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The mirrored world: Digital twins redefine business intelligence

29 Mar 2021

The world’s most visionary leaders will use technology to master change and shape the future, Accenture declared in its recent Technology Trends 2021: Leaders Wanted report.

The report outlines five trends:

  • Stack strategically: IT architecture becomes a crucial differentiator for businesses competing in their industries
  • Mirrored world: Digital twins, AI, and data generate new possibilities for business and intelligence
  • I, Technologist: Automation, natural language processing, low-code and other tools are democratising data and technology
  • Anywhere, everywhere: Businesses take advantage of the rise of remote and hybrid workplaces 
  • From Me to We: A new take on partnerships and multiparty systems in the post-COVID-19 landscape.

One of these trends, Mirrored World, addresses the growing influence and importance of digital twins in the enterprise.

Originally hailed for their ability to monitor, simulate, and streamline data from devices, digital twins have evolved to incorporate levels of artificial intelligence and innovation - the likes of which are now being used to link models of factories, supply chains, ports, and even entire cities.

Digital twins are part of what is described as the ‘mirrored world’, which is the culmination of digital twins, intelligence, and the unstoppable evolution of business.

The report, which polled more than 6200 business and technology leaders, found that organisations are using digital twins for many different reasons, such as strategy development (34%), operations improvements (34%), innovation (33%), business model development (27%), and testing new products before launch (27%).

While those are the most popular applications, digital twins are hardly limited. Respondents list other uses such as energy efficiency, monitoring, decision-making, cybersecurity, and predictive maintenance.

The report found that 46% of respondents have built their digital twins with at least 50% input from artificial intelligence or machine learning - and it’s for good reason.

Not only do digital twins help businesses gather, visualise, and contextualise data from different sources, they also enable businesses to act on data, and to understand ‘what-if’ scenarios.

“As enterprises connect more expansive networks of twins and build out the mirrored world, these capabilities will grow exponentially. Leaders will be able to make data and intelligence the primary orchestrators of the business, increasing real-time agility at scale, overhauling their innovation processes, and forming entirely new mirrored-world ecosystems and partnerships,” the report notes.

While few organisations (11%) have plans to ‘significantly increase’ their investments in digital twins in the future, 54% say they will at least put some increased investment in. For 29% of respondents, they will not change their investment levels, but 5% plan to decrease investment.

While respondents did not go into detail about their investment levels and how these may change, enterprises are highly aware of how digital twins fit into their own business strategy and that of their wider partner ecosystems.

The report found that 87% of respondents agree that digital twins are becoming essential to their organisation’s ability to collaborate in strategic ecosystem partnerships, while 12% remain neutral and 1% disagree.

Ecosystem partnerships, such as those between Microsoft and Unilever, are a prime example of how digital twins can change business.

The two companies are working together to create intelligent digital twins of Unilever’s factories, allowing Unilever to track factory conditions, test any potential operational changes, and to improve efficiency and flexibility.

Already, Unilever has shaved off billions of dollars in costs simply by cutting back energy usage. All of this was possible through the company’s pilot twin in Brazil.

The report declares, “Bringing data and intelligence together at this magnitude is what makes building intelligent twins and the mirrored world so critical."

"They will let enterprises ask and answer big-picture questions: How will it impact my operations if I have to shutter this warehouse? What will happen if this vendor’s supply chain fails? How can I update this product to be more sustainable — and is that achievable with my existing vendors?”

Digital twins could also be integral to the development of strategic ecosystem partnerships, according to 86% of respondents. Just 12% disagree.

In light of the pandemic, there has never been a greater need for visibility and insight as organisations try to answer the big-picture questions.

That, Accenture says, is where digital twins and the mirrored world will be the catalyst to help many businesses operate, collaborate, and innovate in the markets and ecosystems of the future.

When respondents evaluated the statement "Leading organisations will start to push the boundaries of the duality of the real world and virtual world, including the need for persistence and seamless navigation through both", 91% agree, 8% remain neutral, and just 1% disagree.

The report concludes, “The businesses that start today, building intelligent twins of their assets and piecing together their first mirrored environments, will be the ones that push industries, and the world, toward a more agile and intelligent future.”

To read the Technology Trends 2021: Leaders Wanted report, click here.