The Living Digital Twin – Unlocking New Value in Commercial Real Estate

Blend between city buildings at night, a data spreadsheet, and graph lines

The concept of digital twins is not new. They have been around for decades.  What is new is the untapped value that digital twins will generate for the commercial real estate market in the very near future. Commercial real estate is on the cusp of a significant transformation toward increased building connectivity, autonomy, sustainability, and resiliency. Digital twins, and the platforms in which they are designed, are the key to enabling that transformation and unlocking the new value to owners, investors, and operators.  

What are digital twins?

Starting with its most foundational definition, a digital twin is a virtual simulation of the real world. Importantly, a digital twin can be designed to replicate both non-living and living elements in an ecosystem. This can include physical structures, data, people, and environmental factors. The more elements captured within a digital twin, the more holistic and valuable it can be to the end-users. A user interface then brings the physical world to life at your fingertips. Value is delivered through the data the digital twin captures, the insights it generates, the learning it enables, and the actions it prompts. Moreover, the digital twin allows end-users to run virtual simulations, conduct tests, and find patterns that are otherwise not ever seen because this comprehensive data is impossible to capture in the real physical world.  

Evolution of digital twins

While digital twins are not new, they have evolved and advanced over time. An early concept of a digital twin was practiced by NASA in the 1960s and was instrumental in the Apollo 13 rescue mission. In that case, NASA built a physical simulation on Earth of the Apollo 13 systems to test and ultimately resolve technical issues occurring in space. As a proven concept, NASA still uses digital twins to monitor and manage machines in space today.  

While NASA’s early digital twin concept was largely a physical replication, digital twins have evolved with the introduction of new technologies. With the help of sensors and IoT, digital twins have become more virtual and cost-effective. Cloud computing and edge analytics are enabling digital twins to capture raw data inputs and generate actionable insights in real-time.  These insights drive informed, automated, and autonomous actions to uncover opportunities, solve problems and push optimizations for optimal performance. Through advances in backend design, digital twins can also be more flexible and adaptable to future technological advancements. The more future-proof and robust a digital twin is, the more powerful value it can deliver to the marketplace. While digital twins have evolved, they have yet to reach their full potential for the built world. Not because digital twins aren’t applicable to the real estate industry, but rather because the industry hasn’t broadly adopted the technology… yet!  

What industries are using the concept of the digital twin?

Digital twins are being adopted by the most technologically advanced commercial industries and companies at a rapid pace. For example, they’re used in energy and manufacturing sectors to monitor and address the health of large-scale assets, such as heavy-duty gas turbines or jet engines. Tesla actively uses digital twin technology in all its vehicles to provide better service for car owners and deploy product enhancements, such as software updates.  Bosch compares digital twins of its production lines to live production lines, in order to efficiently identify and address production deviations.  

Across all these examples, the digital twins are providing valuable actionable insights to employees and other key stakeholders. The digital twins can monitor utilization, detect maintenance opportunities, provide insights for product or production optimization, and more.  Ultimately, these actionable insights empower companies to stay competitive through enhanced products, improved customer service, and reduced costs. These strategies are not only relevant to the most technologically advanced industries or companies. Innovating and staying competitive is critical for progress in any industry, including real estate.  

Why real estate should leverage digital twins

While other industries have been utilizing digital twins for decades, real estate has just recently begun to open its arms to smart building technology.  This is the first step in the right direction, but the real opportunity is for real estate to leverage digital twins to create true cohesion of the ecosystem and unlock new value. Currently, smart buildings operate with disparate and decentralized systems – access control systems, HVAC, security, energy, water, and more. Building data lives in silos. Human actions within and surrounding buildings are inefficiently captured or not captured at all. The result is critical knowledge gaps on how buildings perform, are utilized, and can be optimized. Digital twins turn a smart building into an intelligent building by delivering three types of value for building owners, operators, and investors: connectivity, cost reduction, and revenue enhancement.  

In terms of connectivity, a digital twin should connect everything in a building’s ecosystem.  Foundationally, it creates a shared data infrastructure for all disparate systems in a building.  It should also capture human data, such as space utilization, building occupancy, and service maintenance requests. It should even incorporate external factors, such as whether to fully simulate the real world. The result is advanced connectivity of all disparate living and non-living elements in and around a building. Altogether, a robust digital twin should create a living brain for a building, endowed with machine learning for holistic understanding and with integrations to proactively optimize systems for the building’s ecosystem.  

A digital twin unlocks new opportunities for sustainability, operating efficiencies, and cost reductions. Through true system integrations, digital twins can deliver building autonomy.  Rather than running utilities on a standard seasonal schedule, energy use can be optimized, and utility costs can be reduced by automatically adjusting HVAC for upcoming and on-demand needs of the building. Additionally, fault detection and predictive maintenance can improve machine utilization and building resiliency by detecting weakness in a building system before it occurs.  

By knowing where and how tenants are utilizing space, digital twins provide new market opportunities for revenue enhancement. Flex space offerings, amenities, and reservation pricing can all be optimized by better understanding the human interactions and needs within the building’s footprint.

It’s important to reiterate that real power comes from capturing all this data in a single building digital twin. Unifying data from building systems, people, and external factors breaks down data silos and create more holistic opportunities to unlock value.

The entire world is going digital – real estate should too!

Digital twins are a proven concept and are delivering value across industries.  It’s time for real estate owners and operators to demand the digitization of the built world.  Whether or not they do, insurance agencies, lenders, and investors should be demanding it of them. Digital twins can mitigate risks associated with natural disasters, tenant lawsuits due to inadequate security, and real estate professional liabilities. By understanding the impact of external factors, such as weather, a building can take action to improve its physical resiliency. Through a more deeply connected access control system and security team, property owners and managers can provide a safe premise and reduce the chance of crimes against tenants. The current high level of real estate activity has led to an increase in claims for “mismanaged” transactions and developments. Real estate companies are advised to obtain coverages that address operational exposures. Digital twins can help to limit these operational exposures, which is why insurance agencies and lenders will favor those real estate companies who adopt them.  

It’s clear that leveraging a digital twin will unlock new value for an individual building, but the power of the technology doesn’t stop there. Digital twins will easily translate single buildings into digital portfolios for true asset and portfolio management. Imagine the ability to look at all the equipment in a portfolio of 100 buildings to discover that one large portfolio company has 55 chillers.

Act today. Cohesion is on a mission to lead the transformation of buildings by empowering them with true intelligence. Our comprehensive software solution equips real estate owners and operators with actionable intelligence to optimize properties and portfolios through connected operations and community features. With a single web and mobile interface, Cohesion delivers true building connectivity and intelligence at your fingertips. Connect with us today to turn your properties into intelligent buildings and get early access to our cutting-edge platform, powered by our patents-pending digital twin.  

About Cohesion Founded in 2018, Cohesion helps commercial buildings better integrate disparate

systems into a smart building SaaS platform. It empowers real estate owners to maximize

asset and portfolio value with all building systems, workflows and people seamlessly

connected in one solution. The vertically integrated platform improves health and

wellness, experience, efficiency, and sustainability. Cohesion provides the industry’s most

comprehensive data, enabling operators to enhance tenant experience, save money,

and increase operational transparency. Cohesion is a spin-off venture of ESD, a leading

Chicago-based global engineering design firm at the forefront of next generation

building design. For more information, visit and follow @CohesionIB.

Share this Post