Spatial digital twin


Spatial Digital Twins are an advanced spatially accurate digital representation of the real world and are emerging as a powerful tool to help people improve their understanding of our physical environment, make better-informed decisions, build predictive capability, and offer just-in-time analytics and products which should lead to improved outcomes and benefits. Digital Twins assume that the value of data is vastly improved when it is aggregated and then distributed and shared for decision making. Conceptually digital twins can mean a model of an object, a physical asset, a process or a complex environment such as a city, but in this section we are referring to the built and natural environments.

Today Spatial Digital Twins are operating at various levels of maturity and complexity from individual built structure both above and below ground, through to the development of an accurately positioned city model across most major sectors of the economy. However Spatial Digital Twins are recognised as being at a relatively early stage of maturity right now, with much more potential value to be unlocked as their use cases mature. The challenge is in understanding the complexity of applications across industry sectors, the level of maturity of the digital twins in terms of quality and value, and the frameworks which enable data sharing and governance.

The drivers for Spatial Digital Twins include, aging infrastructure, resource distribution, connected and autonomous transport, mandatory digitalisation of cadastral information, and a critical need to address urban risks such as changing climate and rising inequality.

To drive a consistent approach to digital twins in the built environment, ANZLIC has developed the Principles for Spatially Enabled Digital Twins of the Built and Natural Environment in Australia which describe high-level principles, benefits and use cases for spatially enabled digital twins in the Australian context. The principles also outline the vision of a federated ecosystem of securely shared spatial digital twins and their value for the Australian economy.


  • Spatial Digital Twins are an essential component of the overall digital transformation agenda across government and industry, which is advancing rapidly
  • Spatially-enabled Digital Twins can be designed to better plan, manage, and maintain resources in urban environments.
  • Place based or spatially accurate digital twins are driving the need for better access to high quality data to allow advanced visualisation and analytics.
  • As data availability increases, along with compute power and cloud infrastructures this will enable the development of models or digital twins and the increasingly complex simulations of the built environment, whether it be city models or transport networks, or fine element method (FEM) based process models or designs.
  • In 2009, the number of people living in urban areas (3.42 billion) surpassed the number living in rural areas (3.41 billion), and since then the world has become more urban than rural.
  • Currently the UN Sustainable Development Goal #11 for sustainable cities and communities cannot be achieved without significantly transforming the way we build and manage our urban spaces
  • The key opportunity is that while data frameworks are in their infancy (relatively speaking) and offer potential to integrate, current and future data streams to bring together different models we are a long way from the vision of Spatial Digital Twins are available as open data and simulations using open standards at all levels of governments


1. It is essential that Australia collaborate with the local and global initiatives to develop the use of this technology. These organisations include Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), International Standards Organisation (ISO), the US based Digital Twin Consortium and The Smart Cities Council. The Australia and New Zealand chapter of The Smart Cities Council is stewarding the development of a Digital Twin Strategy for Australia and New Zealand. Their goal for the Strategy is to create the conditions for a thriving Digital Twin market place in the region. OGC is working closely with ISO on standards development with active working groups, while the Digital Twin Consortium is still in its formational stage, but given its membership it has the potential to have a powerful influence on the way forward.

2. There has been a fundamental shift in data science from data to models as the knowledge of the world increases which includes digital twins. A key part of the solution is increasing model interoperability and integrated modelling with related technologies including BIM, underground assets AI and ML to enable new forms of visualization, learning, and reasoning. Within Australia, while participating in the above initiatives, it is essential to identify the principles, data frameworks and data governance, including standards which will enable data sharing and use.