy one, riddled with irrational idiosyncrasies blended with real practical challenges to address.

At the onset of 2022 a couple of facts had to be recognized:

  • The tech became significantly more reliable and robust than in pre-Covid times. The main issue that connectivity was is not as salient as before. New powerful algorithms used to process compression and picture stabilization are now mature enough to support work in real conditions.
  • With rising expectations in compliance documentation, and the availability of cloud and digital twin technologies that are creating the right infrastructure to store and handle massive data, recording technicians’ work is becoming both easier and even incentivized. This is especially the case when the work is directly linked to health, environment, safety, security, or reputation.

Covid restrictions added the few incentives that tipped the balance towards the adoption of AR, with collaboration between remote teams (the benefit initially pushed forward by solutions providers, but our experience made us realize that it was secondary in FM business – relative to compliance) becoming a key thing.

As of today, we already identified a couple of practical cases where AR glasses have been useful to us – and valuable to our clients. The most recent case involves a client wishing to relocate a production line from one country to another. Since the relocation expert couldn’t travel physically from his office in Shanghai to the plant in Beijing to inspect the line, there was no way to even consider a quote. All the client’s plans were stuck.

At Aden though, we wouldn’t accept the status quo easily. We decided to ship our AR glasses to Beijing and let one of our engineers wear them and visit the site. The relocation experts have been able to guide the on-site engineer around the machines, and verify important details regarding surroundings, availability of cranes and other handling equipment, connections, and shape and form of the various equipment of the line. Two days later, we were able to provide a quote.

These quick wins are important as they are normalizing the technology, increasing the number of technicians and engineers familiar with it, and ultimately reducing behavioral switching costs while redefining the status quo.

In parallel, we’re now going a step further with inspections. For the most critical ones related to fire risk control, we are setting the stage for our technicians to wear the AR glasses and use the technology to record the inspection, while scanning QR codes displayed on site to link the digital records to the physical world in the facilities digital twin.

We’re pushing on this use case since it requires minimal disruption for the technician (we are already making QR codes-based inspections with the Akila App), and we have a strong justification for imposing the new tool – fire safety, which is a top concern for everyone. We are getting good results that are inviting us to explore further steps such as displaying asset health scores coming directly from the digital twin, creating incident notices that would be posted directly to the digital twin, or feeding-back information to the technician about task achievement.

Building a business metaverse

This effectively forms an IFM metaverse with persistent digital information being created and shared in context with the real world. Our clients can step in the shoes of our technicians when they execute critical inspections. Experts borrow the eyes of on-site engineers when they evaluate the size and shape of a large production line before relocation. Those experiences are not unlike a 4th Industrial Revolution version of the “Avatar” movie.

Focusing on value-oriented use cases touching on the topics of risk management, compliance, and increasing transparent conversations with our client on performance management, while crafting ways to make these transitions as painless as possible for our staff, we are making this new reality a daily habit, one practical use case at a time.

Stepping forward in the mission to provide transparent, efficient, and digitalized solutions for our clients, earlier this year, Akila has formalized a partnership with AMA, a world leader in AR wearable technology, to integrate AR as a powerful tool to assist in facility management. Aden engineers can equip with AMA ExpertEye glasses to perform inspection works and provide remote assistance.


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Material handling automation is a process, not a purchase


  • Automation has high potential to improve efficiency in logistics
  • Acquiring, deploying and maintaining robots represents a large initial cost and ongoing optimization
  • Developing an appropriate automation strategy is critical, and partnerships are key

As automation technology matures in the material handling and logistics fields, it is increasingly common for logistics, warehouse, and process managers to think about integrating robotics and AI-automated processes—and for good reason.

Industrial handling automation offers real advantages in safety and efficiency, which are only improving with time. Robotic intelligence is maturing rapidly and is able to solve issues like queuing, responding to equipment and pathfinding with increasing sophistication. Better technology and continuous learning through application have reduced the required preparation needed for deploying robotics and simplified integration into existing processes. However, even as the field matures, there are still numerous technical and operational challenges that remain.

Think partnerships, not vendors

Challenges aside—automation provides a competitive edge, one that no business can afford to ignore for long. But training and acquiring skilled staff to manage a fleet of robots and complex equipment, not to mention the challenges of planning, programming, and testing for deployment represent a large initial and ongoing investment of time, capital, and human resources.

Usually, the first step for most businesses starts with thinking of robots like computers or devices. While there are some parallels—automation is better understood as a process, not an out of box purchase. Businesses that wish to automate are better suited to looking for a partner first, rather than looking at hardware.

Finding the right equipment, then designing a plan for deployment, integration, maintenance, and upgrade support is a daunting challenge to handle completely in-house, especially when technology and processes are still developing. Navigating the various software and hardware on offer can actually wind up hurting businesses if done without the right expertise. Therefore, many businesses choose to seek partnerships to automate, and why finding the right partner, one who considers the full lifecycle of an automated fleet and is dedicated to 360-degree service is key.

>>>Watch: Aden Group’s automation partner ASAP Rental designs AGV solution for Namei

Process and strategy are the first steps

Automation takes time and is an intensive process that requires reimagining operations and making commitments to change. And as with any long-term process, it’s important to think in terms of both goals and first steps. The goals are clear—safety, efficiency, scalability. But instead of focusing too much on technical specifications, a facility’s operational needs should be approached more holistically. It’s important to think thoroughly about a strategy.

The first steps in the process start with a careful look at your facility in terms of layout, operations, and processes. Robotics are smarter now, yes, but like anything with intelligence, it requires planning and training to integrate into a workforce. Analyzing your facility, equipment, and operations is a critical first step—what exactly can be automated? What company’s AGVs suit the job best? Thinking about strategy first before moving to hardware is critical and will avoid costly missteps in this process.

There’s no shortcut to experience and expertise

By way of analogy, let’s think about deploying a set of workstations for CAD or some other purpose. Ask IT, deploying a new set of computer hardware in your facility is a large undertaking—now imagine if each computer had to be programmed with accurate spatial data and operational instructions. This is the singular challenge of automation. Deployment can take months, and inaccurate data can mean inoperable equipment. If a part of your facility has a graded incline, this data has to be programmed appropriately, or the robot may not be able to scale it.

Think of this deployment process as training for your fleet of robots. Hiring the right personnel is of course key, but providing them with the best training, and putting their intelligence to work is the only way to ensure they perform as required. The same is true with robots, though their training is directly programmed in.

Building and iterating a competitive edge

Integrating the robotics and automated equipment into the software that runs the facility is critical, and yields important dividends—scalability, iterability, and safety. Integrating robotics and automation into the facility control software (the ERP or WMS) improves their visibility in the management process—and what can’t be seen can’t be managed. This level of integration will also make automation another process that is continually optimized in regular operations, and ensure normal functioning.

Iterating and optimizing automation means keeping pace with the progress in a fast-moving field of technology. This poses another challenge—every year AGVs and automated handling equipment are faster, more precise, and more integrable into teams. This means that agility is a priority, a key factor in strategy, the same as analysis and deployment reliability. Finding a partner who prioritizes agility in providing their service is critical. It’s important to not be hung up on finding ‘the next big thing’ in automation, but rather a partner who can provide service that integrates incremental progress without disrupting operations.

Finding the right partner for safer, human-centric, and more efficient warehouses

The purpose of automation is as much efficiency-oriented as it is human-centric. As workloads in logistics skyrocket with global demand, it becomes ever more critical to ensure workplace safety. Robots, as everyone knows, don’t get tired, and don’t make the same kinds of costly, dangerous mistakes that can happen on the floor in a warehouse. Reducing forklift and loading accidents means a safer and healthier workplace.

This doesn’t mean displacing existing workforces—it means providing them with more skills, more safety, and more assurance that they are not overworked, overstressed, or exposed to undue risk. Workers can step back from repetitive, grinding tasks and to value-adding tasks. Automation is a chance to unlock human potential as much as technological potential.

Automation is a challenge—but also an incredible opportunity for logistics. The challenges of planning, deployment integration and upgrading mean that a business requires high-skill partners, ones that take into account the facility’s operations and characteristics, reliably taking strategy, data, hardware, and integration seriously. The opportunities mean that logistics in warehouses, ports, and depots can begin to explore new vistas in safety, efficiency, and employee development.


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Robotics is already a reality in China’s facility management market

Workplace robots have been with us for a long time. Manufacturers have used them for decades in the assembly line, revolutionizing industrial processes. Over the years, the robotics industry has produced innovation after innovation, resulting in advances in the agility, precision, and functional intelligence of robots.

Now, with China’s recognition of robotics as a strategic industry, and personnel pressures on the horizon, there is no question we will start to see them moving into a wider range of facility management functions, technical services and other operations for the built environment.

China’s five-year development plan for robotics

The transformational opportunities of robotics are being recognized at the highest levels. For instance, one can look to China’s recent development plan for the robotics industry, unveiled by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology 14 other government departments as part of China’s 14th five-year plan. The plan sets out detailed targets and priorities for robotics between now and 2025, with an overarching ambition to make China the center of global robotics innovation. The plan outlines five key points on its agenda:

  • Boost innovation in the Chinese robotics industry
  • Consolidate the foundations of the robotics industry’s further development
  • Increase the supply of high-end products
  • Expand the depth and breadth of applications
  • Optimize the innovation structures of the Chinese robotics industry

China already leads the rankings for robotics patents, and over the next five years, the government expects to average more than 20% annual growth in the robotics industry’s operating income.

There is more at stake here than impressing neighbors; robotics will increasingly be needed to answer growing economic and social challenges. Labor costs are growing, and will only continue to grow, creating a challenge for every business in the coming years. Since 2016, wages have grown an average of 8% annually in China – with a considerable 10% bump in the private manufacturing sector in 2020. China’s slowing population growth rate is also exacerbating this problem. As China’s population becomes more and more educated, the supply of young employees willing to take on unskilled work will only shrink. Put together, it is not hard to see that labor shortages will continue in traditionally man-powered roles, or that there will be a great need for new solutions in automation.

Robots to the rescue in the built environment: transforming facility management

With a variety of factors driving the need for robotics, and support from a government that considers it a strategic industry, the integration of robots into the built environment will continue to accelerate. Robots are already proving useful in a variety of applications in buildings – from soft services up to more complex technical procedures. When combined with smart building technology such as IoT and digital twins, they have the potential to do a whole lot more.

Here are just some of the most impactful ways robotics can transform facility management:

Maintenance and inspection

The monitoring and maintenance of critical utility assets (such as electricity) are among the most important process in a building. However, it is still heavily reliant on 24-hour rotating on-site teams. Additionally, these teams may be put in dangerous situations due to environmental conditions or machine and material-based hazards. Robotics not only reduces the need for round-the-clock manpower but also reduces cost and removes people out of harm’s way while allowing personnel to focus on higher-level tasks.

Drone working at industrial facility

Inspection robots can be ground-based or air-based (like drones) and come equipped with advanced cameras and sensors. Technicians program the robots to take photographs of gauges, thermal imaging, and video recordings and send the data back to a centralized monitoring station. Meanwhile, the onboard sensors can detect anomalies in machinery through sound or heat. When used together with a digital twin or smart building management platform, they can even predict when a fault might happen to the facility or equipment.

Beyond sensing, robots equipped with robotic arms can operate physically in the environment by handling dangerous operations, performing high-precision tasks on machinery, or repairing components. From this perspective, robots are more than just replacement eyes and ears but highly customizable workers that can cover routine tasks.

Cleaning and disinfection

Cleaning and disinfection robots were already being integrated into buildings before the break of COVID-19. Since then, however, they have become more and more in demand. Cleaning went from a topic discussed at the operational level to one discussed by top leadership. Executives now take an active interest in how their organization cleans, including how frequently, with what resources and efficacy, and how performance is measured. Customers, employees and partners now demand a safe and clean environment free of dust, dirt, debris and biological contaminants—meaning cleaning protocols have increased across industries.

In terms of value proposition, a cleaning robot is a fully autonomous floor care solution that delivers an efficient, consistent and measurably clean environment. A robotic scrubber is ready to clean 24x7x365. It can clean up to 4000 square meters an hour with a single charge lasting up to 6 hours. In theory, with interchangeable batteries, an organization could clean its facility non-stop. Cleaning efficacy is also measurable. Using sensors, we can obtain metrics to optimize floor care operation over time.

Every facility needs cleaning, whether schools, offices or factories. Organizations that choose cleaning robots or disinfection robots can reallocate labor to higher-value tasks, moving cleaning from a cost to a source of revenue.

Security and surveillance

The use of security robots in business is downstream from the defense industry, which has been using robotics with proven results for well over a decade. One of the most powerful features of security robots is advanced facial and vehicle recognition attachments, which allow robots can identify intruders. If linked to a smart security platform, any detections will trigger alarms or notifications to personnel who can respond more quickly.

Robotics positively disrupt the current arrangement of building security – which relies heavily on patrol. Enhancing or fully replacing patrol duties with robots can provide 24/7 continuous and unpredictable surveillance (a deterrent to thieves). Instead of guards assigned to repetitive tasks, they can focus more on management and response. Through a combination of ground and air devices, site security and surveillance can be managed more efficiently with fewer people.

Food, delivery and service

Robots are excellent at taking care of rote and repetitive tasks, but they are also proving useful when it comes to responsive service-based tasks as well. That task might be as simple as those for fixed-location delivery robots or information kiosk-style robots, which help guests navigate through spaces like malls, aquariums or large corporate offices. On the more complex side, service tasks for robots could even cooking and delivery.

Delivery robot on the street

While navigating as a guide or on delivery, robots can sense space accurately and move in a more precise way due to a stereo camera system, seamlessly meshing with built environments. This allows them to navigate busy streets, sidewalks, hallways, and floors quickly, avoiding obstacles in its path due to sophisticated sensor systems. Outside, they can even reduce congestion caused by delivery vehicles, with the added benefits of reduced pollution. Inside, they increase safety for all due to less human contact.

One example of a largely robotic service force is what was deployed at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. The Olympic Village set up an autonomous workforce, who provided service ranging from guest information to fully robotic dining halls, where robots prepared food, cocktails or coffee and delivered it to tables or rooms.

New trajectories in robotics: AI, data and multifunctionality

While we can expect continuing advances in the physical capabilities of robots such as agility, precision, battery life and durability; the biggest jump for robotics will be seen in the realm of data & IoT. The biggest value of autonomous robots is multifunctionality and modularity. Robots can perform their main tasks in the facility while simultaneously carrying out advanced data collection. Depending on the needs of the facility manager, robots can be equipped with AI-integrated sensors and cameras to gather environmental and operational data metrics related to air quality, occupancy, acoustics.

A cloud platform is a fundamental component to support and manage a fleet of facility robots. This platform centralizes and processes the valuable data collected by robots and plugs it into any smart building management platform to be made accessible for key stakeholders from anywhere across the world.


Aden can help your business.

Customized solutions to transform your workplace and improve quality-of-life.

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Digital twin technology and the built environment

A digital twin is a contextual, data-driven model of a physical object. It is a system of systems (SoS) built on the Internet of Things (IoT) and AI technology. While traditionally used in manufacturing, digital twins are now used in many other contexts, particularly in buildings.

Built environments are gaining unprecedented operational efficiencies from digitalization. A digital twin enables users to manage their assets proactively by simulating conditional changes and quickly surfacing inefficiencies. In doing so all building stakeholders can work in sync to extend its lifespan while providing a more comfortable and ecologically sound environment for occupants.

What is a digital twin?

Simply put, a digital twin is a 1:1 virtualized version (or “twin”) of a physical object in time and space. A digital twin can be described superficially as a highly complex digital model of an object. If that object is an engine, the twin incorporates every single component from screws to chassis and entirely replicates its functions. If that object is a building, it does the same for every component of every asset, all its systems, processes and environmental data (temperature, humidity, AQI).

A critical point to note is that a digital twin is not just a 3D snapshot from one point in time. The 3D model is only the top layer, a visual interface for a much deeper and more powerful system that actively monitors, structures, and transmits rich, real-time data occurring in the physical space. Whatever the object does, and any changes which occur, are quantified and precisely represented in the digital twin, which continually feeds data into AI applications and machine learning.

A short history of digital twin technology

Although digital twins are considered an emerging technology and have only recently begun to gain attention among the general public, their history is much longer than might be expected. NASA implemented the first rudimentary digital twin during the 1970 Apollo 13 mission. In the early 1980s, Dassault Aviation pioneered some of the first commercial applications of digital modeling for product design and testing, subsequently expanding these early endeavors to a widening range of uses.

Since then, digital twins have continued to evolve, becoming vastly more powerful and sophisticated. Today, a digital twin can be created with an almost limitless number of applications and scopes. For instance, the entirety of Singapore now exists in parallel as a virtual Singapore.

Virtual twin Singapore

Virtual Singapore, made using Dassault Systèmes Catia

Digitalizing built environments

Digitalizing the built environment in some ways is more complex than a digital twin of a rocket ship. That’s because a digital twin of a building is more than just a model of the structure itself. It integrates every system, object and process occurring within it. Asset monitoring, operational management, energy use – all systems within the building feed data into the digital twin. The digital twin building is a system of systems, which takes all siloed data into a central platform powering an interactive, scalable, and actionable single source of truth.

Digital twin application in the built environment is the logical culmination of previous developments in smart buildings and PropTech. The functional capacities of the built environment are exposed and digitalized, enabling a wide variety of use cases. With this powerful tool, building management is no longer limited by what is readily apparent but regulated by a single source of truth, fed by real-time data. And the market is noticing. Digital twin usage in the built environment is exploding in growth currently and is predicted to reach nearly $36 billion in value by 2025, an increase of nearly 1000% since 2019.

Building a digital twin building: BIM, BAM, BOOM

Architects and contractors have been using 3D technology to design and construct buildings and other structures for decades. Today, around 2/3rds of all architecture, engineering and construction firms in developed markets are working digitally using BIM (building information modeling) software. When integrated with Information and Communication Technology (ICT), this is the beginning of the single source of truth.

Dassault Systemes Catia platform

Dassault Systèmes CATIA

BIM is the 3D blueprint of the structure created during the design phase. It is a complete mapping of all physical aspects and functional systems, such as lighting, HVAC, and mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP). A BIM is not only a powerful tool for architects; it also offers benefits to engineers, like the ability to share data and collaborate with building designers. Collaborating digitally with a single source of truth streamlines traditional mires such as compliance and compatibility checking.

After the design is complete, the construction stage also benefits from the data and technology handed over from the BIM. Many contractors rely on BIM data to help optimize construction processes, known as a Building Assembly Model. BAM continues to build on the BIM database created during design, bringing in new information related to budgeting, materials, timelines, inspection data and more.

Using the BAM as the single source of truth and collaboration platform significantly decreases construction costs and timelines with enormous gains in efficiencies and accuracy. For example, ARUP saw dramatic cost reductions in planning and executing Queensferry Crossing upgrades for Transport Scotland in 2016. In partnership with Jacobs Engineering UK, ARUP leveraged BAM and BIM systems to deliver an incredible cost reduction from 4.2 billion pounds to 1.4 billion in budgeting, with additional savings in project management.

Queensferry digital twin

Queensferry digital twin construction

A 67% reduction in costs is impressive, but when put in perspective of the total lifecycle cost of a building, construction accounts only for 1/3rd (Source). That still places the lion’s share of the financial burden in the operational phase. This is what led building and property managers to utilize BIM as a tool for operations. At this stage, the model is known as a Building Owner-Operator Model (BOOM).

BOOM offers more potential to increase operational efficiency in the built environment. After construction, the BIM can continue to serve as a single source of truth for processes such as asset management and maintenance. It can track the lifecycle of various parts, the installation dates, physical properties, servicing history and more. As a BOOM, the system acts as a record keeper, warranty manager and maintenance scheduler.

What is the difference between BOOM and a digital twin? Real-time data, simulation and actionable insights.

The difference between BOOM and a digital twin is the real-time virtualization of the building and all its systems and processes. To do so requires linking the entire building components, assets, systems and processes, with IoT. It also requires migrating the BIM into a platform capable of receiving and processing data.

Once linked, the digital twin aggregates data from all building processes and operations and replicates them visually on the BIM. All asset and systems performance data, maintenance records, environmental data – everything perpetually feeds into the twin. Digital twins also leverage the power of AI to help managers and owners optimize daily operations by simulating conditional changes and turning raw data into suggested actions.

Akila Asset platform

Akila Asset platform

The power of the digital twin rests in its dynamic data quality and its ability to fuel machine learning algorithms and control. These algorithms are capable, for example, of optimizing power use based on seasons. China Energy piloted a digital twin system for managing power plants and was able to realize annual cost savings of 4 million RMB per generator unit through algorithmic management based on BIM data—optimizing for power demand differences in summer and winter automatically.

Smart from the start…or better late than never

Every building has a lifecycle, moving from design, engineering, construction, use and eventually replacement. It is more convenient to create digital twins for buildings constructed using BIM (and BAM and BOOM), but they can still be made for existing buildings. IoT installation and retrofitting allow digital twins to be developed as part of a building upgrade plan. A BIM can also be created for existing and heritage structures using 3D scanning technology and original blueprints. Considering most of a building’s lifetime costs come from its operation, digital twins still serve their purpose for built structures.

Using digital twins in the built environment

Digital twins are an exciting technology because they enable dynamic and powerful building or facility management. The ultimate purpose of the digital twin is to manage costs via surfacing a contextual, data-driven model of the building. There are a variety of ways this model is used to enhance building operations.

Growing plateaued operational efficiency

Constant streams of data fed into a single source of truth model of operational intelligence enable actionable insights into business operations. Digital twins link operational data across building systems and processes such as energy use, maintenance and occupant health. It surfaces multifaceted insights that might look like this:

  • If you don’t fix this broken air purifier, it will lead to x amount of energy increase, x amount in risk of viral spread.
  • The air purifier is predicted to have a serious issue in x amount of time, leading to increased energy use and causing x amount of excess carbon

The digital twin is the visual symbiosis of all building systems and processes, unlocking unprecedented decision-making power. Which areas of operation are lagging? Which areas of operations are excelling? The built environment can speak to you via digital twin and offer compelling new information through simulation and advanced analytics.

Cutting carbon footprints

According to Ernst and Young, digital twins can realize up to a 50% increase in sustainability and resiliency for buildings by reducing emissions. It can do so by integrating energy management into every level of a building ecosystem, from assets to systems to processes, and leveraging AI algorithms to optimize energy use.

Improving occupant satisfaction

The human-centric goal of a digital twin building is to improve user wellbeing; in the case of a building, the occupant. Data surfaced in the digital twin, such as environmental data (air quality, cleanliness, etc.), building space and infrastructure use, and maintenance and asset management provide actionable intelligence that can improve the occupant experience in a building. A building backed by a digital twin is a visible, built manifestation of a commitment to occupant comfort and environmental responsibility.

Akila digital twin

Akila digital twin

Transitioning from reactive to proactive operations and maintenance

Building operators and facility managers commonly use Computerized Maintenance Management Software (CMMS) to manage and optimize maintenance processes. Digital twins go further by integrating the functions of a CMMS and then contextualizing asset information and maintenance history with wider building operations. This provides more insight into the why and how while surfacing more actionable insights than just a CMMS. It also opens up the realm of predictive maintenance by running all data through AI algorithms, which can identify at what point in the future a given asset would need repairs in regular use and offer the same for simulated alternative conditions.

Improving the efficiency of new construction

Implementing digital twin early in the lifecycle of a building allows for the simulation of new equipment and architectural changes at each stage to optimize the assembly of the building. Building Assembly Modelling is a key component of a digital twin approach used in sustainable construction and operations.

Full Business Digitalization

Transitioning to a modern model for business intelligence and operations requires, almost definitionally, the transition to a single-source-of-truth model which a digital twin provides. The SSoT model has innumerable benefits for business processes, but it requires a constant and steady input of data to be usable.

Optimizing building operations using digital twin simulation

The ability to simulate equipment, infrastructure and environment is one of the high-powered capabilities of a digital twin. The digital twin can use current data to forecast interoperability issues, energy use, airflow, foot traffic and many other aspects of building use data. It also enables the user to project the multitude of effects on operations arising from environmental, infrastructure, or equipment changes using simulation models. These models empower stakeholders to make accurate and informed predictions about operational efficiency and forecast and eliminate bottlenecks before they appear in the real world.

Doosan wind farm digital twin

Doosan wind farm digital twin

Businesses such as Doosan Heavy Industries are already doing so. At Doosan’s wind farms, physics-based simulation is used to minimize waste in planning and construction and machine-learning algorithms adjust operations to match ideal performance models. Through the digital twin, the lifetime performance of any building becomes a manageable and optimizable asset.

Scaling digital twins to manage property portfolios

Up until recently, PropTech has been thought of as a way for homeowners and real estate owners to manage their equity and unlock the value of their property (AirBnB, etc.). Now, the understanding of PropTech is expanding as digital twin technology is fundamentally a way to increase property value for owners and occupants—especially when applied across a portfolio of assets.

Because digital twin represents a platform and not just a single-purpose tool, it enables scalability, meaning the digital twin platform for one environment will be the same core system used to manage another. The benefit of scalability makes multi-property management efficient and rationalizes smart building investment. Because you invest in a platform, your smart building strategies are more future-proof Digital twin enables dynamic, real-time management of diverse property portfolios with ease and simplicity. Optimizing property use via these powerful platforms reduces costs, avoids unnecessary costs, and links the totality of the built environment to decision-makers in a comprehensible way.

The built environment becomes virtual

Digital twins are the penultimate transformation of modern building management software and tools into a holistic, full-environment platform, primed for the future. It represents a new approach to management that is oriented toward continuous optimization and growth. Digital twin technology in the built environments signals the entering of a new era of digitalization and a strategic shift towards data-backed decision making to improve costs, operational efficiency, environmental impact and the human experience.


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Smart security: an essential part of modern facility management

Scanning the current state of play for security

Smart security, in practical terms, is the integration of digital and technological elements into a traditional human security force. Technologies such as sensors, robotics and IoT networks are enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of building and facility security teams. This technology allows for more resilient systems that can be steered by smaller operator teams, with greater awareness and transparency for personnel, management and other stakeholders.

Looking at the latest concepts in security and the newest technologies available should help stakeholders discover the best way to invest in their properties – a way that meets and enhances a site’s security needs.

What are the primary security needs for buildings and facilities?

Building security needs can be broken down into several primary concepts:

  • Access control: who can enter a building, where they can go and what they can use
  • Emergency planning: making precautionary measures against disasters and threats, either natural or human
  • Crisis management: responding to unforeseen and unique high-danger situations in which people’s safety is under threat
  • Staff & training: hiring the right people and making sure they are up to speed in using the latest technology and tools
  • Cyberdefense: the protection of sensitive company data that flows throughout networks inside or between sites

Smart security at its core is the digital transformation of all of these needs. It is as much a question of software as it is hardware. For example, even if the most high-tech cameras are installed on a property, it requires a robust network infrastructure to support data transfers and integration into a central management platform. Bringing three elements together—humans, devices and networks—is what makes a security system smart.

New tools of the trade

Every site is different; therefore, each will have its own specific needs. The question of which components, in what combination, should be a matter of cautious decision-making. Every situation is different and can be audited across several dimensions. Generally speaking, however, three major high-tech devices are making waves in security systems due to their ability to enhance the abilities and response times of security personnel.

Smart camera security

Smart cameras

Upgrading camera surveillance with the newest security software – especially facial and object recognition (such as vehicles) – helps improve baseline security needs. Smart cameras assist in identity confirmation, access control and communication throughout a building or network. Their flexibility allows them to be installed the same way as traditional CCTVs or attached to drones and robots.

Robotic security on patrol


The security industry is moving quickly to build robots that can move, gather data and autonomously respond to threats. They are equipped to record 24/7 visual and audio feeds. As with drones, the scale and targeted capabilities keep evolving, but typically part of a security robot’s attraction is the heavier, grounded presence, much as a human security guard offers when they are at a post or on patrol. Inventory checks, threat recognition and instant alerts are all typical elements of a robot’s defensive appeal.

Smart drone security at industrial facility


Drones can integrate visual surveillance with aerial mobility. Businesses, paramilitary and military organizations deploy drones to prevent and respond to a variety of security and safety threats—from intruders to fires to chemical leaks. Drones can, like robots, follow pre-planned paths through interiors, while large-scale units can survey or surveil an entire structure of almost any scale. With an ever-diversifying range of sizes and abilities, drones need consideration in their operation (requiring targeted training and experience) and how their presence will support other elements in the system.

Drones in the hands of an offensive actor also represent a significant emerging threat, such as industrial espionage, so security providers are investing heavily in anti-drone R&D.

All of these devices, advanced as they may be, still depend on the proper operation by the security team. They also need to be properly linked and configured to a site’s security network to be managed from a centralized security platform.

Centralized control

The center of all building security is the control room. It is where the human, devices and networks all intersect. It is where problems are identified teams are dispatched. The control room is the brain of a site or building’s security network nervous system. As teams have smaller amounts of humans and become more tech-heavy, this brain is more important than ever.

Smart security control rooms take in all information gathered by humans and IoT devices—all sights, sounds and even smells which are cause for alarm. Sensors and data must be configured properly, and all automated or digitalized security operations must be able to follow and be checked against proper protocol to meet a site’s standards. That’s why all IoT linked smart security systems must follow three guiding principles:

Linking the ‘T’ in IoT: increasing availability of monitoring encourages adoption. For example, following an incident (whether an accident of natural origin or negligence or a deliberate attack), stakeholders may ask why, if it wasn’t, a given key asset was not connected to the network in the first place. Sensor surveillance of essential assets increasingly looks like an inevitable part of responsible design.

Network protection: exposing so many connected devices to a local network and the internet means immediate obvious dangers and the need to insulate assets from dynamic cyber threats – data theft, ransomware, cyber-attacks to stop systems functioning – and to do so remembering that the digital side must support the physical thoroughly and vice versa, as the two are ever more intertwined.

Semantic robustness: as this data flows into the network from the sensors of a smart structure, the need to organize it at each point and direct it to secure points of access is essential. Here, the resilience question comes to the fore. In an emergency affecting many parts of the building’s system, will data processing and command centers still move smoothly, for as long as possible?

It makes sense that security systems should evolve to follow the threats and risks present for anyone involved in a given project and how risks and threats will likely move in the future.

Overall we can see how:

  • Human teams will naturally become smaller, more trained in the use of digital tools and more capable of operating multiple levels of a smart security system together
  • Digital systems require deep planning ahead of time, dynamic maintenance of physical and cybersecurity, careful assessment of new types of risk, and resilience that may be tested in constantly changing ways.

A new digital frontier brings unique threats

With increasingly digitalized business operations, and especially with greater adoption of IoT / smart systems, there is a new realm of safety and security that needs to be considered in facility security: cyber defense. While many companies are already aware of one of the largest threats to their trade secrets—corporate espionage and hacking—many do not consider their network-connected physical assets.

However, the threat is very real.

Cyberattacks can immediately impact valuable physical assets, such as on the US Colonial Pipeline in May 2021. Physical devices such as rogue WiFi routers, cameras, card data skimmers, or USB data drives with hidden malware may be used within physical structures to compromise IT systems. Estimates put the global cost of ransomware attacks in 2020 at $20 billion, up from $11 billion in 2019. As profits for malicious actors grow, so do the incentives to create new tools and techniques to compromise a system via any weak elements in it.

To be prepared, businesses can take measures to protect their IoT assets through the following methods:

  1. Assess the security of the central digital platform that oversees the building security system
  2. Consistently direct and train a well-defined team
  3. Monitor points of regular access to the system – physical or digital
  4. Ensure fluent communication between IT security coordinators and building operators

Smart security: a more efficient, effective and comprehensive offer

Security for buildings and facilities is changing in multi-dimensional ways. Technology, in the form of both hardware and software, is augmenting the abilities of security personnel, which in turn is leading to the creation of smaller and more specialized teams. The new security system puts even greater importance on the control room and a centralized digital management platform to carry out protocols and respond to threats.

However, the human element is still very important. New technology can make safety and security operations more efficient and effective, but it also has its weak points. That is why a well-trained staff is critical for smart security systems to function properly. A truly smart security system integrates three elements—personnel, devices and networks—in a way where they work together in harmony, not in place of one another.


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Tell us what you need.