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Advancing GIS for Infrastructure

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Malcolm Walter
COO, Bentley Systems, Inc.

Q. Tell us something about evolution of Bentley as one of the largest enterprises with many verticle offerings.
At Bentley, our focus on the verticals really began about 10 years ago, when we got serious about vertical applications using MicroStation as a platform. At first, we dealt with strategic affiliates, whose vertical applications ran on top of MicroStation. Around 1998, we recognized the advantages of bringing those applications into the same development cycle as MicroStation, so we started to acquire our strategic affiliates. We soon recognized that the ideal would be a comprehensive portfolio of products for users of Bentley’s platform products. So, in the past five years, we have made 30 acquisitions. The focus of those acquisitions has been to find applications that help our building, civil, plant, and geospatial users.

Although we appreciate the power of MicroStation and ProjectWise – our system of collaboration servers – as platforms for these applications, we recognize that many Architecture Engineering and Construction(AEC) organizations use AutoCAD and its DWG file format. So we have done two things: first, we made MicroStation V8 capable of working natively with DWG files; and second, we acquired applications that run directly on AutoCAD. Those two steps made it possible to build a more comprehensive portfolio for MicroStation users as well as AutoCAD users. With respect to the Geospatial vertical in particular, we have a vision of building the most comprehensive and productive engineering design interfaces to bridge the world of engineering design and GIS. All of our geospatial engineering solutions seamlessly present geospatial data and of these solutions are based on MicroStation and ProjectWise. We have recently reinvested in the core mapping capabilities of MicroStation through the development of Bentley Map and Bentley Cadastre, which will shortly be available for general release. In this vertical we have created very powerful engineering and modeling solutions for water/wastewater, electric and gas utilities, and communications service providers. We want to make it clear that we are not just an AEC company and that we compete fair and square in the GIS space – our Geospatial theme of “Advancing GIS for Infrastructure” makes this clear.In fact, Daratech has just named Bentley as the #2 vendor of GIS/Geospatial software worldwide in their recent study. We are gratified to be identified as part of the “big three” in the GIS world.

The vision we have is to leverage MicroStation and ProjectWise as platforms on which to build a comprehensive portfolio of products for specific disciplines.

Q. Recently Bentley acquired Cook Hurlbert and signed an agreement with Bechtel. How does these acquisitions and collaborations gel with the overall vision of Bentley? What is the value for Bentley Geospatial in this regard?
In 1995, in addition to development, Bentley took on responsibility for sales and marketing of its products – functions that were previously handled by Intergraph. We took a close look at what our users were doing with our products. It became really clear that their work breaks into the four areas we just mentioned, including geospatial. We realized we needed to have our own applications that address geospatial requirements.

Our previous acquistions include that of HMR, the first acquisition we made in the geospatial area;ISIS, a company in the Netherlands, as well as CIS. Also we acquired some of the finest water products in the world with the acquisition of Haestad Methods, whose water and wastewater solutions are used in both geospatial and civil projects. And this past year we acquired Cook-Hurlbert for utilities design. Cook-Hurlbert’s Expert Designer spatial network layout and analysis software was among the first developed specifically for utility designers and engineers. Users of this open, integrated software include many leading utilities such as Baltimore Gas and Electric, a Constellation Energy Company, and Xcel Energy. So, while we continue our focus on mapping, we have expanded our solutions for municipalities, telecommunications companies, and utilities.

Since the acquisition of Cook-Hurlbert, we have also acquired GEF-RIS in Germany and CADscript and MAPscript from Corporate Montage of Australia. GEF-RIS products are based on MicroStation, too, and they deliver world-class GIS and engineering solutions to operators of multi-utility networks. Meanwhile, CADscript and MAPscript provide powerful publishing, plotting, and map finishing capabilities to MicroStation users around the world.

Bechtel is one of the largest multidisciplinary EPC firms in the world, involved in several geospatial projects and plant projects. The firm has a global licensing agreement that furthers the long-standing partnership that has existed between Bechtel and Bentley. The agreement, which extends across Bechtel’s entire distributed enterprise, enhances Bechtel’s ability to efficiently deliver quality projects of enormous scale and consequence around the world.

For companies like Bechtel and many other multidisciplinary firms, we offer a very broad portfolio of products. What we found is that when the users start using our products and see the power of an integrated portfolio, they are very happy with the use of the products. So we created our Enterprise License Subscription (ELS) using which they could use everything in the portfolio , for a fixed annual fee,. So at a very low cost, our Enterprise License Subscribers, are able to gain access to and use everything that we make. We recently extended the subscription model in the area of local government with Bentley’s Municipal License Subscription (MLS) program. The MLS offers municipalities all the software they need to design and manage all their infrastructure for a fixed annual fee based on population. We already have 18 subscribers spanning Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East.

Q. How would you profile the demand for geospatial software in Middle East, particularly for Bentley geospatial products? What are the key operational, marketing, and product development strategies aligned to the Middle East region?
One of the things that is clear is that geospatial engineering is important to the Middle East. Mapping is important to the Middle East, as well as telecommunications and utilities, which are growing significantly here. Geospatial data is incredibly valuable and what a benefit for that technology to be available here in the Middle East, when and where it is greatly needed. Longstanding water and wastewater networks are largely undocumented in Europe, for example, and hard to model and study as a system. By contrast, in the developing areas of the world, where so much of this is being built today, technology provides the opportunity to capture designs and existing systems and to use electronic models of geospatial networks.

Bentley’s geospatial applications are not only aimed at maintaining existing networks or documenting existing networks, but also for designing new networks—utility networks, communication networks, wastewater, power networks, and so on.

Q. The vision of the Bentley Geospatial vertical is based on five critical components, namely, “mapping, geospatial engineering, integration with AEC applications, geospatial information management and publishing, and interoperability”. Tell us something about the philosophy behind these.
Certainly in the case of mapping, it has been an expertise of Bentley for 20 years. MicroStation is a great mapping engine, so that remains a focus of ours. Mapping is only becoming more important in the world, and is more accessible today than ever before, especially with developments like Google Earth.

Geospatial engineering use connotes the ability to work with engineering-level accuracy and tolerances suitable for AEC projects, as opposed to the lesser accuracy provided by GIS systems that is sufficient for reference and planning. Geospatial engineering provides extremely precise information about land such as elevation, boundaries, and the properties of structures on the land.

All infrastructure has a geospatial component. There is always land development involved when you are building a road, building, or plant. The accurate geospatial information is precisely what is needed by our comprehensive portfolio of infrastructure software.

Information management and publishing are particularly important for municipalities. Residents and businesses expect municipalities to make geospatial information readily available. They expect to be able to visit the Web site of their local municipalities and learn about real estate boundaries, tax bases, utility maps, and so on. Having a geospatial database isn’t enough. The information must be published to public over the Web. Our software enables municipalities to publish GIS information accurately and easily.

Interoperability means two things to Bentley: It means that certainly a Bentley application is interoperable with any other Bentley application and that it can interoperate with other systems that are frequently found in our users’ IT environments. Therefore, in the geospatial world, we have to interoperate with ESRI software, to read and write to the ESRI database, and to publish ESRI information. The same is true with Oracle Spatial 10g.

Q. With the Middle East witnessing a spurt in development activities in the entire architecture engineering and construction (AEC) domains, how does Bentley foresee its role?
In the last couple of years we have more than doubled our personnel in the region and we expect to continue to grow steadily here, since, as you say, the level of infrastructure activity here is very high. I expect that two years from now we will have doubled again. Along with China and India, this is a region upon which we are very focused, and we are working hard at increasing our presence here in order to meet the needs of our growing number of users.

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