Bentley Systems’ Be Inspired awards felt different this year. It’s always a showcase of tough, complex infrastructure problems like righting the Costa Concordia, bringing clean water to underserved populations, or building a massive rail structure under a vibrant city that cannot stop. New this year was the idea that these project stakeholders could learn more from one another than the project presentations would put forward; that there were process innovations, IT solutions and other ideas out there worth exploring. Bentley called these “Summits” and, if the Project Execution Summit was anything to go by, ideas flowed fast and furious as customers, Bentley staff and industry experts shared their findings and experiences.

Greg Bentley keynote

Let’s back up a bit, though. Jurors and the media reported to London for sessions that started last Monday; Tuesday was devoted to Be Inspired Finalist presentations and Wednesday saw company keynotes (and a dynamite presentation by Sir John Armitt, Chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority & Chairman of National Express, on how London planned for, put on and deals with the aftermath of the 2012 Olympics) and then progressed to the Summits.

Bentley made a number of announcements at Be Inspired, though no acquisitions this time. Most interesting, to me, are these three:

  1. ProjectWise Construction Work Package Server (coming in early 2014 but in customer previews now) helps users collect and put a clean, “fresh” user interface to the information needed on the construction site. Correctly managing data created in engineering or the field, propagating changes as a project proceeds and ensuring that the right people and materials are on the site at the right time (obviously) leads to significant savings and increases job-site safety. What’s been missing until now are standard processes and tools to make this happen. I didn’t speak with any of the users trying this out, but will keep you posted as I learn more.
  2. SpecWave Composer, built on the acquisition announced last year, enables users to create, manage and reference engineering specifications, codes, standards, and other structured documents. Specs sound simple and are definitely not sexy, but ensuring that the thousands of components on a project are compliant is no small task. Automating code checks saves time, money, and rework and can forestall litigation
  3. Bentley is one of the more innovative engineering software companies when it comes to business models. For years, Bentley has offered its largest accounts the option to buy a pool of software licenses that are good for any of its products, to be accessed as, when (and by whom) needed. That enables the buyer to use the right software as project workloads change: architecture during design, then detailing, then construction planning, for example. With SELECT Open Access, any size buyer is able to opt-in for this level of access and can also choose to true-up on a quarterly basis. That’s big, since smaller firms can really use this flexibility to manage the software and training to stay on top of their project load.

Of course, no vendor event would be complete without offering glimpses into new, cool technology in the company’s research (and maybe development) pipeline. Asset Painter, a Bentley/Crossrail project, links asset tag information with the relevant 3D models to offer visual help in decision-making across Crossrail’s very large and diverse project ecosystem. Bentley also demoed more of its augmented and virtual reality prototypes and showed how sensor technology on bridge structures can give feedback to continually assess the structure’s health. There’s also more on point cloud streaming and management, as well as product-specific enhancements in just about every category.

Finally, CEO Greg Bentley’s keynote. Mr. Bentley is, at heart, a quant. He likes numbers and data and again showed the utilization data his servers accumulate as customers check out and use licenses for his company’s products. I’m still poring over the data, but at first glance, it’s both heartening and worrisome: His customers log an average of 10 million hours per week on Bentley products. On a global basis, that’s been trending up 7% year/year during 2013, with slightly higher growth in EMEA but peaks and valleys in Asia and the Americas. Of concern is that utilization in the building and plant disciplines started strong in 2013 but growth has declined in the second and third quarters to about 5% — still growth, but definitely moderating — as civil and geospatial skyrocketed to over 10%. Utilization growth among its largest customers, too, has slowed dramatically as year/year growth fell from 7% early in 2013 to 3% or so by Q3. What does this mean? I’m not sure yet but will let you know as I ponder it more and speak with some of my user contacts.

But The Year in Infrastructure 2013 really was all about the awards. I was on the Building, Construction, Offshore and Structures jury and, I’ve got to say, we were deadlocked in a couple of cases because there was no clear and obvious winner — they were that good! But a choice had to be made and I urge you to check out the list of entrants and winners here and watch the finalists’ presentations when Bentley posts them. Some amazing stuff. Fellow jurors, it was an honor to work with you!

More to come …

Image credit: Monica Schnitger

Note: Bentley Systems graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation at the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post.

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