Bentley’s YII 2017 is all about infrastructure, done well

Nov 10, 2017 | Hot Topics

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, last month I attended Bentley’s Year in Infrastructure (YII) in Singapore. As usual, it was a massive event, with briefings, meetings and presentations (oh so many presentations). To organize my thoughts and try to describe it all for you, I’ve broken the week into three general topics: Bentley — the company and products; Bentley and its customers, and Singapore, where we’re going to start.

Singapore is amazing. This was my first visit and the photos I had seen (and Anthony Bourdain’s recent Parts Unknown episode) left me unprepared. It’s tropically beautiful, with flowers and greenery and wonderful spicy smells everywhere. It’s all under construction, as this tiny island nation works to absorb more people and businesses. More to come on this. The food … oh. I’m not one for fancy food and this was my happy place: Singapore is the land of the food hawker stall. A wondrous mix of Chinese, Indian, and Malay available from Mom and Pop storefronts and in the foodcourt at the massive Marina Bay Sands complex (the three tower hotel with the surfboard of restaurants, pools and observation decks on top). YII provided plenty of lovely food, but I hit up that food court as often as seemed prudent and I’ve even Amazon-ed a couple of ingredients to try making things on my own. I had been told that Singapore tightly enforces its rules and I’m sure that’s true — but it didn’t affect my enjoyment at all. I don’t chew gum so don’t have to figure out how to get rid of it, I always flush the toilet and, while I do jaywalk, I don’t do it in places that are foreign to me (and where they drive on the other side of the road). No problems at all. I found Singapore to be lovely, and Singaporeans to be open and welcoming.

One of the most obvious things everyone notices about Singapore is its role as an economic and trading center in South Asia. Construction cranes are everywhere, dozens of ships line up every day waiting for berths in the port — the place buzzes with the energy of building and commerce. And that was visible, too, in the YII attendee, finalist and winner pools. The Marina Bay Sands convention center crowd was younger, had a greater proportion of Asian faces and was more female than is typical at the industry events I attend. In all, there were 14 finalist presentations from China. out of a total of 51. In all, 49% of finalists were from the Asia Pacific region, 29% from the Americas and the remaining 22% were from Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Many of the thought leadership presentation were still given by middle-aged Americans and Europeans but, if YII 2017 was any sort of indicator, the critical mass in the industry is shifting Eastward and to a younger crowd. And that’s a good thing, I think, since the AEC industry can’t keep doing what it has always done; it needs to take advantage of new technologies and processes in order to fix some of the big global issues ahead of us.

This year’s YII may have been the most technologically significant in a while, as Bentley and its partners queued up a blizzard of announcements. You can see them all here, but this is what I found most significant:

  • CTO Keith Bentley, who hasn’t appeared at a YII in a couple of years, took to the stage with Chief Product Officer Bhupinder Singh, to announce Bentley’s iModel 2.0 cloud platform and its first service, iModelHub. Keith called this his second once-in-lifetime development idea, saying “I think it’s the most exciting thing we’ve ever done”. Keith said that iModelHub will “semantically and physically align their constituent digital components, and maintain immersive visibility for comprehensive and continuous design reviews across all project disciplines and participants.” Hmm. As I understand it right now, the iModelHub synchronizes and distributes the changes that are made by users of Bentley’s (and other common AEC) design tools and managed in ProjectWise. iModel 2.0 aims to address inconsistencies in how data was created, stored and accessed (feet? meters?) in the original i-models and to use iModelHub to do “accounting” about the changes in the i-models that led to the current state. To do this, iModelHub will use application-specific “iModel bridges” that are triggered by ProjectWise to read data and to align it from an application’s native format into iModelHub‘s neutral semantics, structure, units, and coordinates. Out of the box, users will get access to/from Bentley’s own products and Autodesk Revit; there will be an API to help others create bridges from other applications. We will all learn more about this as time goes on — but it’s clear that Bentley continues to try to address the interoperability issues that remain so troublesome in AEC, leading to much loss of valuable insight.
  • Many technologies that were just recently considered cutting edge are now mainstream — and none exemplifies this better than reality modeling. Bentley said that 111 of the 409 nominated projects used laser scanning or photogrammetry, nearly double the pace of the 2016 nominees. Cheaper capture devices, cloud computing to process the cloud/images, and smoother workflows all contribute. Bentley announced partnerships with Siemens and Bureau Veritas around Bentley’s ContextCapture technology to support the “continuous survey” of physical assets. The goal: an always up-to-date digital model of the asset.
  • The Bentley/Siemens partnership covers much more ground than reality computing. I’ve written before about hot the companies are coming to market with a (Siemens) Comos + (Bentley) OpenPlant offering — well, something similar is happening for electrical utilities. Announced earlier this year and explained in much more detail at YII, the companies aim to digitalize utility planning, design and operations, with new products that combine (Bentley) OpenUtilities, for designing transmission and distribution systems, with (Siemens) PSS Sincal, used to plan simulate electrical and pipeline distribution networks. Bentley’s offering looks at entire networks; Siemens’ at the equipment (transformers, switches). The combo is intended to enable utilities to create a digital twin of their power delivery systems, which makes many downstream processes possible:.connecting new power sources to the grid, figure out the impact of storms or other stressors.

Finally, CEO Greg Bentley and Chief Communications Officer Chris Barron made time for me before we all left Singapore. In a wide-ranging conversation, we covered:

  • That IPO. It did sort of happen, just not as we all expected. I certainly think of an IPO as a public event, like Altair selling shares on an open market. That’s not how Bentley did it. Greg told me that Bentley needed to create liquidity for some long-time employees and owners of acquired companies that had shares they wanted to sell. Siemens expressed an interest in acquiring them, and the companies found the US Nasdaq Private Market, or NPM, to be the best solution. It creates a private market for Bentley shareholders to sell to Siemens. No public filings or earnings calls required — but a somewhat liquid market. I would have preferred a more public Bentley but can see the advantages: being public (in the publicly-traded sense) is expensive and time-consuming, forces a short-term perspective on investments and revenue opportunities … Being private or semi-private has its advantages.
  • Greg was very clear, though: Siemens is an important but junior partner, financially. They own a small stake now, and it will never be much bigger than “small”. The Bentley family and employees remain in control.
  • Regardless, Siemens is a very influential R&D and go-to-market partner.  The companies hold frequent meetings on industry and product strategy and the progress on their various joint development projects. My take: Siemens, with MindSphere and PLM, informs Bentley’s thinking around the product digital twin, production digital twin, and performance digital twin — concepts that are not typically well known in AEC. Add in Bentley’s BIMish** technologies, its AssetWise platform for maintenance and reliability, and the two can take on industry and infrastructure challenges. Given that this relationship really got going just a year ago, tremendous progress has been made.

So much more .. but this piece is already far too long. I’d like to end with this: Greg is a thoughtful, deliberate guy, who doesn’t speak unless he has something to say. One thing that he said often during our chat was this: “First, do no harm.” He seems conscious that his customers are, typically, conservative in their adoption of technology. Bentley can’t get too far ahead of them, but does need to exhibit the thought leadership that will draw everyone forward. Alliances with Siemens, Microsoft and others leverage specific expertise and ensure a reasonable, conservative direction — doing no harm to the installed base while creating offerings that address broader market needs.  Solid — I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings.

The Year in Infrastructure 2018 is back in London, the week of 15 October. Prep your project submissions and I hope to see you there!

Bentley has created a resource page for the event, here. You’ll find a list of the Year in Infrastructure winners, links to finalist presentations, press releases and videos of Greg Bentley’s keynote, Keith Bentley and Bhupinder Singh’s fireside chat, Helmuth Ludwig’s and product presentations, video from the gala –the dragon and lion dancers come in at 3:00 (up) and Chris Barron does his wonderful take on Ella Fitzgerald’s “Let’s Do It” at 13:15– and much more. You can also download a white paper on iModel 2.0 here.

** I’ve been using PLMish for a while, to mean the ever-expanding definition of PLM as it’s used by many vendors, and to refer to the growing universe of technologies and suppliers that are part of it. For example, is VR a PLM technology? Perhaps, maybe, I dunno. But rather than argue about it, I’ve lumped it into PLMish and that seems to be OK for most people. BIM started out as Building Information Modeling — specific to building-like buildings. A couple of years ago, Bentley tried out BrIM, for Bridge Information Modeling and found few takers. The last couple of years, it seems that Bentley has expanded “BIM” well beyond buildings, so I’m going to refer to this expanding portfolio as BIMish: the application of information modeling techniques and concepts to building, campuses, bridges, civil projects, railways, and so on. If anyone has a better idea, I’d love to hear it.

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 their photo of Keith Bentley and Bhupinder Singh.