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BENTLEY WORLD TOUR
The Bentley World tour stop in Boston couldn't have been timed better. Set just three days after a two-foot snowfall in the area, the roads were mostly clear and travel was heading back to normal. Even so, a number of badges were left unclaimed at the 9 a.m. starting time.
Bentley is using this 70-city tour to give full weight to its MicroStation V8 "Generation." The "generation" is a family of products built on the same core technology. Last week Bentley announced that at v8.1 all 100+ products will be released "at once" in a synchronized manner. Typically, the engineering configurations (basically vertical products) and other add-ons lag behind each MicroStation release.
The presentation essentially had two parts. A keynote introduced nine (!) key features of the V8 Generation. After a break, there was a demonstration highlighting "A Day in the Life of a Project."
Tony Flynn, Bentley's Global Marketing Director for Building, presented the keynote. (Flynn was president of Boston Communications, at one time Bentley's public relations firm.) Flynn started out by acknowledging that the talent in the industry was not up on stage with the Bentley staff, but that it was in the audience. He explained that company managers have an obligation to communicate with users and that's part of the goal of the tour. He suggested that in his presentation he'd answer the big question: "What's in it for me?"
He highlighted the aforementioned "synchronization" and explained that Bentley had put 500 "person development years" into the release. (A person development year is a theoretical measure of the productivity of one developer for one year.) He also noted (as did a press release earlier this week) that there would be an annual "synchronization" of the products. That's an ambitious goal for more than 100 products, but I applaud Bentley's choice to formally articulate that action plan. Before delving into the nine key points about the V8 Generation, Flynn explained that with the 8.1 release Bentley delivered on users' requests for a "managed environment." Managed environment was the term of the day, and I expect, of the tour.
Flynn's nine points included:
Bentley calculates that 29% of AEC content is stored in DGN files, with 41% in DWG. That, he explained, means that Bentley must offer, as it does in the release, a robust solution for both formats.
Bentley will provide Bentley-supported (not sure what that means) read/write software libraries for DGN. He emphasized that Select Subscribers would, on request, have access to the DGN format documentation and support, and unlimited access to Bentley Redline for use inside and outside their organizations.
There are new tools for tracking history, audit trails, displaying changes between files, and unlimited and selective undo.
Intellectual Property Management
There are new tools for digital signatures and digital rights. He suggested these features enhance and encourage security, which in turn encourages materials to stay digital. (Note that this is in line with Carol Bartz vision of "the end of paper" discussed at Autodesk University.)
There are new tools for searching, querying and navigating documents with AEC content.
There are Bentley "connectors" to other enterprise systems including FileNet, OpenText and Documentum, all document management systems.
There are currently four engineering configurations. With this release Select Subscribers have access to any and all of them. PowerDraft and its upcoming vertical applications (the Power products, see below) are aimed at 2D content creation, and also have support for digital rights.
Simplified Server Licensing
The licensing process has been updated to allow a single server-side location for license management.
Larger organizations can choose an enterprise subscription, which for a set fee, provides an "all you can eat" offering. This, Flynn argues, means that you can test and use new software for pilots for "free." Another bonus, enterprise subscribers receive discounts with each additional year on the plan.
Flynn then outlined the four vertical teams: building, civil, plant, and geospatial. While he had something to say about the first three (either an acquisition or a vision) he was notably silent on geospatial. He outlined Bentley's financial performance (compared, standardized, to Autodesk's, it looked quite good) and mentioned that while the company is private, they've begun to report earnings just like a public one.
There were two final plugs. One, via video, was from Bhupinder Singh, VP of Platforms. His engaging, though somewhat lengthy clip explained the importance of Bentley's newsgroups to Bentley. The second plug was for the upcoming user conference in Baltimore in May.
I ran into several new Bentley employees from the Boston area office of recently acquired Infrasoft. I also met several of the "co-hosts" of this stop on the tour, the staff of a Bentley MVAR headquartered in New York. I find it interesting that there isn't a more local MVAR. Still, Symmetry Systems had quite a crew on hand, and several members of the company's staff sought me out to be sure my questions were answered.
The demonstration was an hour-long tour of an engineering project that highlighted Bentley's managed environment. The managed environment, Bentley ProjectWise, is a workflow tool that handles check in/check out, who made the last change, etc. Two Bentley employees wore different hats to represent different players in the drama. I may not have been the only person who felt that there was too much going on-too many products, too many steps, and too many hat changes. I had trouble keeping track of which software product was doing what and the relationship of each step to the ultimate goal. There was quite a lot of checking in and checking out of documents. One of the other attendees told me that when things went over his head, he counted the attendees.
One part of the presentation that I thought was particularly "cool" was an online comparison of two documents in Digital Interplot (an online sharing/review server). Putting documents online is nothing new (think DWF) but the ability to do this type of "comparison" with them was interesting.
The questions after the presentation were most revealing. The first was about the demo hardware, which consisted of two notebooks. They were 700 mhz machines with 512 Mb RAM. The questioner pointed out that they were slow. I asked a slightly different question: How would the demo shown be implemented (on hardware and software) in the real world? The answer: it depends. I probed further: What software was running? What would be hosted on a server, vs. a client machine? One of the notebooks at the demo, I learned, hosted a Web server, publishing server, file server and database (SQL Server). That, in part, explained why it was so slow. On the client side of this type of enterprise implementation you'd find Bentley Redline, MicroStation, and PowerDraft. That amount of server-side software, I learned later, made many of the attendees, especially from small shops, conclude this type of solution was not for them.
There was a question about two people editing the same file. The questioner recalled that at one point Bentley touted Project Bank and a solution that stored elements directly in the database, a solution that would do away with the DGN file as we know it. That vision, according the Bentley respondent, was ahead of its time ("You didn't want a database," he reported) and the company went back to the file-based approach illustrated in the demo. The technology for two people to work on the same file is under development for a future release, but will use a file-based management solution.
Questions about digital signatures and their legal standing did not receive adequate answers, according to the gentleman who asked. I think this is still a fairly mysterious area for many people. I'd not seen the process of acquiring and using a digital signature until a few weeks ago when I was at an Autodesk User Group meeting.
The next question was about how all the security of the managed environment works if someone "sneaks" into a document from "outside" the managed environment. The idea is that digital signatures (which are no longer valid if the document is changed) and digital rights (which control who can access the document and at what level) keep things protected.
There was a question about how change histories are stored. They reside in the DGN, even when it is compressed.
A question about the plan for UNIX received a vague response from one of the demo personnel, but a gentleman who I later learned was Lew Reed, Bentley's Regional VP of Sales for Building and Geospatial products in North America, cleared the air, "There are no future plans for UNIX."
The final question asked when 8.1 would be released. It was released on February 10th, ten days before the event.