CEO, Bentley Systems
Adoption of information mobility in construction has been one of the most significant developments in the past one year and its reach can be further extended with geospatial content to support integrated construction projects, feels Greg Bentley, CEO, Bentley Systems, as he talks of the business and technology trends at the Year in Infrastructure 2013 Conference
Bentley has registered growth over the last few years. How has this been made possible in the backdrop of recession?
Our growth was a straight line until 2008, at which point our revenues were just over $500 million. However, after the global financial meltdown, there was an interruption since our work involves sustaining infrastructure, and infrastructure investments certainly took a hit during that time. But we are pleased to have stayed the course.
One positive change during those five years has been the increase in the proportion of our company that is owned by our colleagues, which is now 96%. This lets us take a long-term view in comparison to our publicly traded peers, whose horizon is typically a quarter at a time. We think that in these five years we have done the right things to be well situated now for the long term, and by the end of 2013 our revenues should reach $600 million.
At our Year in infrastructure 2013 Conference, there was a greater level of energy and enthusiasm for continued growth in infrastructure investments. It is one of the reasons we are in London for our conference, where, in spite of the prevailing austerity, the government sees the wisdom of infrastructure investment. And the advantage of this investment is to the private sector as well — the ‘UK plc’ commercial community of expertise in infrastructure and BIM.
At Bentley we prefer saying ‘B/IM’, by which we mean a reach [represented by the slash] to greater depth of information modelling that provides better decisions leading to better performing infrastructure assets [the ‘B’], as well as to greater breadth of information mobility collaboration across the lifecycle of infrastructure, from design to construction to operations [the ‘IM’]. In particular, we want to make sure that the effective strategies that have been identified by this year’s Be Inspired-nominated projects are imparted to the world at large to help everyone gain advantage. Moreover, we want to identify and consider the emerging strategies to help us all extend our reach further.
What are your strategies to give momentum to established markets like the US and Europe in the face of the ongoing slowdown in all spheres of businesses? Also, how do you plan to capture the emerging markets, where there are a lot of very large government- based projects but they do not always encompass geospatial or BIM technologies as part of their policy documentation?
Annually, we update the Bentley Infrastructure 500 ranking of the top owners of infrastructure around the world from both the public and private sectors. In compiling these rankings, we measure the infrastructure value of organisations’ respective tangible fixed assets and net of depreciation etc. Our 2013 update found that two-thirds of the cumulative infrastructure investment was from private-sector owners. However, public owners are important as well. Examples of recent large public works projects include Crossrail, High Speed Two, and Thames Tideway Tunnel in the UK. The organisations driving these projects all have in mind integration across an impressive depth of information modelling and breadth of collaboration, so much so that they have spelt out standards for each of these goals.
The developing world has the advantage of learning from projects such as these. For instance, the Crossrail-Bentley BIM Academy, for better asset performance and information mobility, has been visited by experts from many developing countries. Developing countries actually have a chance to leapfrog the learning curve by surpassing [as the UK describes it] ‘Level 1’ B/IM which involves using information modelling for visualisation of design, to go to ‘Level 2’ B/IM for optioneering, as well as collaboration into construction, and then to ‘Level 3’, where they will complete the reach to immersion in information modelling, and in information mobility all the way through to operations. In all cases, we need to include the geospatial context of the project.
How do you see the adoption of such technologies? Even among private players, the construction sector seems to be slow in adopting this technology.
Bentley started on the design side, and early on I wondered whether those in construction relied much on computing. But I have since learnt you can’t do a construction project well without software contributions.
But construction professionals had long been largely on their own applying computer technology. They have been using spreadsheets, models, and schedules, and these have not been connected. McGraw Hill just introduced a SmartMarket report on information mobility in construction. It surveyed building contractors in the US, and the responses substantiate almost doubledigit cost and schedule savings, and the RoI benefits of a couple of percent — all from the use of apps in the field.
But the magic is in the collaboration servers, to provide [in our terminology] the right mobile i-models that have provenance, ensuring that users have the right data. With an i-model, they can see the data rectified into rows and columns so they can work with quantities in spreadsheets and access databases they are familiar with. Tying all of that together is our big announcement of Bentley’s ProjectWise Construction Work Package Server, an off-the-shelf system for managing the lifecycle of construction work packages that completes the reach for construction information mobility.
Our ProjectWise Dynamic Plot Service addresses the challenge of drawings and paper in the field by creating an intelligent link between paper plots and digital models, shrinking the time required to sync written comments and digital data from days to seconds. Soon, connected through our Bentley CONNECT cloud environment, users in the field will be able to hold their mobile phones up to anything printed, plotted, or rendered, either on paper or their mobile device screens, to read a QR code. They will then get a green or red signal to indicate, through the Bentley CONNECT cloud back to the source of authority in ProjectWise or AssetWise, whether it is a valid plot that is still current.
The annual global construction sector is estimated about $7 trillion. What according to you is driving such investments in construction and what is the potential of geospatial technology in construction?
Increasingly, construction projects are integrated projects, whether via design-build joint venturing or public-private partnerships, in each case with private investment at stake. In such cases, best practices always come to the fore for enhanced RoI, and taking advantage of the geospatial context is always a best practice on any integrated project.
Information mobility and its reach can be further extended with geospatial content to enhance integrated construction projects. To construct, we start with the physical world, which we survey. So documentation of the physical world is brought into a virtual process of design, from which comes back the design documentation from which to build, historically as 2D drawings. But our apps provide design documentation through 3D models, which can include the 2D drawings in context through an innovation we named hypermodelling.
In the next step, the physical world is 3D, and our virtual world is now represented in 3D documentation, so we can now align the physical world with this. The physical world intrinsically has real-world location or the geospatial element. When our software creates the 3D model and references the 2D documentation in that, the model becomes geo-coordinated. So when we put together documentation of the physical world in the form of 3D imaging such as laser-scanned point clouds, the 3D virtual documentation aligns the contexts for navigating and then constructs the physical world through the virtual world.
This geospatial aspect for improving and perfecting the alignment of the documentation between the physical and the virtual is, in fact, the key enabler. It is what Level 3 B/IM is all about. For this ‘operational immersion’, you need more than GPS. You need what I refer to as ‘3PS’, for the ‘Z’ axis as well. That entails either provisioning the construction of the asset site with ‘total station’ arrays of sensors from which to provide local 3PS, or else through ubiquitous computing, to capture images from the physical world, which can be indexed into the digital model world to calibrate where you are in real time. You would then be able to take advantage of innovations like virtual excavation to know what is below the street you are standing on — something that would be crucial not only to infrastructure maintainers but also, for example, to first responders in an emergency.
All this information mobility potential is exciting both for construction and operations. It enables a higher return from the same ‘B/IM’ investment. You mentioned the annual $7 trillion investment in construction, but the major and real enabler for higher RoI is the investment in consumer-driven technologies involving devices and communications, along with software advances that make it possible to apply these information mobility advancements in the ‘industrial’ settings of infrastructure.
In the sessions I have chanced to attend at the Year in Infrastructure 2013 Conference, almost always the new effective strategies were about modularisation: pre-assembly, dividing the work up around the world, and then bringing modules together on site for a process plant, a mine, or an offshore platform. But that ‘industrialisation’ evolution of construction cannot happen without information mobility by which the models are shared out to and from the supply chain, to make sure it all fits together, physically as well as schematically, when it comes together in the field. And, of course, this ‘coming together on the site’ is, again, a geospatial challenge.
Apart from the construction and infrastructure verticals which are the other sectors Bentley sees as good business prospects?
According to a new ARC Advisory Group report on market share and revenues, we are pleased that Bentley has been acknowledged as number 1 in electric power generation; mining and metals; electric power transmission, distribution, and communications; water and wastewater distribution; and for EPC [engineering, procurement, and construction] contractors and AEC [architecture, engineering, and construction] sectors. So these, obviously, are some of the markets with good business potential for us.
In current times we see more challenges in maintaining the existing infrastructure. How is Bentley gearing up to this challenge?
It is a terrific question because the infrastructure investment by just the Bentley Infrastructure 500 top owners this year has reached about $15 trillion, net of depreciation. If we could together improve their return on that investment, look at the magnitude of opportunity for all the rest of our users who serve owners!
What is different and exciting in 2013 in terms of operations is that an owner can now feasibly have 3D models of infrastructure assets. Today, you can even buy a laser scanner that you can attach to your iPad or iPhone for a few hundred dollars. That, in turn, provides information mobility opportunities to align, index and reference these intuitively navigable 3D models to their virtual documentation, including their design and analysis. This might enable inspections to interactively consider past inspections, and failure modes and effects analysis to improve reliability and resilience.
There are huge opportunities to more safely and efficiently maintain the existing infrastructure. For example, EPCOR Utilities in Alberta, Canada, has implemented our Asset- Wise Ivara for developing, implementing, and managing reliability improvement strategies for the infrastructure assets which they already geospatially manage with Bentley Systems software. Geo-Edmonton, a consortium of all the utilities in Edmonton, share updated 3D design models of their utility networks, and planned works, every night. The Edmonton utilities have very commendably cooperated in this respect, with geospatial information mobility now increasing public safety.
UK’s Network Rail has rolled out a programme called LADS (Linear Asset Decision System). Based on our Optram software, LADS empowers track superintendents to make maintenance decisions in daily operations.
Bentley has been a great believer in research and development and it usually sets aside a fixed percentage of revenues for R&D. So what new innovations are we likely see in the coming days?
Our benchmark is to reinvest 20% of our revenues into R&D, but that percentage has actually gone up. We have been able and willing to spend more because of the long-term perspective I mentioned earlier.
The Applied Research and Development presentation at our conference demonstrated a number of capabilities, including augmented reality. This provides ways of aligning the physical and digital world to accomplish asset health modelling. For instance, in water systems operations, it is important to discern where the inevitable [but invisible underground] leaks are occurring, not only to save revenue but to prevent sinkholes. With asset health modelling you take the model that is designed for the network and compare it to what the sensors report are the actual pressures. To make use of the as-measured readings, you begin permuting the design using a genetic algorithm to converge to a different design that would fit the data as to these pressures. It might indicate what was designed as a 10-inch pipe seems to be acting like a 12-inch pipe, and that could mean you have probably found without any digging that there is a leak.
In general, when it comes to R&D, we really do not need to ‘invent’ ourselves, but rather just innovatively advance the application, for infrastructure projects and assets, of inventions flowing from consumer economics [for example, mobile devices becoming portable lasers, and so on]. So, you could say that ‘consumerisation’ is driving, facilitating, enabling, and accelerating ‘industrialisation’ in geospatial infrastructure.
What according to you is the most exciting thing about this industry that has taken place in the past year?
The past year has seen a number of important developments, but one of the most significant has been the adoption of information mobility, by way of apps and servers, in construction. The project teams of some of the construction finalists at our conference made it clear that they would never go back to their old ways of doing things.
Too often the construction industry is characterised as being slow moving, but I do not think that is being fair. These professionals make up their minds and then they are resolute about exploiting process changes. In the industries they serve, we can together contribute to savings in terms of total installed cost; or FW time to production in mining, plant or offshore projects; or in time saved by the citizens in metro projects. These are tremendous sources of value for us in the geospatial community to serve and to share.’