Editor, GIS Monitor
January 7, 2003
This week Bentley continued a bit of a buying spree. In December the company purchased UK-based Bentley Integrator Cadac Limited, which focuses on AEC solutions. On Monday Bentley announced an agreement to purchase Infrasoft, the one-time distributor, then owner of Moss System's MOSS. On Tuesday word was out that the company was also purchasing a division of TransDecisions.
Infrasoft has two product lines. The MX product line includes a series of civil engineering applications for road design/renewal, railway engineering, site development, and landform design that run on AutoCAD, MicroStation and stand-alone on Windows. One big selling point is that data can be moved seamlessly from one platform to another. The other product line, Arenium, has won not one, but two CADENCE Show-Stopper Awards. Despite those accolades, I am not familiar with the product at all. Perhaps it simply fell into the black hole of other collaboration solutions that seemed to come out at exactly the same time in 2000. One positive note: this one is still around, which may attest to its quality. Several reviews are available at CADdigest and this review in CADALYST compares four civil offerings, including Infrasoft's.
Infrasoft's website notes that in 2000 the company had an exceptional year and won awards for its software and its business acumen. The company boasted 2000 seats at that point. Here in New England, Departments of Transportation in both Maine and New Hampshire are Infrasoft users. The MX line grew out of the old MOSS software. Because MOSS worked with GDS, which was used by both states, when the time came to move off that platform, part of the decision, it seems, related to being able to maintain access to MOSS' core tools. Both DOTs moved to MicroStation and MX software in the past few years.
The corporate backgrounder on the Infrasoft website notes that Infrasoft was chosen as Autodesk's Preferred Transportation Software Solutions Provider. That status may have changed since Autodesk purchased CAiCE last year. Also interesting in the backgrounder is the fact that Dave Arnold, founder of Softdesk, which was acquired by Autodesk, sits on the Infrasoft board. I recall that being the topic of raised eyebrows at the time it was announced in 1998.
Bentley's acquisition of Infrasoft confirms two things. First, Autodesk and Bentley are squaring off in the civil engineering/transportation arena. Autodesk offers products from its Softdesk acquisition and others from the more recent CAiCE acquisition. Bentley offers GEOPAK products (acquired in the acquisition by merger with that company), InRoads products (acquired from Intergraph) and now MX products. Both companies want to count as many DOTs as possible among their customers. DOTs provide steady income and relatively large seat counts. Moreover, once a DOT chooses a package, its consultants typically purchase seats, too. Both Autodesk and Bentley have to manage the challenge of acquiring incompatible tools. How they solve that, and present their product lines in the marketplace, will be part of the path to success or failure.
Second, this acquisition confirms that it's very hard to be a third party CAD software developer, even if you support both major CAD vendors. Infrasoft, CAiCE, as well as Bentley-acquired mechanical software provider, Rebis, support AutoCAD and MicroStation. Is it possible that committing to two, or in the case of Infrasoft, three platforms, was not cost effective and helped bring on the acquisitions?
One more comment on how these two CAD leaders might approach transportation in the future. Both have some work to do to integrate the solutions into GIS. Bentley does have a dynamic segmentation solution, but hasn't actively marketed transportation design data as a source or resource for GIS. Autodesk speaks about GIS data use throughout the lifecycle (to be fair, so does Bentley) but has yet to illustrate it completely. My sense is that CAD-developed transportation data is often used in other companies' products, perhaps GeoMedia Professional or GeoMedia Transportation from Intergraph, or ArcInfo or ArcView from ESRI.
Finally, was this a good buy for Bentley? Yes, it was. Some comments by Infrasoft CEO Rick Fiery, on the deal, describing how "we crafted a transaction that provides a real opportunity for our users and employees and continued substantial equity upside in Bentley stock for our investors" lead me to believe little or no money was involved. Second, the acquisition brings at least three more U.S. DOTs to Bentley, along with some overseas users. (MOSS Systems, acquired by Infrasoft in 1998, was based in the U.K. Infrasoft's headquarters are north of Boston, Massachusetts.) Bentley has also acquired an award-winning collaboration tool. Could that breathe life into the now relatively silent Viecon project, which addresses at least some of the same issues?
Once I digested this acquisition, I received notice on Tuesday of another acquisition for Bentley: the Department of Transportation Division of TransDecisions, Inc. TransDecisions is based outside Boston and does a variety of things related to GIS and location-based services. The last time I ran into the company was at an Autodesk event where the company highlighted its homeland security applications. TransDecisions senior leadership includes individuals with experience at Oracle with Oracle Spatial, several contributors to Intergraph's GIS products including GeoMedia Network, and the founder of GIS/Trans, LTD. The company lists Autodesk, Oracle, Intergraph, and MapInfo as partners, but not Bentley.
The portion of the company that Bentley is acquiring focuses on Departments of Transportation. The technology that's being transferred is called Linear Referencing System Extensions (LRSx) Software. It's a toolkit for managing dynamic segmentation data in Oracle. In 2001 the company offered a GeoMedia client for this backend system and promised an ArcView 3 and desktop client. In early 2002, TransDecisions worked with Tennessee DOT on a project that included a MicroStation front-end editor. Staying behind at TransDecisions are routing tools and fleet management offerings, including one built on MapInfo's MapXtreme.
With this second acquisition of the week squarely in the DOT space, I'd describe Bentley's tactic as "circling the wagons." It seems that the company does not want to be left without any of the tools that a DOT might want. And, the company is planning to guard the DOT territory no matter what happens.
That leads me to two theories. First, it may be that the investment in DOTs is aimed at a solid base income, no matter what happens in other areas of Bentley's marketspace. I do not actively follow the company's architectural or mechanical offerings closely, but all the talk of late that I have heard has to do with Autodesk's Architectural Desktop, Inventor (a mechanical product)and its acquisition of Revit. Bentley, at least to me, has been very quiet, not only in GIS, but in other markets, too. I expect Bentley will elaborate on its focus at its spring User Conference.
My second theory, and I'm not business expert, is that Bentley might consider taking just portion of the organization public. Perhaps, I'll suggest after a time, this newly merged transportation group might be a candidate. One benefit, the offering will not be Internet-focused, something that can be turn-off in the recent Internet bust.