YII 2022: Bentley’s evolution nudges a data revolution

Nov 30, 2022 | Hot Topics

Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to attend the 2022 edition of Bentley Systems’ Year in Infrastructure. While much was similar to prior years’ in-person YIIs, a lot was different. There was certainly the simple joy of being together in real life that I’ve written about before. But today’s Bentley isn’t the same company as the one that presented the last live event in Singapore. in 2019. For a start, Bentley went through an IPO in 2020 to create liquidity for many long-time employees who wanted to retire and needed to sell the shares they had earned during their long tenures at Bentley. Many of these people were in leadership positions by virtue of talent and seniority. The IPO ensured the liquidity some employees needed while also making it easier to hire top talent to fill those new vacancies. And the talent is impressive. — read on.

One thing that hasn’t changed at all is that YII is about customers first and Bentley second. For those just tuning in, Bentley customers submit entries for juries to consider in something like a dozen categories. Entries could be about projects underway or completed — buildings, bridges, dams, all sorts of infrastructure types. Or an entry could be a process innovation a project team made based on Bentley technology and wants to productize. Juries winnow down the dozens of entries are winnowed down to the top three in each category; these are invited to present their project to the jury and event attendees. The juries select a single winner in each category, who receives an award at a swanky gala ceremony. What is so hard to convey is how important this is to the people submitting their projects: they work hard on the project, struggle to communicate their processes and achievements in high-stress presentations and then, perhaps, win at the gala to much applause. Some winning teams climb up on stage and pump their fists in the air, making this a victory. Others are so obviously grateful for the recognition. But all of them see this as career-defining, helping them in their current job and setting them up for the next one. It’s so much fun to be a part of. Enter your project if you’re eligible. If you’re invited, go. If you weren’t there this year, watch recordings of the finalist presentation — totally worth it. You can see them here.

Bentley’s content was unobtrusive at YII 2022, which is one of the comments I shared with the company. They invited media, analysts, investors, and customers to the event and, I feel, missed an opportunity to talk more about what Bentley is seeing in the market and how it is helping clients anticipate and meet those challenges. The company is overflowing with thought leadership and didn’t share more than a tiny bit of it in the main sessions. CEO Greg Bentley, CTO Keith Bentley, and their new-ish leadership team held a press conference and a plenary session, but that was 3ish hours out of the 20 or so of the event. You can see the sessions Bentley has chosen to put online here — you will need to register.

That said, it was interesting to watch the leadership team in action. Greg Bentley and Keith Bentley have been with the company for decades. Many long-timers remain (and it was such a pleasure to see them again), but many key roles are filled by newer recruits: Nicholas Cumins (COO), Mike Campbell (Chief Product Officer), Kat Lord-Levins (Chief Success Officer), and Chris Bradshaw (Chief Marketing Officer) all joined Bentley since 2018. Nicholas comes from SAP and brings a big-public-company (and cloud) experience. Kat and Chris were at some point in their careers with Autodesk, Kat from customer success roles, and Chris from marketing and AEC. You likely know Mike from his time as PTC’s CAD and then AR guy; he brings bold energy to the more restrained Bentley vibe. Watching the team’s dynamic when they were all up on stage together at the press briefing was fun (Keith Bentley was in the audience for that one). Greg Bentley was more relaxed than I’ve ever seen at one of these events —and I’ve been to many over the years— and appears to enjoy having such a solid team to share the load. Too, the energy just jumped off the stage: new ideas from outside the Bentley bubble are reinventing how the company does things. Change is hard and scary, and Bentley seems to be embracing it.

This is Bentley’s current leadership at the press event at YII. From the left, Chris Bradshaw, moderating the session; Mike Campbell, Katriona Lord-Levins, Nicholas Cuminsand Greg Bentley.

Source: Bentley’s Flickr stream

The plenary featured Greg, Nicholas, and Keith, along with a cast of product leaders. Keith was his usual articulate champion of all things iTwin, hammering home that Bentley needs to help customers move to a data-centric view of the world and their projects, even as many of the deliverables remain file-based. Keith said that for valuable data to be discoverable, it can’t be stored in files—yet files are a logical and useful mechanism that’s here to stay.

Keith told attendees that Bentley is now entering Phase Two of its iTwin initiatives, rolling out iTwin-enabled versions of its core products. That doesn’t, he stressed, mean moving everything to the cloud. Users that like desktops can stay there; critical elements of their output may be connected to the cloud, where that makes sense in an iTwin-enabled workflow. He was clear: customers won’t lose capabilities they rely on, but their workflows will improve. Inputs will be more current since data can come from connected sources. Outputs will smoothly go where needed, for example, to directly update a digital twin from design applications. He said, “Phase Two is about empowering our user base to become digital twin natives. [Ultimately,] nobody will be thinking about their role in the project. They will be thinking about how they contribute to everything that everybody else is doing at the same time.” We’ll see the first versions of this in the next release of MicroStation in 2023. It’s worth watching Keith’s part of the plenary, which starts at 79 minutes but also see Nicholas Cummins’ lead-in, at 55 minutes, here.

The company announced several new offerings at YII 2022, the Infrastructure Cloud and iTwin Experiences, to bring this to life. The Infrastructure Cloud uses Bentley’s iTwin Platform to enable ProjectWise (project delivery), SYNCHRO (construction planning), and AssetWise (asset operations) to access data as needed within a single project as well as across projects. The objective is to create a single repository of information about an asset across its lifecycle. Ken Adamson, SVP of Enterprise Systems, told me that this is the first step in Bentley’s plan to “connect everyone and everything” in a project, regardless of the software used to create the data. The goal is to create a giant, virtual repository in the sky that can inform design, construction, operations, and refits with accurate, up-to-date information. This should increase data reuse and improve outcomes with each successive project — starting each project at with more and better information than is currently the norm.

iTwin Experiences are what the company calls “single pane of glass” views that overlay engineering (ET), operations (OT), and information technology (IT) data and processes. This will all be at any level of granularity or scale, geo-coordinated, and searchable. iTwin Experience sounds a lot like the joint offering with Siemens, PlantSight, for process plants: a way for asset owners, operators, and other stakeholders to visualize the asset from a combo of CAD and reality capture models, to query and to analyze data from and about it. And, as with PlantSight, it can become a platform from which engineering firms can develop offerings for these operators, incorporating their own data and algorithms for specific processes or assets.

Alongside Infrastructure Cloud and iTwin Experiences, the company announced iTwin Capture and iTwin IoT. Capture lets users create high-resolution 3D models of infrastructure assets from video or images from drones, digital cameras, scanners, and mobile mapping devices. This means that one can start modeling with a reality mesh rather than a CAD model, a crucial step in working with existing infrastructure assets. (This isn’t wholly new; it’s an extension of Bentley’s long-time ContextCapture concept.)

iTwin IoT, not surprisingly, is used to acquire and analyze sensor data. This is becoming increasingly important as sensors are placed on bridges, dams, and other critical infrastructure to monitor condition changes. Getting (and analyzing) this real-time data makes it possible to assess safety and risk during construction and routine operations. 

Switching to the Going Digital customer sessions … I had been a YII juror for many years, which meant I had to be in the room when those finalists presented. This year, I was able to indulge my curiosity and learned about geoprofessional (aka subsurface), power grids, and construction. I’ll let you check out the presentations for yourselves —they are all excellent, via the top/first link, above— but my main takeaway from them all is this: There are so many possible things Bentley could add to its portfolio (more types of infrastructure, more simulation, more visualization, etc.) but the Seequent acquisition was brilliant. Yes, it was expensive, BUT: every project Bentley users are involved in starts underground. Buildings and bridges need foundations. Dams need ground stability measurements. Oil platforms and wind farms need to know the characteristics of the seabed to function effectively. Mines need to understand the surrounding soil as well as the ore deposit. Seequent, when added to Bentley’s other geotechnical offerings, enables a complete project scope and workflow, from economic evaluation and concept design to detailed design, construction, maintenance, and operations. We’re not there yet, but several of Bentley’s product people hinted at coming offerings that span that entire cycle, customized for specific types of infrastructure.

If you want a quick overview of Seequent and Plaxis and why they matter, go here and click on the Seequent breakout session. The NGO example alone is worth your time.

I went to the grid session to learn more about the newest Power Line Systems acquisition. However, that was not to be since the finalist presentations were all about substation design, placement, and construction. Also something I know nothing about — fascinating. The winner in this category was an underground 220-kilovolt substation in China. It was a demonstration project that will ultimately enable Wuhan to build a first-class power grid for 200,000 residents in northern Wuchang. It was a complicated undertaking: the densely populated area it serves meant it had to be underground, near the Yangtze River, which presented subsurface issues. Many technical disciplines had to be involved, which meant that 3D workflows and integrated technologies were the only way forward. The project realized significant land use, cost, and scheduled time savings. See that here, in the Grid section.

Whenever I attend sessions about topics I know so little about, I am reminded that the world is infinitely more complicated than I am aware of. I flick a switch, and light happens — via generation, grid, substation, wires, towers, poles, and transformers that someone else designed, built, and operates. It’s good to get out of my normal and learn more about this stuff!

Construction is a topic I know much more about —I started my professional career at Bath Iron Works, building ships— and I was very interested to see how Bentley’s SYNCHRO acquisition has evolved since its debut under the Bentley banner at YII 2018. At the time, I wrote about how a project team saved significant time and money (and loss of face) by proving that a construction plan couldn’t work. We’ve come a long way since then. Construction planning now often involves SYNCHRO-style 4D exploration to ensure that everything is actually buildable, that materials arrive on time and aren’t in the way, that the proper trades are available, and so on. 

One of the YII finalist presentations in the construction category took this to another level. DPR Construction’s client wanted to gut and rebuild an existing office building as a hotel, using prefabricated modular bathrooms to make the ambitious schedule possible and to minimize the impact on the neighborhood. But how to get hundreds of these units staged outside the building, brought into an active construction site and to their final locations, and then hooked into plumbing, HVAC, and other services? DPR used SYNCHRO in preconstruction planning—for example, one idea worked for staging but couldn’t get the units into position inside the building, so it had to be discarded—and to visualize and communicate these alternatives (and the final plan) to contractors and stakeholders — and, ultimately reduce the construction schedule by two months. Prefab modules will become more common because they offer the time, cost, and quality advantages of assembly-line-style manufacturing. DPR showcased the challenges of using prefabs in an existing structure. Check out their submission here, in the Construction category.

TLDR. I know. Summing up:

Excellent customer presentations, check. New product announcements, check. That was all interesting, to be sure, but so is this: Each product announcement builds on acquired technology. According to the press releases, iTwin Experience incorporates capabilities from OpenCities Planner–which came to Bentley via the Agency9 acquisition of 2018. iTwin Capture uses bits of ContextCapture (Acure3D 2018) and Orbit 3DM (Orbit GT, 2018). iTwin IoT incorporates capabilities from the sensemetrics platform (2021) and Vista Data Vision (2021). We can already see it happening with Seequent. It’s clear that Bentley knows what it’s doing with these acquisitions and is playing a long game, in some cases, to create something that is bigger than each individual component.

Anyone who reads the news knows that we need to build homes, hospitals, schools, and roads much faster —and at higher quality— than we’re currently able to. Using drawings as the primary means of communication won’t cut it at an accelerating pace; data and the visualizations and analysis it enables will be the only way to meet society’s needs. And making that communication mechanism open to all data types is critical — and here is where Bentley has the advantage with the iTwin Platform. And we mustn’t forget iTwin Capture and iTwin IoT; it’s not just about new assets since we need to nurse our aging infrastructure along, even as we rapidly build more.

One thing becomes clear after listening to the YII finalists’ presentations. Bentley technology is critical to the projects they carry out and valued for the benefits it brings, such as projects done on time, on budget, at higher quality, and with lower environmental effects. It is impossible to measure the impact of the technology as separate from process changes and a highly educated workforce but still: Bentley has an awful lot to be proud of. And so do the 2022 Year in Infrastructure Going Digital award winners. Congratulations!

Note: Bentley Systems graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation in this event but did not in any way influence the content of this post.

The title image is of one category winner –I wish I knew who– flanked by Greg Bentley and Sandra DiMatteo. There are no photos of the little dances people did or the fists pumping in the air as they came up on stage. This just-after-the-formal-winners’-photo is the best I could do to show the pride and joy felt by the winners. Source: Bentley’s Flickr feed.

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