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BIM vs. Digital Twin Technology

Navigating the technology landscape in most industries can sometimes feel like a nightmarish game of mad libs. The jargon can be unending and with the pace of technological change accelerating every year, it’s no wonder industries are slow to define and articulate best practices. For commercial real estate, the last five years have been transformative as organizations start to move beyond mere efficiency of space and start to consider the bigger picture. Integral to this shift has been the importance of data modelling within commercial real estate organizations.

As previously discussed in a series of blogs (or download the eBook for a comprehensive guide), Digital Twins are quickly becoming the go-to for creating robust data models about all aspects of a building at various stages of its life cycle.

However, astute observers will notice some key similarities between what is now called a Digital Twin of a built environment and BIM or building information modelling software. Understandably there has been confusion within the industry about how to differentiate these two important technologies. The confusion in large part comes down to the emphasis of BIM software on physical space represented digitally and Digital Twin’s early definition, a digital replica of the physical world. In this article, we’re going to break down the key differences between Twins and BIM. For example, does a Digital Twin have to include CAD?

Let’s start with BIM. Like Digital Twins it’s been around since the 1970s. It began as many software projects do – through research! Early researchers like Chuck Eastman began using the term “Building Description System” before it became BIM. Also, like Digital Twins, it didn’t hit the mainstream for a few more decades when the likes of Autodesk, Bentley Systems, and others began popularizing it in the early 2000s. The primary goal of BIM in its early research days still holds true, the founding fathers of BIM hypothesized that such a system would be important to contractors of large projects for both a visual and quantitative model of the build. They also figured it would be useful for materials ordering and scheduling.


The early hypothesis for BIM holds true. Even today, leading providers of BIM software appeal to AECs (architecture, engineers, contractors) by explaining the cost-saving benefits of having a central point of building reference in a 3D digital model. This model makes it easier to collaborate and recalibrate design during in-flight projects. Its benefits include lowering the risk of projects through a reduction in errors, better timeline, and budget management. It sounds quite comprehensive, similar to the Digital Twin, yet they differ in a few key aspects.

(1). BIM is tuned for collaboration and visualization during design & construction, not operations & maintenance
As mentioned above, the intent of BIM is not to create a living breathing model of an operational building but help architect and construct that building. The focus for BIM software has been to create a collaborative design and build process that visualizes the physical and functional aspects of a building. With CAD capabilities, visualization in the design and prototyping phase of a new build has been essential for AECs to understand spatial relationships. Unlike a Digital Twin, this physical information model is tuned for buildings in flight, not ones occupied and utilized daily - generating data from new devices like IoT.

(2). Not designed for real-time operational response
Digital Twins are quickly being recognized as the most valuable part of a building tech stack – it is a comprehensive picture of your built environment in real-time. A Digital Twin can give you information about the current state of build subsystems, how they are being impacted by occupant behavior when assets like HVAC or lighting might fail and much more. It is a model that evolves over time to deliver more value with each new stage of the asset's lifecycle. BIM is a key data input for any Digital Twin, but BIM alone cannot answer the operational questions facility managers may have about optimizing operations.

(3). It’s only focused on buildings – not people
According to Gartner the next evolution of the Digital Twin will see use cases moving beyond just assets to include entire organizations or the Digital Twin of an Organization (DTO). This means people, process, and behaviors will also be important data sources that give Digital Twins even more context about the built environment. If trends in CRE continue to gravitate towards understanding occupants and competing on workplace experience, the Digital Twin will certainly supersede BIM software even at the design and build phase of an asset's lifecycle.

As we begin to build things with people and flexibility in mind our building information models will also need to evolve to include behavior patterns of people and space design that accommodates their wellness. Again, BIM alone cannot achieve these outcomes.

BIM, Digital Twins and other top-of-mind topics will be presented by industry subject matter experts at Realcomm | IBcon 2019. The event will be held at the Nashville Music City Center on June 13 & 14 (Golf and RE Tech Tours June 11 | Pre-Con Events: June 12). Register today!

Sandy Mangat, Director Product Marketing, ThoughtWire
Sandy Mangat is Director of Marketing at ThoughtWire where she brings her passions for data, IoT and complex digital transformation to her role leading its go-to-market strategy for the Toronto-based scale up. She applies her expertise in IoT, B2B, and SaaS product marketing to the organization as it scales its digital twin platform and OPM applications for real estate and healthcare globally.

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RealFoundations is a global professional services firm focused on helping companies that develop, build, own, operate, service, occupy or invest in real estate make smarter, more profitable decisions. From the building itself to the way it’s developed, operated and capitalized, no firm understands the inner workings of the entire real estate ecosystem as well as RealFoundations. We Make Real Estate Run Better.

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