Beca Chief Digital Officer, Thomas Hyde, calls for a national digital strategy and a digital twin model of the entire country to pull together our country’s fragmented building plans.
New Zealand is about to invest more in our infrastructure than we’ve ever done before. This infrastructure will shape our communities by determining where we live, how we travel, the availability of work, and our access to essential resources. It has the potential to address inequality and enhance the lives of everyone who calls Aotearoa home.
The development of a National Digital Twin will provide us with a unique opportunity to harness technology to help us make informed decisions about our infrastructure investment. By creating a digital blueprint, government and industry will be able to work together to test assumptions, engage with our communities and develop long-term plans that meet our economic, environmental, social and cultural aspirations.
The government Covid-19 infrastructure stimulus provides the biggest opportunity since the great depression of the last century to significantly improve the built environment. If we have this precious environment to live in, how do we unlock the power of the potentially unlimited digital resource that is available to us to create the most liveable and sustainable human experience with our built infrastructure?
My teenage daughter and her friends are already creating virtual worlds on Minecraft (yes, there’s the occasional angst when what they’ve built gets eaten by monsters) so to think that New Zealand could do the same with its infrastructure is entirely plausible. Of course, creating a national digital strategy and a digital twin won’t be as easy, but New Zealand is sufficiently small and nimble to do it faster than other countries.
Singapore already has a physical model of its whole city; now it’s building a $70 million detailed digital model. In the UK, too, there is a Centre for Digital Built Britain which plans to do something similar over the next 30 years. I think we can take a similar but very practical approach given our small size, and relative few layers of governance, and make progress in a much shorter timeframe.
The opportunity is to put the same importance on the creation of a national digital asset as we will on building new physical assets. It’s going to require strong collaboration between the private and public sector to make it happen, but the potential economic and social benefits are enormous.
Beyond setting up the digital infrastructure, engagement with communities around infrastructure is critical. Government agencies need to make sure they involve everyone who is going to be affected. At present, it is often just the idle wealthy who have time to complain about the cracked footpaths outside their homes. However, we need to make sure everyone is part of the conversation. There may be someone who has a far greater health and safety need, but we’re just not hearing about it. So, the question we should be asking ourselves here is how can we use digital strategies to connect with those who are most affected?
Beca was behind Project Tala, a Samoan language chatbot designed to enable Samoan-speaking New Zealanders to contribute to plans in their neighbourhood. That’s just one example of how we can tap into technologies that are already available to us to engage with communities in a meaningful way. We have a fantastic opportunity in front of us to create a NZ digital twin that will support decision making, engagement, collaboration and planning for the ultimate benefit of all New Zealanders.