Industrial companies have long struggled to put together the computational horsepower and modeling techniques required to derive meaningful insights from sensor data, giving rise to the so-called digital twin. Johnson Controls is building one such virtual version of physical assets, using Microsoft Azure cloud software to improve how buildings are designed, constructed, and managed.\nThe platform, called OpenBlue Digital Twin, reimagines machines and other physical objects as software that enables companies to create digital versions \u2014 called twins \u2014 of physical buildings and systems and visualize them.\n\n[ Learn the essential skills and traits of elite data scientists and the secrets of highly successful data analytics teams. | Prove your data science chops by earning one of these data science certifications. | Get the insights by signing up for our newsletters. ]\n\nOpenBlue leverages machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), as well as edge computing technologies, to analyze large datasets and predict patterns and trends, says Mike Ellis, chief digital and customer officer of the $22 billion provider of building management systems.\n\u201cThe common thread across all of those is digital and connectivity technology,\u201d Ellis says.\nDigital twins: An elusive solution\nDigital twins enable businesses to monitor and manage buildings, mitigating risks that have become common with the rise of connected systems. Feeding on information generated by sensors, the digital twin can fire off a service request to service an ailing elevator or heating and cooling system before it breaks down. Digital twins could also help point employees or visitors to vacant meeting rooms in buildings, a critical function at a time when companies are adhering to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, and even open parking spaces.\n Johnson Controls\n\nMike Ellis, chief digital and customer officer, Johnson Controls\n\n\nConnecting the dots that drive decision-making and improve business outcomes requires real-world data in context, which is what makes a digital twin so useful, says IDC analyst Jonathan Lang, who researches the convergence of IT and OT.\nIndustrial companies have struggled to scale digital twins, however, spending considerable dollars on service and data integration while failing to build the requisite models of their physical assets.\nMoreover, data generated from connected assets have grown too vast for most industries to visualize and query, much less apply analytics or AI models. Cloud vendors, with their infinite data modeling resources, are well positioned to help enterprises build out these systems because they can contextualize sensor data produced by heterogeneous machines and applications. \u201cThis is the approach companies are taking to make sense of the droves of data they\u2019re taking in,\u201d Lang says.\nMaking the most of Microsoft Azure\nInto the breach steps Microsoft Azure. Built on Azure, OpenBlue simulates Johnson Controls\u2019 building and device management technologies, including HVAC systems such as chillers and heat pumps, fire protection and detection, as well as cameras and other safety and security solutions, says Ellis.\nOpenBlue simulations leverage Azure Digital Twins, an internet of things (IoT) service that blends data from disparate devices and business systems to model the physical world. Tracking both past and present events, the software enables customers to simulate possibilities and help predict future events for entire ecosystems, such as buildings, factories, farms, energy networks, railways, and stadiums.\nThese digital models empower property managers with insights that optimize operations and reduce costs, as well as support COVID-19 safety and security protocols as employees return to the office. Johnson Controls and Microsoft are addressing how people can return to work to maximize space while operating facilities safely with the following measures:\n\nSustainability: optimizing energy use with a goal of reducing carbon emissions at a time when commercial buildings consume as much as 48% of the world\u2019s energy\nSafety: addressing physical access and safety using live video analytics and spatial intelligence\nFacilities management: integrating workflows with collaboration platforms such as Office 365 and Microsoft Teams to increase productivity and collaboration\nSpatial optimization: maximizing the use of spaces by merging building and occupancy data to create insights for facility managers\n\nIndustrial alliances gain traction\nJohnson Controls is currently piloting OpenBlue with The National University of Singapore (NUS), where it currently operates a $50 million innovation center to test digital twin solutions. NUS plans on using OpenBlue to deploy connected building management across the campus to improve energy and space optimization, predictive maintenance, and unmanned operations.\nFor Microsoft, the Johnson Controls alliance represents two significant milestones: the general availability of its Azure Digital Twins service, as well as the next leg of the company\u2019s so-called \u201cindustry cloud\u201d strategy. The former includes customers such as Bentley Systems, Doosan, Ansys, and Brookfield Properties, while the latter is part of Microsoft\u2019s plan to woo more enterprises to Azure by creating an easier on-ramp to its cloud services.\nMicrosoft is hardly alone in its industry cloud push.\nIDC\u2019s Lang says that cloud vendors are ostensibly striking \u201cco-vendor\u201d deals with industry leaders because they lack the subject matter expertise to build the digital twin capabilities that have such great potential. Other co-vendors who have struck similar partnerships are PTC and Rockwell Automation, C3 AI and Baker Hughes, as well as Siemens and SAP.