Digital twins – a digital representation of a real world asset enabled by sensors on the asset – will be a key part of application architectures for at least the next decade and developers will need to learn how to develop and use them.

That was the message from Gartner research vice president Alfonso Velosa at this week’s Gartner Application Architecture, Development & Integration Summit in Sydney.

Velosa told his audience that digital twins would be essential for any electronic consumer IoT product.  “You cannot deal with anything consumerish without building a digital twin of it; it has become de rigeur,” he said.

“A digital twin allows you to take a digital model of the asset with relevant data so we can make better decisions. You are going to be using then in connected products for sure, but more and more you are going to be building them for enterprise applications because they are the heart of making better decisions, not just for maintenance but for the next wave.”

Velosa sought to reassure his audience that digital twins were not “rocket science”.

“I want to simplify digital twins for you because digital twin is at the heart of IoT and it is going to be part of your IoT strategy for the next five to 10 years,” he said.

“Do not get scared because you see these fancy high fidelity digital twins with finite analysis and fancy modelling. I see simple JSON envelopes proliferating because that is all we need. We just need to know what is going on with an asset so I can make a better decision.”

Gartner has identified digital twins as one of its top ten strategic technology trends for 2017, saying that, within three to five years, billions of things will be represented by a dynamic software model.

“Using physics data on how the components of a thing operate and respond to the environment as well as data provided by sensors in the physical world, a digital twin can be used to analyse and simulate real world conditions, responds to changes, improve operations and add value,” Gartner says.

IDC also flags the importance of digital twins and sees them modelling not just physical objects, but entire systems, such as a supply chain, enabling decisions to be made using near-real-time information.

“…Companies will create digital models of their supply chain that will not only report performance and current conditions but also enable accurate simulations of possible scenarios,” IDC says. “The opportunity is to tie this supply chain modelling to optimise how and with whom products are brought to market.”

Forrester is similarly bullish about the prospects for digital twins, saying they will become integral to next generation software architectures and will accelerate IoT development.”