The National Digital Twin (NDT) programme is an initiative by the Centre for Digital Built Britain, a partnership between the University of Cambridge and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The programme aims to use data to improve how infrastructure is built and operated.
The Digital Framework Test Group (DFTG) works as an advisory committee for the programme. Recognising that the legal implications for furthering the NDT programme would be plentiful, the DFTG invited a group of private practice lawyers to join a series of roundtables to discuss and debate the potential legal outcomes. I was pleased to chair this group and provide my perspective from a construction point of view. I was joined by peers across a multitude of practice areas from other law firms, as well as my colleague Ian Mason, a partner from our Financial Services Regulation team.
Lawyers are often seen as a last resort and are therefore too often forced to work reactively. This fresh approach by the DFTG will hopefully flush out potential pitfalls and provoke further legal debate in this fast moving and highly exciting area of technology.
Our group met on four occasions, to debate the initial responses about the NDT from each practice area and look at the live National Underground Asset Register. We also engaged in general discussion to bring the various streams together and debate a theoretical case study of a digital twin.
Our roundtable discussions have been converted into a report which was presented to the DFTG and is now available for review on the DT Hub.
The four main outcomes for further discussion were:
The legal side of the governance of the NDT was a point raised again and again during the roundtable sessions when looking at various aspects of the NDT. We felt there was a gap in governance which could perhaps best be filled with legislation or taking mandatory action at Government level. We felt that a top down approach would best work for this. There was concern to avoid competitive advantage being given to some, or even being perceived as such.
2. Early Engagement
We were all thrilled to be involved so early on with the NDT and saw it as very wise for the DFTG to be proactive in the legal space, as opposed to the all too often path taken of being reactive. We felt that a continued engagement during the early years of the NDT would be very sensible. In addition, it was suggested that other non-technical areas also might benefit from early engagement including specifically insurance, finance and regulators.
3. Interaction of Stakeholders
It was highlighted that there are plenty of legal challenges for the interoperability of the NDT. It was felt that existing contracts and methods of procurement would need to adapt to respond to the changes ahead. It was also noted that the DFTG needs to ensure its thinking is always a tad wider than the NDT. This was highlighted in particular in the energy sector where the interaction between the UK and international operators is critical.
4. IPR, data and access
The IP created in the NDT was debated at length and needs to be further considered. This point circles back to point one above. The governance of the NDT needs to set out clearly where the IP sits. Further the levels of access ought to be decided in a top down fashion. Liability and obligations regarding the NDT can be assessed and allocated but we felt that the Government lead approach would be crucial.
Overall, we posed various questions for the DFTG to consider in its implementation of the NDT. I believe that none of the issues we raised were too difficult to resolve legally. We deemed the project achievable legally but only with continued legal engagement for further consideration, to allow for issues to be raised and ideas for solutions to be formed.
Please do take the time to read and consider the report. The DFTG welcomes any further comment on this.
About the author(s)
Sarah is a principal associate in our Construction and Engineering team practicing transactional law.
Sarah advises clients in relation to various construction matters and specialises in advice relating to sporting projects and digital construction.