The Open Platform Imperative for Digital Twins

Why open-source technology is key to succeed with digital twins

February 3, 2022

By Adam Klatzkin, Vice President, iTwin Platform

As was the case with BIM nearly 20 years ago, digital twins are now reshaping the built world in terms of how infrastructure is designed, constructed, and operated. The industry has always faced challenges managing the volume and variety of data, as well as the varied ways it changes over time. This can be overwhelming whether your specialty is in project delivery or operations. The advent of digital twins has helped the industry advance existing BIM-centric processes by improving data quality and accessibility.

Combining and synchronizing various types of asset data—such as BIM, IoT, and reality data—will become commonplace and will drive market demand for digital twin applications that address diverse use-cases. We continue to see broader adoption of this transformational approach moving beyond the forward-thinking infrastructure owners, operators, and large AEC firms. When you think about all the problems that could be solved with digital twins – including cradle-to-grave optimization and opportunities to create efficiencies across all types of infrastructure – the task is bigger than what can be addressed by only a few companies. We expect to see the ecosystem of technology developers continue to grow to meet the market’s need to create, visualize, and analyze digital twins of infrastructure assets. Importantly, infrastructure digital twins can be achieved “in place,” without having to disrupt or replace existing workflows or systems.

“Regardless of infrastructure type, over time the digital twin of an asset or a project will become both its lifeblood and its central nervous system,” says Keith Bentley, Founder and CTO Bentley Systems. “We believe that to achieve sustainable infrastructure digital twins, it is imperative that you build your systems around open-source technology so the keys to your destiny remain in your hands. You are not going to ‘buy’ your digital twins from a single vendor. Instead, you’re going to assemble, build, customize, and evolve your twin with pieces from many vendors, the mix of which will change over time.”

Bentley has an ambitious vision to enable this paradigm shift through the iTwin platform – an open, scalable, platform-as-a-service that makes it easier to innovate and quickly bring digital twin applications to market. By building your platform on open-source technology, you provide your users and others who will extend the platform, with the ability to change it. They can copy the program source and access their data without paying a license. An open-source strategy has worked extremely well in other industries, but it has yet to be fully adopted in engineering, BIM, or CAD. The reason is that there has not been a meaningful platform open enough to allow people to layer on it, and even enable competitors to create solutions that work together with it.

By leveraging open technologies, we have created the Bentley iTwin platform that is relevant for many different use cases. Our platform handles important and difficult tasks such as persistence, visualization, scalability, security, and interoperability. Of course, your digital twins will have different mixes of data sources and features depending on the type of asset. The goal of an open platform is to allow anyone working on one aspect to easily combine their efforts with people working on other aspects. That means the whole thing doesn’t need to be written all at once and from one vendor. In the software world, there are many data sources. And digital twins do not have to disrupt or replace existing workflows or systems. An open platform helps us to combine everything we use with little effort. A good infrastructure digital twin platform should do the same.

The Bentley iTwin Platform

The Bentley iTwin Platform is an open, scalable, purpose-built cloud platform for developing infrastructure digital twin solutions. The iTwin platform allows your developers to build applications that solve data integration challenges, visualize assets of any size, track change, and more, using at their core vendor-agnostic digital twins that bring together infrastructure data where it is and in the format in which it was created.

Developers can use only the iTwin.js environment, but the iTwin platform includes the open-source programming libraries of iTwin.js plus additional public APIs (platform services) to build, maintain, and extract value from the iTwin.

And you can integrate users’ data regardless of the authoring source. This means that designers and engineers can continue to use their authoring tool of choice while synchronizing seamlessly with multidiscipline, multi-vendor, multi-firm infrastructure projects.

iTwin platform supports multiple formats

Vendor-agnostic — the iTwin platform supports more than 30 file formats.

With the iTwin platform, you can create, visualize, and analyze infrastructure helping to solve data integration, visualization, change tracking, security, and other challenges.

Finally, the iTwin platform provides the infrastructure and support to handle global deployments, scalability, security, and updates. The iTwin Platform provides the additional capabilities that take away the heavy lift for development including taking care of back-end concerns for security, infrastructure, and data integration.

Engineering firms, independent software vendors, systems and digital integrators, asset owners, as well as Bentley, are using the iTwin platform to solve data challenges, offer differentiated services, and deliver new software applications. The platform allows anyone working on one aspect to easily combine their efforts with people working on other aspects. That means the whole thing doesn’t need to be written all at once and from one vendor.

Creating an Ecosystem of Innovators

For the vision of infrastructure digital twins to become reality, there must be an engaged ecosystem of digital twin solution providers to grow and serve the needs of the infrastructure industry worldwide. The purpose of our open, scalable, vendor-agnostic platform is to enable developers to create and bring to market solutions that solve real problems by leveraging digital twins.

Create new revenue streams by delivering new platform-as-a-service offerings.

Engineering firms

As information-driven service providers, you need information to harness the data and deliver better outcomes for your clients. But data and technology silos make it difficult for you to help your clients improve the use of the data to optimize their facilities. With an open, vendor-neutral, and scalable digital twin development platform, you can help your clients solve their data challenges and provide differentiated services.

Independent Software Vendors (ISVs)

Growing a sustainable software solutions business is a careful balance of keeping existing clients happy providing timely support to their existing applications while looking for new, differentiated opportunities that address well recognized and unsolved critical problems, where the required R&D investment will pay off in a sustainable way allowing your company to lead the market and grow its customer base and revenue.

As an iTwin Platform Partner, you can build, sell, and support innovative solutions that can consume the ever-increasing and diverse infrastructure data that your clients have been accumulating for decades, and that until now remained inaccessible within proprietary technology silos.

The whitespace lies in connecting these data silos without forcing your client to change how they work or the tools they use.

Efficiently develop a digital twin solution leveraging a proven and trusted Platform-as-a-Service boasting an open, vendor-neutral, and scalable digital twin development platform, with all the building blocks to quickly build and support digital twin solutions for your clients.

Systems Integrators

Digital Advancement initiatives are hard to sell because clients are leery of changing the tools their different teams know and use and potentially losing critical legacy data that can span decades.

As an iTwin Platform Partner, you can build, sell, and support innovative solutions that can consume the ever-increasing and diverse infrastructure data that your clients have been accumulating for decades, and that until now remained inaccessible within proprietary technology silos.

Creating Momentum

Over the past few years, we have seen this ecosystem of user organizations, strategic partners, and third-party developers grow. All who work with iTwin.js, and the Bentley iTwin platform, are focused on building solutions to tap the vast potential of infrastructure digital twins. You are this community. And we have begun to celebrate the work you are doing with the MOMENTUM series.

“As a developer of novel digital AI advisors to asset-heavy industries, the ability to portray insights and analytics in real-time on a digital twin makes adoption faster and impact for clients clearer,” said Dr. Morgan Eldred, founder and chief ventures officer, Digital Energy. “Within ODIN Safety, the digital twin shows the evolution in potential risks at various locations enabling clients to better intervene and prioritize efforts using 4D visualization of risk and heat maps of high-risk areas. The Bentley iTwin platform enables open, scalable, and quick application development that provides an incredibly powerful way to bring complex context to organizations, teams, and people.”

This 4D visualization app includes the ability to synchronize and visualize 3D engineering data, AI-powered HSE data, and IoT data. Image courtesy of Digital Energy

Digital Energy is developing on the iTwin platform to help energy companies to predict and manage real-time worker health and safety conditions for warehouses and the process industry.

By using the change agent to connect downstream technologies to the aligned data on the iTwin platform the team is streamlining the aligned data to downstream technologies for post processing and delivering earlier and deeper insights. Image courtesy of Mott MacDonald.

Another company developing with the iTwin platform is Mott MacDonald, global engineering, management, and development firm. They use the iTwin platform to improve the accessibility and understanding of engineering data. Data from different sources can be connected in a single repository. It allows data previously locked-in model files to be accessed in a database-like form. This is a major breakthrough that enables quick and easy access to finely granulated asset data. Using iTwin.js, Mott MacDonald developers have been able to connect this data source to downstream tools to efficiently re-use and interrogate this data. The iTwin platform has empowered Mott MacDonald to maintain a software agnostic approach while gaining far greater insights from the data.

The Future: An Open Development Ecosystem

At Bentley, we are dedicated to having developers, like Digital Energy and Mott MacDonald, engage, share, and learn from each other. We created a partner program for software vendors and systems integrators to get support and guidance to help them innovate, accelerate, and scale their development efforts to deliver digital twin solutions. Learning and expanding the knowledge in the platform is important to us and to our users. Through accreditation, developers gain an understanding of the basic principles and components of developing software applications including data synchronization and federation, visualization, and querying iTwin data.

We developed the Bentley iTwin platform to be as open as we can make it. Of course, we did this because we believe in our platform. But, first and foremost, we believe in fostering an ecosystem of innovation that will grow around a common set of source codes and data types that are leveraged by third parties in creative ways, where everyone can succeed.