I spent a few hours last week at Bentley Systems’ annual Be Together user conference. Analysts and journalists are typically not at this event but I was invited to moderate a session on the use of standards in the process industries and took advantage of my time in Philadelphia to attend the company’s opening keynote. A couple of highlights:

  • CEO Greg Bentley reviewed the highlights of the company’s “annual report”: revenue in 2011 was up 10% to $523 million, led by a 16% increase in revenue from Asia. Revenue from greater China has doubled in last two years, with 42% of Bentley’s 2011 license sales in China coming from new accounts.
  • Mr. Bentley’s keynote included a rapid-fire trip though a number of customer highlights, including the London, UK, Crossrail project. One of the coolest aspects is that the project uses point cloud differencing to monitor progress — a relatively new use of the technology, as it becomes faster, cheaper and easier to use. Only now are we at the point where the software that processes point clouds can help a user detect differences without re-modeling the entire structure.
  • The UK Highways Agency will announce sometime this month that it is standardizing on Bentley’s Exor Assetwise and eB configuration and change management software to manage a significant chunk (90%?) of the country’s roads. That’s impressive and implies an unusual degree of cooperation by the asset owners, one that is going to be essential to improving infrastructure in general; as we move forward. How many times have you driven over a lovely new stretch of road only to “fall off” at a municipal boundary onto a stretch that is much less well maintained?
  • Mr. Bentley also introduced OpenRoads, a common code foundation for InRoads, GEOPAK, and MXROAD V8i for roadway design. Users of these products can now benefit from design-time visualization, capturing and persistence of design intent and hypermodeling, in keeping with the company’s vision of construction-driven engineering across the disciplines it serves.
  • The most interesting announcement came towards the end of Mr. Bentley’s presentation. The company has acquired InspectTech Systems, Inc., a provider of field inspection applications and asset management services for bridges and other infrastructure assets. InspectTech’s BridgeInspect Collector/Manager is a software-as-a-service solution that helps owners plan inspections, collect and manage inspection data, and comply with government reporting requirements. Mike Schellhase and Jeremy Shaffer founded the company and have joined Bentley Systems. Mr. Bentley talked about combining as-designed and as-built data with as-observed condition information (CAD models and drawings, point-cloud scans, and surveyed data) — giving bridge owners much more visibility into their assets’ condition than was possible before. Terms of the deal were not released.

I like Bentleys’ focus on moving engineering data beyond design, to planning, construction, commissioning/handover, operations and maintenance — including inspection — until the cycle begins again with a design project. Too often, significant effort is expended during design and then never used again. Different forms of essentially the same data are recreated to meet the needs of downstream users, creating huge amounts of waste. Bentley’s efforts through acquisitions and data integration are a start; the diverse entities involved on these projects need to change how they work in order to fully realize the advantages — but, as the roads of the UK are about to show, the benefits are not insignificant.

Towards the end of the keynote, I dashed off to the plant standards panel. Our panelists, Kevin Rikley of Hatch, Bill Ellsworth of DuPont, Robin Benjamins of Bechtel and Rob Harper of Bentley, helped the audience understand how a standard like ISO 15926 comes into being, how iRING demonstrated the benefits of standard-based workflows and how each company is involved with standards today. I hope the session led the audience to consider the benefits of communicating and collaborating via standards.

Be Together offers attendees a chance to see the latest releases and attend training sessions but, above all, learn about the breadth of Bentley’s portfolio. I was only there for 4 hours, but almost every attendee I spoke with wanted to learn about products outside their daily work — a piping designer for wastewater plants wanted to learn about BIM and an architect, about site design products. Infrastructure projects are always multidisciplinary, so understanding the flow of information and the needs of upstream and downstream users can only improve the efficiency of the process as a whole.

Note: Bentley Systems graciously covered expenses and registration for the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post.