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In this week's issue of GIS Monitor I report on Bentley Systems' annual user conference in Baltimore and on conversations I had there with Bentley executives and with a winner of the company's end user awards. I also follow up on my
report, from last week, on Canadian GIS websites, and share a letter from a reader about geodemographics.
As usual, I encourage you to write to me your thoughts and experiences especially if they differ substantially from what executives of vendors tell me and I report.
Bentley User Conference
This week Bentley Systems, Incorporated held its annual BE (Bentley Empowered) conference, May 8-12 in Baltimore, Maryland, attended by more than 1,600 participants. This event is the company�s main opportunity to articulate its vision, announce new products, listen to its users, and train them in the use of its products. Several users told me that their main reason for attending was to discuss best practices with their colleagues and fellow Bentley users.
The conference program included keynote presentations by most of the company�s top executives � including Greg Bentley, CEO, Keith Bentley, Co-Chief Technology Officer, Alton B. �Buddy� Cleveland, Jr., Senior Vice President and General Manager, Bentley Software, and Bhupinder Singh, senior vice president for international software development. Best-selling management author Tom Peters was a guest keynote speaker. On Tuesday, the leaders of each of the company�s four vertical market organizations � building, civil, geospatial, and plant � gave keynotes on the company�s innovations in their sectors, followed by end user presentations.
The conference also included continuing education seminars; technical panels, an exhibit hall, and the BE Awards of Excellence banquet.
Bentley has been around for about 20 years, during which time its staff grew from six to more than 1,700, with 75 offices in 38 countries. After leveling out in 1999 and 2000, revenues have been increasing steadily, to about $300 million in 2004, of which 47 percent in North America. About 66 percent of users have a subscription and 22 percent have a perpetual license. The geospatial segment represents a little more than one quarter of the pie.
A consistent theme of the keynote presentations was the stress on Bentley products� interoperability with other software and formats widely used in the AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction) industry. Keith Bentley, for example, pointed out that, while supporting its own open and documented format, DGN, Bentley also supports DWG, DXF, PDF, and now U3D.
Various keynote speakers stressed Bentley�s close cooperation with and reliance on Microsoft and Adobe two of the conference�s sponsors, together with HP, McGraw-Hill Construction, and Océ and with Oracle. As Keith Bentley reminded the audience, Microsoft�s operating system is the foundation on which Bentley�s MicroStation and ProjectWise platforms are built.
The next layer up from the platform consists of the applications Bentley builds specifically for each of the company�s four verticals. The company acquires the subject-matter expertise it needs to do this in part by buying companies that already have it. For example, last year Bentley bought C.I.S., a U.S. provider of cable television design tools; ISIS, a Dutch company with expertise in mapping, public works, and municipal information systems; and Haestad Methods, creator of civil engineering software servicing the hydrology industry. At the Baltimore conference, Bentley announced that it has just acquired Moss Italia Srl, a civil engineering solution provider and Bentley channel partner with offices in Milan and Rome.
The 65 presentations in the geospatial track were clearly chosen to spotlight the relevant Bentley products (such as MicroStation GeoGraphics, CivilStorm, PowerMap, and ProjectWise); the interoperability of Bentley products with complementary software (for example, one presentation was titled �ProjectWise Connector for Oracle: Your Enterprise Database Connection� and another one �ESRI Interoperability at Your Desktop: Using ArcGIS Files in MicroStation GeoGraphics�); and the company�s subject-matter expertise in water, waste water, sewers, other public works, copper and fiber communication networks, and utilities.
In his keynote address, Greg Bentley unveiled version XM of MicroStation, Bentley�s flagship desktop product, and ProjectWise, its suite of collaboration servers.
MicroStation is a platform that includes 2D drafting, 3D modeling, change management, digital security, visualization, and animation. The new version, MicroStation V8 XM Edition, includes four innovations: task modeling, which dynamically matches tools to tasks, allowing users to work with a simplified palette of tools; project table of contents, 3D in PDF, and an updated GUI and new display subsystem. It also includes a new graphics system that increases view and navigation speed in 2D and 3D designs. This system leverages Microsoft DirectX technology, the same high-speed graphics technology that drives the computer-game industry.
Other new features of XM include the ability to display any element, level, or model as partially transparent; the ability to automatically merge changes from multiple drawings back into the original as-built drawing, thus allowing multiple users to check out and work on the same designs in parallel; and the ability to embed 3D models and animations into Adobe PDF documents.
Tom Peter�s presentation, billed as a highlight of the conference, was only slightly rousing and elicited little more than a very brief, polite applause. His main points were that the world is very rapidly changing (�Every 26 minutes a foreign-owned factory opens in China�), company strategies are much too defensive (�99 percent of projects are fundamentally designed to avoid losing rather than to win�), only �weirdos� make it into history books, and other similar platitudes. He called engineers � most of his audience � �dorks� and challenged them to work on great projects, such as Boston�s Big Dig, rather than on routine ones, such as designing buildings and completing them on budget (�Winston Churchill did not deliver WWII on budget.�).
Styli Camateros, a Bentley vice president and the head of the company�s geospatial division, gave the geospatial keynote address. I was impressed by his genuine enthusiasm for the subject.
Here�s a sampling of Camateros� thoughts:
Xavier Lopez, director of Oracle�s Location-Based Services, also gave a keynote address at the plenary session of the geospatial vertical, to discuss his company�s partnership with Bentley. Oracle10g, he said, will help make geospatial data available to the whole enterprise and on the Web.
- Two of the greatest GIS growth areas are the emerging countries of Central Europe, most of which have only rudimentary cadastral systems, and of Asia.
- Bentley�s traditional competitors are proprietary standalone geospatial systems; the new, emerging competition centers around enterprise data management.
- Google has set a new standard for search speed and now users expect to be able to find documents on their hard drives just as fast.
- Bentley was not alone in switching terms from GIS to geospatial: the OGC changed its name from Open GIS Consortium to Open Geospatial Consortium and Daratech, Inc. decided to discontinue its annual report on �GIS: Markets and Opportunities� after publishing the 2004 edition.
- Geospatial will become part of our everyday information technology environment; Oracle 10g now contains a spatial component, a topology model, and a network model.
- Traditional �GIS� does not adequately encompass geometric discipline (accuracy, precision, and 3D) and does not integrate all lifecycle workflows: the �GIS loop� requires that detailed design information be generalized and the legal record (asset management) becomes detached from the constructed record. Engineering platforms, on the other hand, enforce engineering discipline, because they rely upon measurement techniques. Therefore, Bentley, being a highly accurate engineering platform, is better suited for data capture than traditional GIS software.
- Because of their long lifecycles (typically 50 to 75 years) infrastructure assets are particularly difficult to manage and are being constantly worked and re-worked. The most detailed information on an asset lives in the design documentation that was used to build it which is still overwhelmingly �document�-based: maps, models, drawings, specifications, schedules, etc.
- The Bureau of the Census will adopt Oracle 10g for its TIGER data.
- As an example of the layered way in which Bentley builds software, Camateros cited MicroStation Map and MicroStation Map for Land Management (the first in a series), both of which are built on top of MicroStation Geospatial Extension (�a platform for you to develop anything you want and it�s the one we�ll use for getting geospatial applications done�).
Oracle�s goal, according to Lopez, is to �make the use of location ubiquitous� by giving away a location capability as a standard feature in all of its databases. On the other hand, Oracle Spatial, Oracle�s flagship geospatial product, ships only on high-end databases and has high-end functionalities. Oracle 10g includes network management tools, a topology data model, raster integration (�we are working with lots of image processing vendors�), a geocoder, a georaster module, a routing engine, spatial data mining capabilities, and a network data model (designed to support search queries).
In a couple of months Oracle will release the next version of 10g, which will be fully OGC compliant, and support the EPSG coordinate reference system, cartographic types, georaster compression, location service APIs, network modeling, topology, and an RDF data model.
The other keynote addresses are available on Bentley�s Web site.
Polemic with Autodesk
In stressing the interoperability of its products, Bentley points out that it even has applications that run on Autodesk�s AutoCAD and has launched a campaign sharply critical of Autodesk�s different approach. This includes the slogan �You deserve better� and comments by top company executives.
In an interview with the company�s magazine (BE Magazine, Vol 2., Issue 1) reprinted and circulated at the conference, Tony Flynn, Bentley�s chief marketing officer, said: �For years, Autodesk has employed business practices that create waste by reducing software interoperability in our AEC industry an industry in which interoperability is so crucial. For Autodesk, these practices generate revenue. But for the industry, they leave a trail of waste and churn that costs us dearly.�
Specifically, Flynn singled out such Autodesk practices as the forced retirement or obsolescence of products and file formats, forced upgrades to new product versions, and the creation of design platforms that are not interoperable. He also cited Autodesk�s promotion of its new DWF format in competition with Adobe�s PDF.
Flynn claimed to be responding to a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) report that put the cost of this lack of interoperability at $16 billion each year on capital projects in the United States. �Digging through the numbers, I found that about $1 billion of that waste comes from lack of software interoperability from costs such as manual translations and redundant software and administration.�
Flynn, in the interview claimed to �harbor no ill will� toward Autodesk and Keith Bentley, in response to a question from an editor at the Baltimore user conference, characterized Bentley�s attitude toward Autodesk as nothing more than �aggressive marketing.�
Comments by Keith Bentley
In a conversation with editors, Keith Bentley said that the majority of Bentley�s user base has made the transition to V8 and that select subscribers will be able to download MicroStation XM in about a month and ProjectWise XM a couple of weeks later. He expects that the whole Bentley user base will have completed the transition to XM �by the end of the year.�
I asked him whether he was concerned that his company�s reliance on Microsoft, Adobe, and Oracle might turn into a dangerous dependency, forcing Bentley in directions it might otherwise not have taken. While acknowledging his company�s dependence on Microsoft, Keith Bentley asked �What�s the alternative?� Bentley, he explained, has neither the resources to independently develop its own operating system � nor those to develop and maintain separate products to run on Unix, MacIntosh, and other operating systems. (Early on, he recalled, Bentley tried to do that and had separate versions for 13 different operating systems!)
As for Adobe, he said that his company�s decision to rely on PDF for publishing was in response to overwhelming demand by its users, but added that Bentley is not �dependent� on PDF and will take a close look at a similar technology that Microsoft will be releasing soon.
Bentley�s �fundamental philosophy,� according to Keith Bentley, is one of �continuous evolution and improvement,� which he compared with the evolution of Windows, and to avoid radical changes. The company, he pointed out, focuses on subscriptions and does not even sell upgrades. The �Select� subscription entitles customers to use the most recent version of all of the company�s software.
One of the highlights of the BE conference was the Awards of Excellence Ceremony, on Monday evening. This year there were 224 nominations, in 36 award categories, including seven geospatial categories: communications, geospatial modeling, government, managed environment, mapping and cadastre, public works, and utilities.
The winner in the geospatial utilities category was AEM Cremona Spa � a company wholly owned by the city of Cremona, Italy, that manages the city�s public utilities � for its �multi-utility geospatial managed environment.� Accepting the award for AEM Cremona was Guido Duchi, an engineer and the project�s technical director. I spoke with Duchi and with Nicoletta Zanchetta, the Bentley sales manager responsible for the account.
AEM Cremona, they told me, needed to implement a GIS that could manage all of its multiple activities: middle and high voltage electric power, drinkable and waste water, gas, utility networks, road signals, transportation, waste collection, environmental management, district heating, public lighting, and road signals. Therefore, it aimed to acquire integrated tools that could do this while using a single database framework and a single base map.
In particular, the company required a system able to easily manage data from different sources and tools to create, issue, and circulate technical documentation related to mapping. It also needed the ability to manage network outages, locate affected customers, and document the network�s operational history; and a way to store geospatial data and to link to external databases (customers, administration, etc.), enter field survey data, update their GIS, and publish much of this technical information on the Web for internal and external users.
During the first phase of the project, just completed, AEM Cremona worked with Bentley to develop and customize the software solutions it needed to implement and maintain the geospatial database, manage connectivity between network elements, and publish survey links to the key codes identifying consumers. The company also organized the data it had collected, populated the database, and trained relevant staff on the new tools.
During Phase 2, which just started, AEM Cremona and Bentley are developing analysis and simulation applications that will enable utility operators to access consumption information, manage network outages, calculate quality indices required by government regulators, and accomplish other tasks. At the end of this phase, the system will be fully operational and accessible via Intranet from any seat.
The final phase, which will include acquisition of the required server applications, will enable system administrators to manage access to the data by internal company users, partners, or authorized consumers and will integrate the Bentley software with AEM Cremona�s customer relations management (CRM) system, which is in a SAP database.
According to Duchi, Bentley�s ProjectWise allowed his company to improve the quality of its services internally and externally. �We solved interaction problems between different products, and we are now able to import, read, and edit native data from different tools.� Additionally, XFM technology allowed them to check/audit networks and set up XFM rules to detect possible inconsistencies (for example, cables not connected with substations).
�MicroStation, beside being the design tool used by our engineering department, is able to extremely easily manage links with external, alphanumeric databases,� Duchi said. �In this way design tools and geospatial network management applications are completely integrated.� For example, the company wants to ultimately be able to generate a list of addresses affected by an outage by building logical connections between the network elements and external databases.
I asked Duchi and Zanchetti what is really special about AEM Cremona�s system: the multiplicity of specialized knowledge areas it handles, they told me, and the fact that it uses its GIS as an enterprise database. �We use GIS to publish the documentation for all the networks, via ProjectWise, including via Web clients. ProjectWise Geospatial can georeference documents. One of the attributes of each document are the geographic coordinates of the area it describes.�
How does their project distinguish itself from other comparable ones in Italy. They told me that it is one of the country�s two most advanced projects (the other one is in Torino and was also a Bentley awards nominee) and that Cremona was the first to implement XFM and will be the first to use SAP for its CRM system and to integrate it fully with its Bentley enterprise GIS. XFM will allow AEM Cremona to manage, among other things, the connections inside each substation while ProjectWise will georeference each substation.
How did AEM Cremona�s collaboration with Bentley begin? Duchi and Zanchetti told me that the former has been working on its GIS project for many years and even tried to do it on its own, assisted by a consultant. That attempt did not work out, but allowed the company to perform an in-depth analysis of its requirements.
�We met Bentley when we had to do an RFP,� Duchi told me. �Before that, internally we had to choose between a CAD system and a GIS. We needed a direct connection with our project design, so we chose Bentley over Autodesk. We needed a very interoperable tool, so we took this decision when Bentley released V8, which allows you to read data in DVG native format and handle it as if it were in DGN, without requiring a conversion. Coupled with the fact that the city, which owns the company, had an Intergraph system based on MGE, this allowed us to say, �we�ll do nothing with Autocad, we�ll just go with Bentley.� Bentley in Italy also had all the subject-matter experts we required, whereas Autodesk sold products, not solutions.� Bentley�s share of the 500,000 Euro project will run around 350,000 Euros.
I spoke with John R. Hacker, Jr., who joined Bentley last fall from Intergraph, and Rich Huffman. Both are marketing managers for Bentley Geospatial Solutions � Hacker for local and regional governments and Huffman for corporate accounts.
To Hacker the switch in terminology from GIS to geospatial fit Bentley well. �For us the geospatial angle is a little more important,� he told me, �and our vision is a little broader than that of most GIS vendors. We can bring it all together. We are either very good or very lucky or both, because the industry has moved in our direction.�
Like the keynote speakers, these two managers, too, emphasized integration between the company�s various products and explained to me that Bentley�s desktop platforms are its flagship products, on top of which the company builds its vertical segments. According to Huffman, Bentley is now increasingly integrating these verticals, �so the civil engineers are using geospatial and vice versa.� �The common platform buys that for you,� added Hacker; �when I talk to our [government clients] I talk about stuff that is not even in my vertical.� He then added yet a new (for me) �geo� term to the mix, saying that Bentley is well positioned because the market is now moving toward �geoengineering.�
Since 1985, Hacker acknowledged, ESRI has pretty much sewn up the �traditional� GIS market. However, he continued, the market is changing. For example, �water utilities people now need to know the geospatial side. It used to be that the design guys did not talk to the mapping guys. Now they have to talk to each other � partly due to economics, partly due to the technology, and partly because of changed expectations. Planners no longer necessarily drive the capital outlays of government � IT drives purchases a lot more.�
I asked Hacker whether his interlocutors where changing too and he told me that they were: �We are talking to different people, such as public works, IT, fire, and police managers � the new end users of our products � as opposed to planners and land managers.� Like Camateros in his geospatial keynote, Hacker pointed out that GIS must now allow for precision, for example to map water pipes and cables. �It can�t swagger anymore,� Huffman interjected.
Returning to the theme of interoperability, Huffman told me that it is particularly important to municipalities, as they are challenged with decentralization and are trying to bridge the gap between the products used by different departments. �That�s where IT gets involved,� he told me. �This was not a problem less than ten years ago, when departments did not need to share and talk to each other. Now they can and are expected to, therefore it is more of an IT issue.�
It�s inevitable, Hacker and Huffman told me, that different government departments � such as land use planning, cadastral, and fire � having different requirements, will use products from different vendors. �Governments will always be heterogeneous organizations.� This, according to Huffman, is where Bentley�s �connector strategy� is important: �If you tell individual departments to put all of their data in a single database they lose control. The connector strategy allows the end users to find the best of breed.�
�Data input is no longer as important as data sharing,� Huffman continued, due to the wealth of available data. However, �there will be a regeneration of the base data as more accurate technologies become available.�
I asked Hacker how he approaches his prospects. Not surprisingly, he told me that he approaches them � managers, mayors, county officials, public utilities people, consultants, etc. � �from their points of view.� �Some of them,� he explained, �may already have some Bentley products but not know about our other products. Others have ESRI and we talk to them about data sharing; more people want to talk to us about data sharing then about engineering, because they already know about our engineering capabilities. We are telling the mapping people, don�t you want to have more accuracy, more engineering capabilities? Governments� attitudes [toward geospatial technology] vary greatly, depending on which department is in charge of geospatial stuff.�
What is the company�s overall sales strategy? �We want to grow organically,� Huffman told me, �through prospect acquisitions. Data sharing (geospatial management) is a big component of our recent success. A company that does not have an engineering capability may be interested in Bentley; others may have a heritage version of Bentley and I tell them about the larger geospatial capabilities � such as publishing, which is the final layer.� What is the split between marketing new products to existing users and introducing Bentley to new prospects? �About fifty-fifty,� he told me.
I spoke with Stefano Morisi, Vice President, Geospatial International Operating Unit. He is responsible for Bentley�s geospatial sales in Europe, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, Australia, and New Zealand � and anywhere else on the planet except for North America, China, Japan, and India. I asked him whether that put him in charge of sales to Antarctica, too. He smiled and told me that, while that continent plays a fundamental role in research, it has few customers.
I asked Morisi whether his sales pitch changes from country to country. Of course, he acknowledged, the way you do business and relate to customers in, say, Saudi Arabia, is different from how you do it in, say, Germany. �But this is not related to the content of what we sell,� he told me. He finds no significant technical differences regarding user requirements. However, �in some areas we are not newcomers and users already have older GIS, such as in Europe and Australia, but some of them have newer requirements.�
�The geospatial vision is the same because it is a developing system: you do not sell a turnkey system, the system and requirements grow together. The Bentley approach is based on a very strong and open base technology, coupled with a very strong professional services organization: we are not as product-centric as some of our competitors.�
What also does not change much from country to country is the kinds of potential end-users that make good prospects: �Geospatial is a very broad definition and does not mean much from the user perspective. Our users work in water, cadastre, utilities, etc.� Learning how best to work with these sub-industries, which requires subject-matter expertise, is the second step in Bentley�s verticalization, Morisi explained.
While the users� requirements may be the same, how do the markets differ? In Western Europe, Morisi told me, �local applications compete with our applications. In the Middle East, there are no local applications but oil prices give users the ability to buy them. In North Africa, everything is linked to the possibility of obtaining development funds.�
�The only other difference,� Morisi continued, �has to do with the availability of data. About 90 percent of the cost of a GIS project goes for data collection (plus maintenance, in which Bentley is good). In some countries you have to explain to potential users that the system does not work without the data. In developed countries the emphasis is more on data maintenance. This is one of Bentley�s strong points: its technology is state-of-the-art in data capture and creation. We have to explain this especially to traditional GIS customers, because they have no real idea of the power of our technology in this regard.�
How does Bentley relate to economic development efforts in the developing world? �We are trying to do more and more,� he told me, �especially with the European Union and the World Bank.� In Eastern Europe these institutions are funding the development of cadastres. �It�s an important step in development,� Morisi explained, �because investors want to be sure that the ownership of any land they buy is clear.�
Does Bentley have any discount policy for the Third World? Morisi told me that the company�s price list for developing countries is significantly different from that for industrial countries. �Additionally, we have a very aggressive and successful academic program to allow students to get our software for free,� he told me. Later, of course, many of these students are likely to become Bentley customers when they move into professional positions.
Canadian GIS Websites
As I had hoped, I received several messages in response to
my report, in last week�s issue, on Canadian GIS websites.
Carl Reed, PhD, CTO and Executive Director, Specification Program, for the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) pointed out to me that I had missed �the most important website/portal of them all. Probably the most innovative and advanced national spatial data infrastructure site in the world� the
Canada Geospatial Data Infrastructure. The site, according to Reed, is �coordinated and facilitated (but not built!!)� by Geoconnections Canada, a national partnership initiative working to build the Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure (CGDI), and make Canada's geospatial databases, tools and services readily accessible on-line.
�The portal,� Reed wrote, �provides access to many of the spatial repositories maintained at the provincial level such as the Ontario Land Information warehouse. Unlike Geospatial Onestop in the United States, the Canadian GSI is not based on any one vendor solution. Instead, they determined that an open, systems- and content-neutral approach would be best. They developed an overreaching reference architecture and defined best practices for use, integration, and so forth. And obviously a commitment to the use of standards and standard interfaces is the �glue� that allows the infrastructure to grow organically: any organization can �plug� into the infrastructure at any time as long as they use and implement the defined interface standards.�
Regarding Newfoundland & Labrador I reported that I was not able to find a website through which to access to the data maintained by the Crown Lands GIS program. A reader pointed out why: �NL does not give away its data for free. Unfortunately, we still have to pay for each map sheet of topographic information and any other information that we need. Though restricted, they do allow for linking into the data via the Internet but do not give out the URL to anyone.�
Regarding Prince Edward Island, a reader sent me two additional URLs: one for the province�s excellent maps site and one for its
GIS policy document.
Letters to the Editor
I received a few messages in response to
my piece on geodemographics in last week�s issue.
Alex Crothers, MSSI, Spatial Data Coordinator for the Launceston City Council, Tasmania, Australia, wrote:
I am fascinated by the geodemographics that you refer to in the May 5 issue of GIS Monitor. I believe we are in for some big changes over the next 15 years. Here in Australia we call it the �Sea Change� phenomenon: people are seeking places to live that have high amenity value away from the city. At the moment it is mostly retirees, but a rapidly growing proportion are information workers who can telecommute.
To identify these high amenity places it would be a relatively straight-forward analysis if the right data are available. People want services such as shopping, health care, restaurants, schools, etc. within walking distance, a feeling of community, and a high bandwidth Internet connection. Also, the nearby high amenity attractions such as beaches, beautiful countryside, skiing, or whatever.
If these factors were all available spatially along with demographics we could quickly target the telecommuter's paradise! Tasmania has all the attributes of such a paradise: we even have wireless broadband (via the cell phone network) over much of the state.
There is a good book on the subject: W. Draves and J. Coats,
Nine Shift: Work, life and education in the 21st century (Wisconsin: LERN Books, 2004).
Department of Corrections
Alan R. Stevens, PhD, the International Program Coordinator for the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) and a member of the Global Spatial Data Infrastructure (GSDI) Secretariat, sent me updated figures regarding
the Cairo conference that I covered last week: the more correct numbers are between 900 and 1000 attendees and 88 nations represented.
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