Bentley’s been busy, creating the Acceleration Fund, building Virtuosity and buying a Maximo reseller

Jul 14, 2020 | Hot Topics

Did you know that Bentley has an Acceleration Fund? Me neither! But it, and the company, have been making newsworthy announcements over the last few days.

Yesterday, Bentley announced that its Acceleration Fund has acquired Cohesive Solutions, the largest North American reseller of IBM’s Maximo enterprise asset management (EAM) suite. Bentley says that Cohesive has “a successful track record of delivering integrated EAM solutions for owner-operators in utilities, energy, and facilities sectors. [Its] domain expertise and consulting capabilities can now be extended to advance EAM to infrastructure digital twins”.

Based on the acquisition, Bentley’s Acceleration Fund launched The Cohesive Companies, a wholly-owned Bentley subsidiary, that will also include the services team from Bentley’s AssetWise business with software offerings from Bentley, Cohesive, and IBM’s Maximo. Bentley says The Cohesive Companies will be an integrator that helps asset owners create and use digital twins “to empower asset operators with immersive visualization and analytics visibility to predict and optimize performance”.

It’s an interesting combo — many owners run their assets using IBM’s Maximo, and a stronger relationship with Bentley’s AssetWise portfolio will only improve their ability to create and manage digital twins. No details of the acquisition or investment were made public.

So what’s this Acceleration Fund? Bentley’s press release said its goal is to “invest in new and incremental participants in open ecosystems to advance infrastructure digital twins”. In fact, it’s ALL about digital twins, agility, and the idea that new businesses may need new business models, separate from (but part of) the greater Bentley Systems structure. The Fund intends to “accelerate the creation and curation of digital twins, and to foster technologies and innovations … by nurturing new ventures, making minority investments, and acquiring and expanding digital integrators”. The fund was started earlier this year, and Virtuosity and The Cohesive Companies are two of its first ventures. The press release specifically notes that Chief Acceleration Officer Santanu Das welcomes inquiries from potential ecosystem participants, so start polishing that pitch!

And that brings me to Virtuosity. Last week, the Acceleration Fund announced the formation of Virtuosity — a Bentley company that offers a new style of subscription that bundles a Bentley application license with virtually-delivered training and mentoring services. Bentley’s press release had limited info, so I reached out and today spoke with Virtuosity CEO Allan Murphy and Marketer Rachel Rogers to learn more. I wanted to understand how Virtuosity’s offering differs from Bentley’s traditional, and why it was necessary to start a new company. Here’s what I learned:

Virtuosity aims to give small companies and solo practitioners the same kind of experience Bentley has traditionally been able to give to its largest accounts, all via a subscription. Say you’re won a contract to design a new train station; you can get an OpenRail Designer Virtuoso subscription that includes software plus access to an expert mentor who can guide you through the product’s use. The point, Mr. Murphy told me, is that these practitioners don’t need consultants to help map processes; they need to know how to do a specific task right now in order to submit an invoice on Friday. His experts are geared to supporting that level of user. And the pricing (a one-cost sub that includes both software and Virtuoso extras) means that the cost can be written into project contracts.

Mr. Allen explained that a client, say our station designer, would go to the online store at virtuosity.com, select OpenRail Designer, and the level of support (called Virtuosity Keys, 10 of which currently cost $1945 in the US), and complete the transaction online. When the transaction is completed, the designer will get an email detailing how to register users and download the software and gain access to training. So far, a standard online purchase.

The magic seems to start within the next 12 hours. Mr. Allen says a member of his team will be in touch to tailor the expert services and training to our designer’s specific situation. It may be standard training, for newbies. It may be tailor-made, to cover a specific new set of needs. It’s early days (Virtuosity has been up and serving customers since April) but Mr. Allen told me that clients are looking to these experts to upskill across simulation and design products and processes.

A couple of key points about Virtuosity:

  • Bentley’s existing training and services teams keep doing what they do. This is not a replacement but an addition, to serve smaller customers in new ways.
  • The product is exactly the same — OpenRail Designer from Bentley’s traditional sales channels is the same as OpenRail Designer from Virtuosity. There might be slight differences in logging in, for example, caused by the different licensing mechanism, but the software functions are identical.
  • It’s not possible right now to transition from an existing product subscription to a Virtuosity version, with Keys. Users will have to wait until that initial subscription ends and then re-up with Virtuosity.
  • Virtuosity isn’t a reseller, it’s a Bentley company. And that means that customers will have the same level of relationship with their vendor as they would buying via some other direct channel. That tight relationship between customer and vendor is important to people who see these tools as strategic; they need to know what’s happening and when.

So what does it all mean? I think it’s fascinating. Bentley is a 40-year-old company with many ingrained patterns, that wants to try totally new things. And so it decided to make them separate entities that can write their own patterns as they discover what works best for them and their customers. It’s a low-risk way to test out concepts that may, someday, make it to the parent. From a customer perspective, both ventures are still part of Bentley Systems and so have that big, stable software company backing.

And that fund … There is so much happening in the AEC world right now with new tech companies starting every day, hoping to bring a killer app to the market to address a perceived gap in infrastructure design, engineering, construction, or operations. It’s a recognition that Bentley can’t develop everything in-house, that some of the best ideas are not yet commercially viable and need nurturing, AND that Bentley’s focus on openness and interoperability may give it an advantage in productizing technology from a wide range of potential partners. We don’t know much about the fund, like how big it is or if there are outside investors, but it’s going to be interesting to watch it build out.

Bentley is usually pretty quiet but over the last few days, BANG — all of this. And there may be more news on Thursday when Bentley and Siemens hold a joint press conference in lieu of the canceled Hannover Fair. Stay tuned!

The gorgeous train station in the title image is from https://libreshot.com/inside-the-train-station/ used under a Public Domain License.