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The mirrored world: What are the benefits of digital twins?

Building digital twins is the first step on the path to the mirrored world for businesses. Leaders are bringing together data and intelligence, creating an agile, connected future.

The concept of a digital twin -- a digital representation of a physical object or process -- isn't new. NASA used something like it in 1970 when it modeled the Apollo 13 spacecraft to test and refine the solution that would bring the stricken craft home. Today, digital twins are more pervasive than ever, and this is driving an inflection point -- the birth of the mirrored world.

What is the mirrored world?

According to the 2021 Accenture Technology Vision report, the rise of the mirrored world is being driven by leaders who are building vast networks of interlinked intelligent twins that comprise living models of whole factories, product lifecycles, supply chains, ports and even cities. They are bringing together data and intelligence to both represent the physical world in a digital space and to address bigger challenges.

The opportunities on offer in the mirrored world are a direct reflection of the extent to which businesses connect intelligent twins. Already, twins enable organizations to gather, visualize and contextualize data across projects and operations, using AI to run scenario modeling. But soon, leaders will have made data and intelligence the primary orchestrators of the business, increasing real-time agility at scale, overhauling their innovation processes and forming entirely new ecosystems and partnerships.

Enterprises that lag behind will struggle to participate in the markets and ecosystems of the future. Conversely, those that start today, building intelligent twins of their assets and piecing together their first mirrored environments, will be the ones that push industries -- and the world -- toward a more agile and intelligent future.

The path to the mirrored world

For businesses starting out on this journey, there are three things to consider:

1. Can you unlock the power of your data?

Intelligent twins have the power to turn data into actionable, big-picture insights, but only if fueled by complete and accurate data. COVID-19 revealed that enterprises cannot rely on historic data blindly -- they need to check and correct their models as the world changes. This approach requires a strategy for real-time data analytics that includes provisions for both IoT devices and sensors, and tools for data analysis and utilization.

When this is achieved, enterprises can unlock a new way of understanding the business, and a new way of running it. Take Ericsson and Vodafone as examples. The two companies are working with e.GO, an electric vehicle manufacturer, to develop a factory of the future. In the factory, machines connect over a 5G network, sending data to a network operations center that powers a digital twin of the factory. The twin is then used to enable just-in-time processes and smart tools that empower human workers with data-driven intelligence.

2. Are you able to experiment freely?

Intelligent twins have powerful simulation capabilities and, with your data foundation in place, they will let you reimagine the innovation process. Twins offer a risk-free environment to explore new ideas, strategize for many possible futures and explore limitless "what-if" scenarios.

Product development is a great example. Intelligent twins enable AI-driven design, where human workers and AI systems iteratively work together, shrinking design and manufacturing timelines. They also enable a greater proportion of the design to take place in simulation, so physical manufacturing can be delayed until the last possible moment, saving time and money.

It's an approach that Oklahoma State University and Ansys, a software company, understand well. The two organizations developed digital twins of human lungs, then simulated drug delivery for different models of patients with different particle sizes, inhalation rates and initial locations. By experimenting with these factors, they found a delivery method that may let doctors increase the accuracy of drug delivery to as high as 90%.

The applications of intelligent twins extend beyond product development to areas like personalization and security -- essentially any area where future-focused intelligence and agility delivers benefit.

3. Can you see the big picture?

In a world where partnerships, co-experimentation and global collaboration are more important than ever, it's not always enough to have a real-time view of what's happening within your own organization. The full picture includes what's happening with the supply chains, delivery partners and governments that fall within your orbit.

Porsche, for instance, has partnered with material suppliers Borealis, Covestro and Domo Chemicals, and blockchain provider Circularise, to use digital twins. By creating digital twins of materials, Circularise built a digital thread across the entire supply chain, enabling material traceability and tracking other sustainability metrics like carbon footprint and water savings.

Looking ahead, organizations will be able to share designs, information and insights easily across silos and ecosystems, virtually test how future products might work together and conduct business in ways that were simply not possible before. While it is a future that is still being built, the mirrored world will soon be the foundation upon which businesses operate -- their new mission control.

About the author

Marc Carrel-Billiard is a senior managing director at Accenture and the global lead of Accenture Technology Innovation. In his role, Marc oversees Accenture Labs, the dedicated R&D organization of Accenture; Accenture Ventures, which bridges clients with ecosystem partners; Accenture Technology Incubation Group, which incubates applied R&D into business solutions; and Accenture Liquid Studios, which prototypes and scales incubated solutions with clients all over the world.

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