#YII2015 serves up clouds, photos, the IoT and more

Nov 5, 2015 | Hot Topics

Bentley’s Year in Infrastructure (YII) conference is BIG by just about every measure. It’s 800ish people, drawn together to discuss the most complex infrastructure engineering challenges in the world. The venue is big, covering nearly 1/2 mile, with YII events spread throughout. Bentley’s offering is large and diverse, covering industries that range from architecture to mining, and technologies from drawing production to sophisticated analysis. It takes quite a few keynotes to cover just the highlights and new releases. The pile of press releases is an inch thick. Big.

But no matter how big, one still has to have something to say at an event like this. Here’s what I heard and learned at YII2015:

  • Bentley is 100% focused on infrastructure and it shows. Their technology platforms could be applied to a wider set of problems but by narrowing in on AEC, Bentley embeds itself tightly with the design/engineering and owner/operator communities and, in many cases, is seen as a thought-leader and critical project execution partner. More diversification might mean more revenue, but would dilute the impact.
  • That means Bentley, the software company, is morphing into Bentley-the-solution company. I spoke with Bentley colleagues who help clients move from architectural CAD to BIM, for example. That’s a major shift in how projects are done, who creates and uses what specific information, how stakeholders are brought into the project, and much more. And it’s not just buildings; though BIM stands for “building information modeling”, the “B” is losing impact as the term increasingly applies to civil structures, mines and other non-building assets. Bentley’s consultants have experience across companies projects that individual implementers may lack, and can bring best practices and quicker ramp-ups to companies just starting with data-centric workflows.
  • As an acquirer, Bentley hasn’t been as active as Autodesk, but has snapped up some very cool technologies. If there were a “Best of Show” at YII2015, it might be the new ContextCapture, the first product released as a result of the Acute3D acquisition earlier this year. You can see here why ContextCapture is so interesting and here, how it was used to help plan the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia this summer. Photogrammetry done by drone is replacing site surveys and laser scans — one miner said that he’s replacing $50,000 site surveys that used to be done every few weeks with more frequent drone surveys that cost a few hundred dollars each (once they’ve bought a $3000 drone); they get the data significantly faster and can be much more responsive to change. It saves money and improves outcomes — what’s not to love? Laser scanning won’t go away, but some say that 80% of what is now scanned might be replaced by photography.
  • Another recent acquisition was Amulet, with C3global. Amulet adds to Bentley’s AssetWise platform, which itself started after the acquisition of Ivara a couple of years ago. AssetWise is used to manage assets: configuration management, health monitoring, inspection, maintenance, compliance and so on; Amulet adds asset performance modeling. What’s another term for performance modeling? Internet of Things (IoT). By monitoring what’s going on with an asset, whether it’s a bridge, refrigeration unit or an entire building’s energy usage, asset operators can start looking at predictive and prescriptive analytics to keep their assets going longer, cheaper and with less disruption. By all accounts, the AEC world isn’t any better at non-reactionary maintenance than any other industry but the conversations are starting.
  • One of my favorite sessions was the technology keynote — specifically, the simulation portion. CAE vendors typically talk automotive and aerospace; the AEC world has huge simulation challenges, too. Bentley coined the term “optioneering” a few years ago to describe how less time spent on low value-add tasks means more time to explore alternatives to select the best design alternative, rather than the most expedient one. This year’s word is conceptioneering, extending optioneering into the very earliest part of a design project. Bentley will be rolling out Scenario Services, a Bentley CONNECT solution that offers cloud versions of its analysis suite with compute capability and tools to explore more alternative analyses and then visually or numerically compare the results. It’s CAE, but also includes other types of analyses, like cost and schedule. I saw only a brief demo, but it has the potential to make projects’ concept stages carry a lot more credibility.
  • Even when the design is solid, many projects still go horribly wrong during construction. Last minute change orders, missing material, unclear work instructions, and poor planning often lead to projects that are far over budget and behind schedule. Bentley’s ConstructSim is a virtual constriction planning tool; ConstructSim Work Package Server combines current-state construction information with automated work packaging to try to connect some of the dots in construction projects. Bentley is also working with IPA, Independent Project Analysis, to add a construction readiness assessment process (it sounds like a maturity index-type of result) to help asset owners figure out if the information needed for data handover is ready. It’s a cool idea, but the industry is fundamentally at loggerheads on this: owners want the cheapest possible project; EPCs make money if they bill for every change the owner asks for. These assessments may start to bridge the gap.

I leaned another new word this week, too: TOTEX. We all know about CAPEX, the capital expenditures on new assets. This is the design, build, procure part of the asset’s life, and it may last 2 to 10 years, depending on the asset. OPEX is operating expenditure, the money spent every year on maintenance, repairs, greasing the gears and filling the air conditioners. This week, we started talking about TOTEX, the idea that an asset owner should care about and seek to optimize both. If you care mostly about CAPEX, you might order the least expensive piece of equipment even if its operating cost over 10 years is several times that of a more expensive one. If you care mostly about OPEX, you might order a really expensive component, because it’ll never need maintenance. TOTEX posits that there’s a balance, one that’s predicated on having the data to make the best possible decision. This applies in so many cases: figuring out how to build a process plant on permafrost; making sure you have the right modular design strategy; learning what you need to do predictive maintenance. I bet we’re going to hear more about TOTEX next year.

Finally, Bentley’s IPO. CEO Greg Bentley didn’t dwell on it, but did say that the company had filed privately with the US Securities and Exchange Commission to sell some of its shares to on the public market. He said that customers should see no change: the company’s presence and strategy will stay just as customers have come to expect. [Go here to read my take on why Bentley hasn’t gone public yet.]

Hmm. That wasn’t “finally”, this is: The Year in Infrastructure celebrates the accomplishments of those who design, build and operate roads, bridges, airports, offshore oil rigs and other assets. This year’s Be Inspired presenters were truly exceptional and it was an honor to participate in the event. Scroll through the #YII2015 flickr to see how hard the presenters worked to explain their innovations — and the faces of the entrants, when it was all over with and they could relax. A lot of very excited, happy people. Can’t do better than that.

Bentley Systems believes in giving back. The company operates the Bentley Responds Fund, which donates to infrastructure projects –disaster relief in Nepal, clean drinking water in parts of the world that don’t have access and refugee assistance– through recognized charities like Water for People, Oxfam, Engineers Without Borders and The Hunger Project. Through November 30, Bentley will match all donations to make the greatest possible impact. If you were at YII2015, you can donate via the event app: go to the Overview pane; it’s the little blue link at the upper right. If you weren’t with us, use the link above. C’mon. Open your wallets and help.

Note: Bentley Systems graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation in the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post. The title image is of the 2015 Year in Infrastructure winners, courtesy of Bentley Systems’ photographer.

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