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Geospatial Technology is becoming Geosmart Technology

Greg Bentley | CEO, Bentley Systems on GeoSmart Technologies

Today, geospatial technologies are making our infrastructure smart. Greater threads of information mobility have led to better infrastructure project delivery, and improved the smart quotient of our infrastructure assets.

Infrastructure has become smart

What I have noticed is that user behaviour has transformed over the years. Earlier, geospatial technologies were used by professionals who were required to have knowledge about special hardware and survey techniques. But now, the users of geospatial technologies are those who are creating, maintaining and even utilizing infrastructure assets. Today, our smartphones are geosmart; they help us navigate the roadways, railways and metros. But, what is even more interesting is that even the infrastructure itself has become a smart component. We have intelligent roads. The metros can communicate with the riders. So, the users of geospatial technologies have ceased to be specialists; they are the constituents of the ecosystem, they are the citizens.

Likewise, the maintainers of infrastructure now have digital engineering models. They have the digital DNA of the assets on their mobile devices to help them take decisions about maintenance and operations in an immersive manner, fully informed by the choices the engineers made when they started the project.

Subscription-based business model

Business models have changed, and the software business is witnessing a wave of disruption. At one time, the software business model was to sell perpetual licences of our software. And the risk of fit-for-purpose and obsolescence was borne by those who owned our licences. At Bentley, we have aggressively embraced a preference for a business model that involves subscriptions, so that our users continue to get benefits. We share in a results-oriented outcome that allows the software to continue to provide value over the lifetime of infrastructure projects and assets. So, that is a disruptive business model in software, but one which would ultimately benefit our industry.

Geospatial technologies are becoming geosmart technologies embedded with digital DNA. This will pay off during the operations and maintenance of infrastructure assets. The greater benefit is ahead. It is not over when the design or the construction is done. So, the notion of a service level agreement, a managed service, or a Cloud service supplementing and connecting everyone together is a good development for users of technologies, including software. It has been disruptive to our particular industry in a way that, ultimately, it would prove better for the long term.

Geospatial technologies are becoming geosmart technologies embedded with digital DNA. This trend is going to pay off during the operations and maintenance of infrastructure assets. The greater benefit lies ahead

Opportunities galore worldwide

The market for path-breaking technologies lies in the developing nations, such as, India. It is a very rare opportunity to be able to build a greenfield smart city, something which is happening in Dholera, Gujarat. That project became a finalist in our 2015 Be Inspired Awards program for applying the best technologies at the outset. The world has abundant private financing for infrastructure. You need to work out, creatively, at the government level and engineer structures for those incentives to be a part of the advancing technologies. For instance, a concept like reality modelling can be all pervasive and continuous in a smart city project.

There are ample opportunities in the rest of the world as well. If you talk about Europe, infrastructure is the national strategy in the United Kingdom. There, the application of technologies involves various levels of Building Information Modelling (BIM). For us, BIM means better information mobility and better information modelling for better project performance and better asset delivery. This kind of technology is mandated by the UK government in their public works spending. And this is helping the engineers in the UK to become more proficient, competent and able, compared to the engineers elsewhere. This kind of geo-competitive advantage is attracting people to live and work in Europe.

Now, people say that China’s bubble has burst. The only bubble I know of in China would have been in commercial properties. But, on the infrastructure side, the work that our users are doing in China for the water systems (including the new South-to-North Water Diversion Project); in power distribution, which is so important for urbanizing China; in rail, and especially in metros, there has been no bubble. China continues to witness strong spending in infrastructure projects because it continues to see strong economic returns to those investments. Meanwhile, in the United States, we have deferred those investments. Here, things depend on our political wisdom and allowing private investment in infrastructure.

The situation in the world at large is that of an infrastructure deficit — with respect to what we need and what would be economically advantageous. Lucky for us, across the world, there is a huge amount of liquidity and investment money that would like the reliable returns which infrastructure can provide over a long term. We just need to creatively enable financial engineering, so that infrastructure investment can be applied to infrastructure.