Quickie: Bentley acquisitions continue portfolio buildout

Oct 16, 2018 | Hot Topics

Bentley’s annual extravaganza, the Year in Infrastructure, kicks off today in London — and there are (and will be) many announcements. Rather than dumping them all into one impossibly long post, I’m going to focus on one batch at a time. today, it’s acquisitions. And because you’re going to ask: no, Bentley has not been acquired by Siemens. Both companies seem to like the partial-ownership currently in place, working on joint offerings and coordinating go-to-market where that’s possible. But back to what Bentley announced:

Bentley acquired two companies in recent months, Agency9 for digital cities and LEGION to model pedestrian movement. In neither case were financial details disclosed and both deals are complete.

It had never occurred to me to wonder how designers model pedestrian movement. In college, before all of this computer jazz was possible, civil engineers and planners would take clipboards to spaces and diagram how people were using them. Just watching and noting — of course, that presumed the asset (or one very like it existed). LEGION and companies like it take this to a completely different level. Bentley says that LEGION counts as clients “more than half of the world’s 40 largest transit agencies’ with a pedestrian simulation application that models people’s “interactions with each other and physical obstacles, as well as activities such as circulation and evacuations, within public spaces like railway stations, airports, sports arenas, tall buildings, and street level with vehicle interactions”

Why the acquisition? To embed it capabilities into workflows centered on Bentley’s OpenBuildings Designer (aka AECOsim Building Designer), to add pedestrian movement into concept designs. Douglas Connor, LEGION’s founder, said that , within Bentley, LEGION can “advance LEGION’s “Science in Motion” vision to incorporate pedestrian simulation quite cohesively—from the strategic and capital planning of an infrastructure project, throughout its design, subsequent retrofits, and into asset operations.” That’s really cool — and means that we are using non-physics simulation (but absolutely math-based) to further understand a design.

Agency9 is about as different as it gets — but also fit into Bentley’s overarching digitalization strategy. Bentley says that Agency9 has “already provided nearly half of Sweden’s larger municipalities with city-scale digital twin cloud services for city planning and related web-based 3D visualization. Since 2012, Agency9 has taken advantage of reality meshes created by Bentley’s ContextCapture reality modeling software as the digital context for visualizing urban infrastructure assets represented in GIS data, terrain surveys, and BIM models”. That’s big, though not something I write about, since I’m more on the industrial side of the AEC world. But think about it: many manufacturing plants are, in fact, small cities with a fire brigade, security, hundreds of vehicles passing through per day, heavy trucks delivering raw materials, and so on. Creating a digital version of that world can synchronize expansions, ensure security, help plan shutdowns and on an on.

Why? Again, because it fits into the overall strategy of creating digital workflows that rely on often disparate data sources. Bentley says that its many municipal clients have been asking for Agency9’s capabilities, and that it plans to combine Bentley ContextCapture’s 3D surveying (which could be a hybrid of aerial, UAV, and ground-based imagery) with BIM via its Connected Data Environment (CDE) technologies to “make city-scale digital twins as a cloud service broadly accessible”. And THAT matters because a digital city that can’t be accessed from anywhere isn’t truly useful — you need to know where the power lines are buried when you’re standing over them, not just in the office.

During his keynote, I could have worn CEO Greg Bentley also mentioned acquiring AIWORX, which makes “smart, connected systems machines, including instrumentation, sensors and communication systems”. Mr. Bentley’s example was of storm drains– ineffective designs can lead to flooding which sensors can help to mitigate — and to improve the next design iteration. I’ll let you know if I find out more — or if I misheard. That’s possible. Mr. Bentley goes very, very fast. But if I heard correctly, think of the ways this could be expanded in the AEC world: monitoring bridge spans, dams, duty cycles on drawbridges … I’m looking out on to the crane landscape of London and that’s all I can think of — but there are so many opportunities to monitor and react to save lives and property, and to feed what is learned during less critical periods into improvement projects. But don’t go nuts on this — I’ll update once I know for sure.

UPDATE: Bentley’s PR team confirms that Bentley has entered into an agreement to acquire AIWORX. So not a done deal, yet, but close.

More to come from #YII2018.