By Noam Livnat
Chief Product & Innovation Officer
Is your company using a digital twin to manage your workplace? While electronic representations of real-world objects have been around for decades, businesses are now exploring novel ways to harness this technology and combine it with business processes, driving efficiencies and data-driven decision making . Because a digital twin is composed of data layers, the latest innovation is to add a “personnel layer.”
A digital twin opens this virtual representation to a new class of workplace management professionals: human resources, space planners, and employee experience managers. A dynamic digital twin of your workplace will yield actionable data that affects everything from space planning and move coordination to lease negotiations and employee management.
The DNA of a Digital Twin
Simply put, digital twins provide electronic means to represent physical items. They can be simple and static as a two-dimensional CAD file of your floor plan. They can also be more complex, such as a cloud-based application that dynamically represents your global real estate portfolio, from the location of each building down to the position of every security camera or defibrillator.
But without additional data to provide context and without supporting business processes, a digital twin is just a visual tool. With detailed layers of shared data, however, a digital twin enhances an organization’s ability to operate efficiently and make smart decisions.
Consider a common object like a coffee maker. The machine comes with a printed manual that typically includes a cutaway diagram and basic instructions. But this information is static and analog—it can’t be easily updated, searched, or shared with multiple users. It also can’t be merged with related data sets, like your monthly coffee expenditure.
Now imagine a digital twin of the coffee maker. This virtual model captures the smallest details of its construction, allowing you to easily troubleshoot errors. The digital twin also contains a wealth of usage and maintenance data, all of which helps you to maximize lifecycle costs.
This is just a taste of what a digital twin can do. What if you could document that the coffee maker is located in your main kitchen, was last serviced two months ago, brews an average of four gallons a day, and is one of three other machines at this office? The data contained in this digital snapshot radically alters how you can maintain this single asset. These powerful insights can now be applied to an entire building or portfolio to proactively manage workplace expenses.
Digital Twins and Workplace Management
Building owners and property developers are already familiar with CAD (computer-aided design) and BIM (building information modeling). While these tools offer insights into physical property, they are ultimately disconnected from the most important part of your business—employees and their associated real estate costs.
The value of real estate has historically been tied to square footage, but what if it was linked to headcount? What if the question we asked was: “How much does it cost to place one employee in my building? What about 100 employees? Or 250?”
BIM and CAD simply aren’t equipped to answer those questions. They aren’t configured to tell you the number of assigned desks versus hots desks. They do not show that Mia, Jacob, and Alyssa sit in a row of private offices. And you can’t use them to assess the impact of increasing or decreasing your workforce. There’s simply not enough information available to decide whether or not to renew a lease.
But a workplace digital twin with operational management capabilities is an extraordinary opportunity to improve operations, enhance service quality, and transition to fact-based decision making. A digital twin transforms how decisions are made in four key areas:
- Space & Asset Management – A digital twin enables you to monitor office occupancy to make sure it remains within your targets: too low and you’re inefficient, too high and you have (literally) no wiggle room. For example, you can create a rule that stipulates floors shouldn’t exceed 90% occupancy. When the headcount reaches the 85% threshold, the digital twin can generate an alert.
- Move Management – Paper copies of seating charts are an outdated and clunky method to coordinate office moves and quickly turn into a scribbled mess when multiple departments are involved. But with a digital twin of your workplace, planners can collaborate and provide real-time input instead of exchanging hard-copy drawings and combining the data. You can retrieve an exact count on any floor at a glance. You can then explore different allocation options with a few keystrokes.
- Lease Management – Without integrated data, it’s nearly impossible to determine whether your portfolio can support your future business needs. Is it more economical to add employees to a Denver office or expand an existing San Diego location? A standard lease doesn’t tell you that—you can only compare the price per square footage. A digital twin enables you to proactively manage real estate expenses. For example, you could set an alert nine months before a property’s lease ends. This advanced notification creates a window of time to consolidate square footage, change your office density, or terminate the lease.
- Employee Management – Managing new hires and existing employees is usually the domain of HR, but what about resignations or terminations? If you only have a tool like BIM or a BMS (business management system), there’s no process in place to indicate when and where a person has been removed.
A digital twin that interfaces with HR software merges siloed data into one platform. Imagine an automatic push when a person’s employment ends that goes to the space manager, facilities department, and security team. Without this kind of automation, it’s a challenge to distribute this critical information to all the necessary contacts.
A digital twin with layers of workplace insights provides a shared picture for key leadership. It automatically merges data from separate systems to help improve processes and support decision making in a context-rich environment. In addition to collaboration, this virtual double can be leveraged to run reports and scenarios. With a digital twin, you can pair staffing forecasts with real estate costs and uncover innovative ways to maximize your operational expenses.