2006 May 25

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Editor's Introduction

This week I report on Bentley Systems' annual user conference, where the company made several important announcements. The news from press releases section and the promised calendar updates are still in transition this week, as we develop a better way to bring them to you.


Bentley Systems User Conference

Acquisitions and Other Announcements

Bentley Systems, Incorporated continues to acquire companies that can help it in specific markets or to expand its technology portfolio. At its 2006 user conference, in Charlotte, North Carolina, May 21-25, Bentley announced that it has acquired the entire assets of one company, GEF-RIS Ag, and two map finishing products, MAPscript and CADscript, from another company, Corporate Montage. Three of Bentley's seven acquisitions in the past twelve months have been in the geospatial sector.

Also at the conference — called "BE," for "Bentley Empowered" — Bentley released and previewed the commercial version of MicroStation V8 XM edition; launched an enhanced pricing structure, the SELECT subscription program, and a new eLearning subscription program, Bentley LEARN; and announced the winners of its annual Awards of Excellence.

Bentley employs more than 2,000 people around the world and had 2005 revenues of $336 million. According to the company, it is "the leading provider of AEC software to the Engineering News-Record Top 500 Design Firms and major owner operators."

BE Conference 2006

The conference was sold out, with more than 2,000 attendees — 21 percent of which were from the geospatial sector — from 700 organizations and 41 countries. Bentley executives discussed their vision and strategy for the company, its technologies, and the disciplines and industries it serves.

Styli Camateros, V.P. of Bentley's Geospatial Vertical, Alain Lapierre, Product Manager, and others discussed the latest innovations in Bentley's geospatial technology and their application to solutions for government, utilities, and communications industry users, along with industry trends and directions. They provided an overview of all of Bentley Geospatial's initiatives, including new products and recent acquisitions, and demonstrated new XM Edition capabilities.

The number of technical sessions and training seminars by track gives a rough sense of Bentley's priorities: Building, 59; Civil, 126; Geospatial, 94 (18.5 percent); Plant, 48; MicroStation, 94; and ProjectWise, 86.

The exhibit hall featured 28 exhibitors (a small number compared to that at large geospatial industry events such as the ASPRS and ESRI conferences), of which half a dozen had a specifically geospatial focus. Large areas of the hall were dedicated to the BE Awards of Excellence, with a poster showcasing each of the more than 260 nominees, and to games that matched the conference's unofficial theme — NASCAR races.

Themes & Keynotes

The official theme of the conference was "It's Time For Learning." Tony Flynn, Chief Marketing Officer, focused on this topic in his opening keynote address on Monday morning. He bemoaned the insufficient level of software training of new college graduates, cited a study according to which "25 percent of the curriculum should be dedicated to software," and announced the formation of an advisory council for Bentley's careers program. He also recommended to attendees that they discuss curricula with high-school teachers and college professors and that they hire interns and teach them software tools. Then Flynn announced Bentley Learn, a new desktop, on-demand, e-learning program. It will be priced at 20 percent of Bentley Select and start with more than 800 hours of courses," he said, promising that "that number will triple by year end."

Flynn cited figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, according to which productivity across all industries has increased by three percent per year for the past decade — but only by one percent per year for the AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction) sector. "Let's learn the broadest of the theories, the best of the practices," he urged his audience.

Flynn was followed by Greg Bentley, who addressed the company's overall corporate strategy and mentioned Bentley's recent acquisitions which have not been otherwise publicly announced. Next, Keith Bentley, Director and Chief Technology Officer, Buddy Cleveland, Senior V.P. and General Manager, Bentley Software, and Bhupinder Singh, International Development, Software, and Territory Executive, India Asia Operating Unit, presented updates and perspectives on the latest editions of the company's base products, MicroStation and ProjectWise.

On Wednesday, during lunch, Malcolm Walter, Chief Operating Officer, discussed return on investment (ROI) when purchasing Bentley software. As a case study, he described the construction of an aluminum fabrication plant on the Northern Australian coast. Due to the challenges of transporting building materials to the location, which could be reached only by sea or air, several huge elements of the facility were constructed elsewhere, transported there by ship, and then connected to the rest of the plant. The whole project was managed using Bentley software. According to Walter, this saved six months in construction time compared to traditional methods of building such facilities in place, translating into an additional $450 million in sales for the plant owner.

Here are a few other themes that recurred through presentations and discussions at the conference:

  • The importance of infrastructure and, by implication, of Bentley's products. As Flynn put it, "infrastructure means water, transportation, shelter, and more. In short, systems that support all human activity."
  • Expanding GIS into infrastructure, which, as Camateros acknowledged, is just a different way of saying "integrating GIS and CAD."
  • The importance to Bentley of platforms — MicroStation for desktops and ProjectWise for servers. All of the company's other offerings are built on top of those platforms.
  • The role of GoogleEarth as a visualization tool, integrated with Bentley's software.
  • Bentley's close relationship with Microsoft.

BE Awards of Excellence

On Monday night, the festivities began with a reception, followed by a banquet, live music, and the presentation of the projects nominated for the 2006 BE Awards of Excellence — "which honor the extraordinary work of Bentley users improving the world's infrastructure," according to Bentley marketing materials. Peter Sagal, host of the National Public Radio program "Wait Wait… Don't Tell Me!," MC'd the evening and announced the winners of the awards in the professional portion of the program: twenty-nine project teams that "set benchmarks for their industries, and showcase the imagination and technical mastery of the organizations that created them." McGraw-Hill Construction, publisher of Engineering News-Record, co-sponsored the event.

For the first time, a BE Award was also presented for Lifetime Achievement. In the academic portion of the program, BE Awards went to the Educator of the Year and to the top three student designs. The independent panel of BE Awards jurors, which included Bentley users and industry experts, selected the winning projects from more than 260 nominations.

In the Geospatial category, the winners were:

  • Geospatial Communications: Comcast - Comcast Northern Division Upgrade Initiative
  • Geospatial Government: Ville de Saguenay - Expertise in Civil Safety at Ville de Saguenay
  • Geospatial Managed Environment: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - Interagency Performance Evaluation Taskforce - Data Management
  • Geospatial Mapping and Cadastre: Municipio de Tampico - Integrated System of Cadastre Administration
  • Geospatial Modeling: Hydro Tasmania Consulting - Hobart City Visualization Project
  • Geospatial Public Works: Maharashtra Jeevan Pradhikaran - Disaster Management - Interlinking of Water Works in Mumbai Metropolitan Area
  • Geospatial Utilities: AES Torino S.p.A. - SITEGAS, the Modernization of the Gas and District Heating Networks Management in a Fast-Growing Utility Company
  • Geospatial Web Publishing: City of Mississauga - eMaps, Interactive Online Mapping

Nicoletta Zanchetta, of Bentley, and Stefano Bay and Donatella Piscone of AES Torino S.p.A., in front of the poster for AES' award-winning project.

Comments by Camateros

In a one-on-one meeting and at a press briefing, Styli Camateros made many interesting comments. Here are a few of them.

Bentley's focus on GIS for infrastructure: "Bentley is interested in making GIS very good at infrastructure and to do that we need to expand some capabilities. Frankly, Bentley is not interested at all in getting into demographic analysis or marketing analysis or even environmental studies. Anything that is fuzzy I think we are less interested in. Infrastructure is about hard things and real surfaces doing real things. So, that's what we want to make GIS better at. It's a focus for us; the rest of the company is also in infrastructure."

The GIS label: "We use the GIS label — "advancing GIS in infrastructure" — because most of you guys understand what GIS means. We could have used some other terms: geotechnology or geospatial or something else that is more encompassing. But, at the end of the day, the industry understands what GIS is, so, when we say [that we want to advance it] for infrastructure, it makes the point. It doesn't mean that everything has to be in a database or that everything has to be in Oracle. Actually, you can have some stuff in ARCsve or SmallWorld — we have some great technology that gets stuff in and out. We are focused on solving the problem. We thought that saying that we want to do GIS for infrastructure would be a better communications vehicle than saying that we want to integrate GIS with CAD — which, I think, is what we want to do."

GeoMap: "GeoMap had an enormous amount of functionality — but was very difficult to use. It was built in a time, a dozen years ago, when we didn't quite understand what was needed to make things simple. Really, a lot of the technology that you see in Bentley Map is geographic technology."

GeoSpatial Server Map: "We are going to position GeoSpatial Server Map as … a product that our customers can buy."

XM Edition: "Bentley does a major release every two or three years. I think that the XM release is a comprehensive platform for doing GIS on infrastructure. ProjectWise, the Geospatial management extension, the connector to Oracle, the work management package, our publishing package, CADscript, and MAPscript — all of that is going to be rolled into XM. SAP is not included. If you want to have the ArcGIS connector, the geospatial server has the infrastructure, but there is another piece to buy."

Bentley geospatial sales: "About 2/3 of Bentley's geospatial sales are outside of the United States."

Acquisitions: "Most of the acquisitions that Greg [Bentley discussed in his keynote address] were geospatial acquisitions. [The products from the companies that Bentley acquired] are available to the public immediately. We are just going to keep selling [these products] the way they were sold by the companies we acquired and we have a very aggressive integration strategy. … Of course, the great thing about acquisitions is that you get the great people you saw here today!"

Open source: "We are going to release a PostGIS connector. Bentley is participating in the Open Design Alliance, which is a nonprofit organization that speaks to interoperability of CAD data, mainly AutoCAD and DGN. Bentley has given the Alliance the V8 specification, but there are no plans to make it open source or to release it to the general public. We have released it to ESRI, as part of our technology exchange. We cooperate to make sure that our customers don't suffer from the divide that exists."

Raster images in Oracle 10g: "Oracle 10g supports raster images, but not in the traditional ways in which people have done it so far. They have either left the images on the file system and put a link in Oracle, or they globbed it into Oracle, which is kind of the same. What Oracle did with 10g was really smart: they actually created a data type in Oracle that is an image. It's actually pretty fancy: it is tiled, it has pyramids … [We are going to support that data type using MicroStation's raster manager.] You are going to be able to reference an image that is sitting in Oracle spatial."

Geospatial customers: "Our customers are so different, which is the challenging thing about this vertical. You are talking about the communications industry, the utilities industry, and within the utilities industry, water, electric, district heating… And then you go to a local government, which has another set of challenges, and then state and federal governments who have still other challenges."

Approach to GIS: "GIS grew up in academia and it is still there. They are always thinking about — and I don't want to say that it is a negative thing — high level things, like 'making the world better.' That's laudable and I am glad that there are people like that. I think it has just stuck around too long, especially in infrastructure. What people want to talk about is ROI. [They will say:] 'We are running a business here. We have to supply electricity.' … The keynote speaker at the ESRI conference was Jane Goodall. Ours was the chief engineer of the U.S. Corps of Engineers. When it comes to infrastructure, I think we 'get it' better than the mainline GIS producers."

Geospatial Acquisitions

I discussed Bentley's recent acquisitions with Carey Mann, V.P. of Business Development for Geospatial.

Bentley has made three geospatial acquisitions in the past year. Last October, it bought the Austin-based firm of Cook-Hurlbut, which had Expert Designer. "It is compelling," says Mann, "because it takes analytical capabilities and dynamic cost generation into the design seat. It focuses primarily on electric and gas utilities. Typically, they bring the data from a GIS — they can work with SmallWorld, ESRI, AutoDesk, and, of course, with Bentley's GIS environment and MicroStation generally — into the design environment."

Why did Bentley acquire Cook-Hurlbut? "We always look for an intelligent workforce and when we see an innovative group that's always appealing to us. We want to extend all of our spatial engineering applications more into the analysis and design areas and we felt that they could help us do that. We think that some of the tools they have can also be applied in some of our other verticals."

The next geospatial acquisition was of two map-finishing products, MAPScript and CADScript, from Corporate Montage. "These products are quite popular in Europe, Australia, and North America," says Mann. "They will give us WYSIWYG large scale plotting of maps and other presentation documents, such as aerial photography, text, etc." This deal closed only a couple of weeks ago and has not yet been publicly announced, except by Greg Bentley in his keynote address. Corporate Montage has other product lines that it will continue to sell.

The third acquisition was of GEF-RIS Ag, a company based in Leimen, Germany, near Frankfurt, with a staff of about 30 people. It specializes in full GIS for multi-utilities in the German market. "It is typical in Germany and in many European countries to have multi-utilities," says Mann. "They tend to be regional; they provide electric, gas, water, and district heating. They want a single product for all of their systems."

GEF-RIS' client is based on MicroStation, the server runs Oracle, and they have an object-oriented meta-model in front of that, which allows them to map the different utility types. In addition to their GIS, called sisNET, they also offer sisKMR and sisHYD. "These are analysis products," says Mann, "to look at the hydrology of the systems, the flow of gas, and the structure of the pipes — how temperature and other factors affect the contraction of the pipes and how, in turn, that affects the flows. This is in line with our belief that recording the assets is not enough and that a GIS for infrastructure needs real engineering and real analysis, all in an integrated product."

How will Bentley integrate these products into its offerings? "GEF-RIS' products were built on MicroStation from the beginning," Mann explains. "In every acquisition we always have an aggressive integration plan. At the same time that we continue to support the products the way they are, at some point in time we like to converge those lines and bring all of our solutions in line with our architecture. We cannot ask a system's customer to switch architecture simply because we've acquired it."

Here are two final geospatial tidbits from my conference notes:

  • The XM Edition includes the new Bentley Map, which supports XML Features Modeling (XFM) capabilities.
  • Bentley Descartes adds raster operations to MicroStation and provides integrated OCR and line-following engines and several tools to enhance and repair legacy drawings. I saw demonstrations of these tools in the Geospatial technology keynotes.

Department of Corrections

Last week, in my article about DDTI, I wrote:

To allow its clients to experience immediate returns on their investment in GIS data, the company developed AccuGlobe, a free GIS platform engine, now installed on about 25,000 computers worldwide. "The complete software is 100 percent our own code," says Cramer. "It is all C Sharp.NET; we have our own routing and geo-coding engines."

GeoMicro, Inc. has pointed out to me that "The current version of DDTI's Accuglobe desktop application, as well as their mapping websites, use GeoMicro's Altamap platform."

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