A digital twin is a virtual representation – usually of a physical asset or process.
Businesses have been rapidly adopting them across many industries. According to Accenture, 65% of executives expect their organization’s investment in intelligent digital twins to increase over the next three years.
For example, Microsoft helped Unilever develop digital twin technology that it uses to enhance its production processes and improve how its vast workforce uses technology.
Digital twins are also being used to aid business intelligence and strategic planning. These systems allow companies to perform ‘what if’ analysis to determine all potential outcomes to inform their decision-making.
It’s a small step to see how these virtual spaces could be a massive aid to HR.
In a report, Thomsons places the technological development of HR at the center of an organization’s digital transformation.
“Technology is now in the driving seat,” the report concludes. “In previous years, tech was more reactive, with solutions often created as a result of market demands and to meet the needs of organizations.
“But we have seen a marked shift this year. Technology is now the main, proactive force driving change in the market, with organizational strategy created and defined because of technological innovation.”
Multiple benefits of digital twins
Speaking to UNLEASH, Frances Sneddon, CTO at Simul8, explains how digital twins should become an essential component of HR’s future: “From an operations point of view, it’s possible to create a digital twin of an entire workforce that will provide a helicopter view of resourcing for any number of different scenarios.
“For example, what happens in the event of crucial job roles going on extended leave, or last-minute mass absence from an outbreak of COVID-19? How about recruiting around variable periods of demand?”
Sneddon continues: “While these are questions for the operations team, the HR team will want to play a key role in creating the digital twin.
“A lot of value can be added through making sure this strategic planning is also looked at through the lens of employee needs.
“Taking this approach will help improvements to workflows be felt by the people on the ground as much as it is by those looking at the bottom line, which is a win-win for any business.”
Business leaders and their workforces alike are still feeling the effects of the COVID-19 disruption. However, a post-pandemic future is slowly coming into focus.
Workers who are unlikely to return to pre-pandemic working patterns need a new approach to their management and development. Here, a digital twin that maps a workforce can reveal insights that would otherwise be hidden from HR.
As digital twins that mirror physical assets can be used to create new virtual products and include AI-based design, how key workers could be utilized also needs to be considered.
Mirrored production environments can also feed back to HR as skills shortages are revealed. This forward-looking approach to workforce management is also being supported and extended via predictive hiring, which is the perfect match for digital twin technologies.
Speaking employees’ language
When HRs use digital twin technology, they are speaking their workforce’s language. Accenture defines what it calls ‘post-digital people’, who place technology at the center of their lives.
Over three-quarters (76%) of businesses believe they need to dramatically re-engineer the experiences that bring technology and people together in a more human-centric space.
These new spaces will be multifaceted, as are the needs of individual workers – to deliver personalized experiences.
Enterprises have seen how enhancing customer experience can also be applied to their employees’ experiences, enabling skills, knowledge and innovation to thrive.
All of these elements can be managed via a digital twin HR teams can personalize to their precise needs.
Thomsons’ research – conducted in association with employee engagement specialist Darwin – clearly validates this approach to HR and technology, with nearly half of the organizations surveyed using ‘best-of-breed integrated ecosystems’.
Some 48% of respondents state this best describes their HR technology landscape and, with 32% of respondents self-styled innovators and 31% early adopters of technology, this is obviously the way the market-leaders are moving.
China Gorman, managing director, UNLEASH America, says: “Employees from all demographics are beginning to expect – and in many cases demand – workplace technology to be as easy to adopt as their latest consumer applications.
“Workplace technology needs to be intuitive and easy. No more manuals. No more classes. Adoption as easy as learning the latest online game.”
Businesses can see how their markets have shifted. Their processes and workforces have also been in flux for the past 18 months.
Implementing digital twin technology can streamline operations, reveal new insights, and evolve recruiting and workforce development when applied to HR.
“Businesses can simulate radical changes to operations to see what happens, in a way no one would dare attempt in real life,” states Capgemini.
“For example, suppose you want to test large-scale relocation of work between countries and then introduce radical process changes to make best use of productivity-enhancing AI and automation solutions. How could you make that work?”
People as physical assets
“People are also physical assets,” he says. “Now organizations are starting to create digital twins for every employee. Using IoT (Internet of Things) and other connected data sources, we can see movement around offices, providing invaluable workplace insights into space management, utilization and facilities.
“This allows efficient modeling of anywhere-work scenarios and pairing real-estate costs with staffing forecasts, helping us maximize operating expenses.”
Casemore also points out: “A bigger opportunity lurks. If your digital twin is more informed, perhaps it can advise on career progression, when it’s time to take a holiday, or how you might react to a new manager. Invasive, or a potential holy grail of human capital management?”
As an asset for HRs, digital twins could go far beyond just workforce operational insights.
For the past two decades, businesses have been led by the technology they deployed. Post-pandemic, enterprises should be more proactive and take control of the technologies they use.
People are an asset, but as Simul8’s Sneddon warns, care must be taken to ensure digital twins benefit all: “At the outset, the primary function of a digital twin will be to identify the optimal way of completing everyday business processes to generate the greatest output.
“It’s important, however, to ensure that any streamlining is not brought in at the expense of employee performance and motivation.”
Sneddon concludes: “Look at digital twins as a way of creating and experimenting with high-performing teams.
“Training and development needs, wellbeing monitoring or a chance to test different team structures depending on skill levels and employee profiles could all be built into the twin, to provide solutions that look to address individual needs as much as improving overall operational excellence.”
The use of technology by HR has matured to the point where virtual environments can be constructed that enable teams to not just manage their workforces but also predict their future needs; how their employees want to enhance their skills; protect their wellbeing, and be a key component of their business’s strategic planning.
As technology is a core driver for business, HRs must take the next step and embrace their enterprise’s digital twin.