Interview

Interview

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Mr. Greg Bentley
CEO, Bentley Systems, Inc.

How has Bentley evolved over the years? What have been the changing patterns in the company?
Bentley Systems, which is now 22 years old, has come a long way from the launch of MicroStation for the personal computer. Now, with much more powerful PCs, MicroStation provides a robust 3D graphics environment to map, design, and visualize infrastructure assets of any type. It is not only a software application. it is also our desktop software platform. Likewise, ProjectWise is our server platform. On these foundation products we develop applications for use in various fields relating to the diverse classes of infrastructure.

Thanks to the growth in our portfolio of software, we now see our mission as “providing software for the world’s infrastructure.” To carry out that mission, we have both developed products ourselves and acquired a number of technology companies, especially since 2000. And to better meet the needs of our software users, we have organized our business through four “verticals,” enabling research and development (R&D), marketing, and sales to focus on their respective domains and establish closer relationships with our users.

Given the interests of your readers, let me focus on our geospatial vertical, where our strategy is “advancing GIS for infrastructure.” This vision means that we do not compete across all GIS applications, but that we excel in the area where GIS and infrastructure lifecycle management intersect.

In general, our business has seen gratifying growth (our revenues rose more than 15 percent from 2005 to 2006), and our geospatial business has contributed strongly to that growth.

How is Bentley spread worldwide and what are its business propositions?
Perhaps the most distinguishing factor about our company is the degree to which we are a global concern. Finance, back office, marketing functions, and so on are largely centralized, but the teams for each of these are distributed. Our development group, Bentley Software, has 60 locations and only four of them have more than 50 colleagues. So Bentley is now truly a worldwide business.

Our revenues reflect that worldwide scope, especially in geospatial, where we have a somewhat larger business in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia than we do in the Americas. I believe strongly that the contributions of colleagues from all around the world provide tremendous richness, insight, and balancing perspectives. Indeed, a majority of our colleagues are now employed outside North America.

Our business proposition is to develop the most comprehensive and powerful set of infrastructure software in the world and to deliver that through our vertical organizations. Again, your readers will naturally be most interested in the solutions delivered by our civil and geospatial verticals. Our civil vertical provides solutions for road and rail infrastructure and site development, and our geospatial portfolio addresses the telecommunications service providers, electric and gas utilities, water utilities, and governmental agencies. In essence, our geospatial vertical delivers solutions for networked assets that need to be managed in a spatial environment.

What role does geospatial technology play in the infrastructure domain?
These are exciting times for geospatial technology. The field is growing strongly around the world, and at the same time is changing.

The traditional GIS model of recording the location of assets is no longer enough. Users want to improve the performance of assets, which requires a synthesis of analysis, design, and asset management. Indian Railways and Survey of India fall into this category.

At the same time, the Google Earth™ phenomenon reflects an intense demand to model the world as we see it, in photorealistic 3D. One implication of this change is less reliance on the symbolic representations of maps and drawings and the emergence of innovative ways of presenting information.

This year we take another step forward with our “Athens” release, in which any work done in MicroStation, or in any Bentley application, will be “geo-coordinated.” This is a good example of the positive feedback loop from the vertical applications that we develop back into the platform.

These changes leave Bentley’s geospatial vertical well-placed to capitalize on a burgeoning market. As if to echo our strategy of “advancing GIS for infrastructure,” the Geospatial Information and Technology Association (GITA) in the United States has recently changed its focus from open-ended GIS to infrastructure: Their new slogan is “GITA – We Are Infrastructure.”

How do you position the issue of interoperability?

Interoperability is at the heart of Bentley’s technology vision and strategic differentiation. We are uniquely capable and committed to delivering both “intra-operability” (where all of Bentley’s products work seamlessly together, given their common desktop and server platforms) and interoperability, where Bentley software will work with other applications and file formats.

We have to embrace both the inherent complexity of infrastructure projects and the inevitable challenge that multiple parties will be involved in big projects, in which not everyone will be using the same software. The interoperability we support enables these “distributed enterprise” participants to preserve their technology choice, while the project still benefits from information re-use.

For example, MicroStation interchangeably reads and writes AutoCAD DWG files as well as its DGN format, and the Bentley Geospatial Server adeptly handles all the major file types encountered in any geospatial environment.

Also, we are increasingly meeting needs, for infrastructure operations, to interoperate with enterprise applications such as SAP. A good example of this is our recent project for the Dutch Ministry of Finance, where we implemented groundbreaking integration between the Bentley Geospatial Server and SAP Real Estate.

We do not believe that proprietary data formats and databases have a long-term future in the geospatial environment. We believe that software users should own their own data in a neutral environment, and that this data needs to be shared with the applications that access it – applications that will probably come from multiple vendors. This means users have wider choices in file formats and don’t have to change their tool sets.

We believe strongly in the federated information paradigm, where applications maintain their native data, but expose it for access by other applications, at the appropriate level of abstraction. Google has shown the great virtue of this concept for text-based search, to start with. The Bentley Geospatial Server similarly relies on indexing and search/find capabilities, in this case to link and relate the semantics of engineering and planning information as well. Federation is the future, rather than trying to force-fit information of different types and scales into a single database model.

How are you investing in the Bentley R&D organization?
As a privately held company, Bentley Systems is uniquely able to maintain our commitment to reinvestment in research and development. As we have grown our revenues five-fold over the last 12 years, our 20-percent reinvestment has commensurately increased in wherewithal and results. We have invested over $500 million in R&D and acquisitions since 1995, and over $200 million of that just in the last two years.

In 2007, we introduced two new objectives in our R&D program. First, we recognized that our applications portfolio has become so comprehensive as to merit dedicated resources to target and advance solutions—combinations of our products and services—for particular infrastructure asset classes such as railways, utility and water networks, and now bridges.

Secondly, we introduced an explicit “applied research” function, aimed at adapting innovations developed elsewhere, for infrastructure IT, where we recognized a lot of “white space” for potential improvement. Our initial priorities have to do with work packaging and construction, visualization, and we’re already productizing some of this applied research in our “Athens” release next year.

Bentley has been taking a lot of interest in acquisitions. What factors influence your decisions about acquisitions?
Acquisitions of discipline- and asset-class specific infrastructure applications are very valuable to our user organizations and thus to Bentley, to complete our comprehensive solutions portfolio. And, we have the benefit of a “target-rich environment,” as such applications already cater for our platform and the APIs that we support. Integrating them for intra-operability is straightforward for us, as a result.

Just as importantly, our many annual acquisitions bring us intensive domain knowledge and successful entrepreneurs to strengthen our management team and grow with Bentley. Our acquisitions are increasingly international, bringing us geographic diversification and “last-mile” solutions coverage.

Specifically in the geospatial arena, we have recently made key acquisitions to accelerate development. A good example is Cook-Hurlbert, acquired at the end of 2005, for electric utilities. Cook-Hurlbert gave us the technology that you now find in Bentley Expert Designer XM and the know-how that we have leveraged into the powerful GIS capabilities of Bentley Electric XM. Then GEF-RIS, acquired in Germany in 2006, brought us powerful multi-utility GIS solutions, with new capabilities for district heating, for example.

On the civil side, we just acquired TDV of Austria, so we now provide the most capable bridge design software in the world – being applied zealously, for instance, in South Korea and China.

There will be continued acquisitions of applications across all of Bentley’s verticals. We have a good pipeline in process, and we have a great track record in assimilating and globalizing acquired products and teams within our ever-more-comprehensive portfolio.

How are you associated with Google and Microsoft, and what is your experience working with them?
Microsoft is a strong partner of Bentley. We commonly have Microsoft representatives working with us at our headquarters campus here in Exton. Microsoft products are prerequisites for everything we do, including server-level ProjectWise, which takes advantage of Microsoft SharePoint. We and our users benefit a great deal from Microsoft’s technology initiatives at the server level as well as the desktop level.

We make sure our users benefit from the R&D contributions of Google, also. Google Earth and SketchUp™ can both add value in geospatial workflows, and we are have been very proactive in technically enabling “drag and drop” capabilities to incorporate such content into and around engineered infrastructure asset models, and vice versa. We expect significant joint endeavors and announcements with Google, over time.

How do you see the position of Bentley in the geospatial industry vis-à-vis its competitors?

We are not trying to compete across the broad spectrum of “GIS” applications. Rather, our solutions revolve around the intersection of infrastructure engineering and GIS technology. We want to present GIS capabilities seamlessly and appropriately across the entire lifecycle of infrastructure assets.

This focus on advancing GIS for infrastructure corresponds to the priorities for a very large portion of the geospatial universe – in fact, independent market analyst Daratech’s most recent study of market shares ranked us second in geospatial software, globally.

We have been making strong advances in our geospatial technology development, and we are now seeing the fruits of the most recent round of development based on the MicroStation V8 XM platform. Bentley’s updated geospatial platform packaging will be introduced this fall with our Geospatial Extension superseding MicroStation GeoGraphics, and with Bentley Map offering new levels of performance for desktop GIS.

At the server level, we offer the Bentley Geospatial Server, which extends ProjectWise for geospatial users. The Bentley Geospatial Server provides the essential federated environment for querying and accessing geospatial and engineering content, workflow capabilities to facilitate collaboration, and interoperability with enterprise systems. And Bentley Geo Web Publisher provides a robust environment for publishing geospatial and AEC content over the Web in rapidly created map-based interfaces.

For our comprehensive portfolio of intra-operating geospatial and civil applications, I would direct your readers to www.bentley.com to review our April 2007 Annual Report, as well as our “Year in Infrastructure” publication, which features hundreds of projects nominated for BE (Bentley Empowered) Awards of Excellence, including many deserving nominees and award winners in India.

In short, we foresee great opportunity and advancement for Bentley and for all of us in the geospatial “space” over the next several years. I am particularly looking forward to visiting India early in 2008 to share and discuss the very interesting and gratifying progress we’re making together there, in advancing GIS for infrastructure.