‘Shifting from 2D to 3D is a matter of mindset’

‘Shifting from 2D to 3D is a matter of mindset’


We do realise that Bentley isn’t the only software out there, and therefore our software has to be interoperable. We work in close cooperation with other software vendors including Adobe, Microsoft and Autodesk and produce real DWD. Also, we support standards and for the last two and half years we have been principle member of OGC.

Richard Zambuni
Richard Zambuni
Global Marketing Director – Geospatial
Bentley Systems Inc.

We are living in world of interdependent technologies. Infrastructures themselves are interdependent. How is Bentley capitalising on the technology trends to build sustainable infrastructure?
We do realise that Bentley isn’t the only software out there, and therefore our software has to be interoperable. We work in close cooperation with other software vendors including Adobe, Microsoft and Autodesk and can output real DWG files. Also, we support standards and for the last two and half years we have been principal member of OGC. We are committed to ensuring that our users get value from not only Bentley software but all other software they need for their processes.

Development and evolution of a technology can be seen to be dependent on technical aspects like hardware, processing and bandwidth. Can you elaborate on these associations?
It is true that technology evolution is dependent on these aspects. A good example of this is laser scanner that is capable of gathering point cloud data. They have become ubiquitous and it has become so economical to gather that kind of data that they have to be taken seriously.

Bandwidth is important. But one has to bear in mind that although bandwidth is growing and there are less problems and issues around it, it still can affect people’s productivity if they are not careful. On the hardware side, I think the mass sensor market has not yet taken off but it is only a matter of time before it does. It will be like smoke alarms that we see in hotel rooms. We have to reach a point where we have intelligent sensors that are cheap and easy to deploy on infrastructure.

Bentley has been working towards 3D City GIS for some time now. Can you elaborate on the 3D City GIS concept?
A number of cities are deploying 3D city GIS and I would be the first to admit that it is only the large cities deploying it at this stage. The technology is already there in terms of software. The very same software that is used to execute 2D routines in GIS is used in 3D too. It is just that most of the people are used to 2D. So it is more about the mindset of seeing the value of 3D and then having the workflow discipline to achieve those 3D models. The cities that do deploy the 3D models introduce the workflow discipline.

Does it work on already existing data?
Yes it does, although there are some challenges in it. Users can write some custom code that allows them to extrude 3D solids from 2D vector geometry. They can also use Bentley’s GenerativeComponents. What it gives is more a representation of 3D GIS rather than one that is utterly accurate. What we say to large cities is, just eat the elephant in many bites. Trying to eat elephant in one bite is not wise. They need to have vision about where they want to get to. They need to see it as a process, that it takes many years because they need to change their workflows internally, the way they work with land and property developers and the way you specify the quality of the documentation they submit in planning processes. In certain situations, it should not just be 3D but should be BIM as well. For a residential home, there is not much sense in having BIM level detail. But when dealing with public buildings, one has issues concerning public safety in situations like fires, natural disasters or terrorist incidents. In such scenarios, one needs to know things like the exits and how a fire crew could navigate smoothly through corridors. Of course one doesn’t need all details of the BIM model, they can select certain feature sets from that BIM model to be used in emergency responses.

Aren’t they cost prohibitive?
The software and hardware costs for 3D are the same as 2D. Changes are essentially in internal workflows, how users engage with the outside world and how they specify the documentation that property and land developers have to provide to secure planning permission. For example, if someone wants to build a hotel in Amsterdam and apply to city authorities, I would suggest the city authorities say, we want a full 3D BIM model of all the above and below ground infrastructure. This is what the city of Helsinki does.

How will Bentley’s acquisition of Pointools enhance the company’s geospatial offerings?
We believe that point clouds are becoming ubiquitous in infrastructure workflows and that they are afundamental data type. They have a lot of geospatial characteristics, in the sense that they have to be geo-referenced. So far, point clouds have mostly been used in areas like plant design. But now, they are becoming integral to things like utility corridors, rail, and road planning – all of which are essentially geospatial workflows. So we see the acquisition of Pointools as strategic for Bentley. Pointools does have some individual products which will continue to serve for the moment. What we really wanted was access to the core technology because we are going to embed it in our platform technology across desktop and servers. We believe that point clouds, and therefore the acquisition of Pointools, is fundamental to our users’ needs.

How does Bentley’s collaborative relationship with Autodesk work?
We collaborate with Autodesk in sharing the libraries to support our native file formats. Both companies have proprietary file formats in DWG and DGN. Instead of publishing an approximation of a DWG, we can now publish DWG with full fidelity. Autodesk is doing the same thing with Bentley’s DGN file format. Even though they are a little bit less into interoperability than Bentley, Autodesk knows that their users need to publish DGN output just our users need to publish DWG output.

We are seeing a trend of acquisitions in the geospatial industry, with companies buying complementing technologies. Is Bentley also looking in this direction? What are the future plans of Bentley to become one stop solution provider, for infrastructure domain?
We don’t address the generic geospatial market. Where acquisitions are concerned, our problem is that of choice because we have a wide range of products and are involved in many addressable markets. In many of these markets, we would like to build our capabilities. We know the kind of companies and the kind of technologies we would like to buy. But, we have to look for the right companies in terms of quality and affordability and the right time for both the parties. So we are constantly eyeing acquisition targets that will build out our various offers. Some of the sectors we are targeting include water, communications, and structural analysis.

We do create our own new products like Bentley Substation, but sometimes the quickest way to market is to make the right acquisitions and to bring that technology into the Bentley portfolio to broaden our offerings. The vision we have in some of these solution areas is not to become a one-stop shop, but to have the most complete offer for a particular industry. Let’s take the example of water. In water, we have hydraulic analysis which is very strongly linked to geospatial data – either it is generated within those environments or is imported from a GIS. Then we have the water distribution design capability, and therefore our products like Bentley Water and Bentley Wastewater. We have Bentley sisNET, a similar GIS product that we sell in Europe. We have ProjectWise which we are increasingly selling to water and wastewater utility owner operators to manage engineering documentation. We are also considering AssetWise for wastewater. What we would like to achieve is to be seen as the most relevant business partner for an owner operator in certain classes of infrastructure and meeting a high proportion of their needs, through our high quality software, interoperability, and a comprehensive portfolio.

While BRIC economies are growing significantly, the Americas still holds the larger chunk of geospatial market. Do you agree? Yes, in absolute terms, developed economies are still the bigger opportunities but rates of growth in these economies are very poor. Things are likely to get better in these economies but they have structural problems which are different from the ones they had in the last twenty or thirty years. They have had downturns but the current situation is a completely different situation where there are systemic economic problems. Governments, in order to try to address these economic issues, have leveraged themselves very hard. It is now difficult for them to spend the money on infrastructure investment because they use a lot of that money to absorb private debt and bring that into the realm of public debt. There could be similar challenges in some of the developing countries, but not generally. I don’t think India and Brazil are in that situation. There might be some risks in China but still much less compared to Europe or North America.

What is Bentley’s strategy to meet the various needs of these regions?
We are very committed to developing economies and have invested very strongly in them. We are looking not just at growth rates but looking at the infrastructure needs in those countries which offer huge opportunities. The infrastructure need is actually even bigger than the GDP growth in those countries. People around the world aspire for practically the same things. Whatever the culture, whatever the country – people want a safe, nice, warm place to live; clean drinking water; a good school to send their children to and air conditioned mass transit to their place of work. The highly skilled and well educated people look at working in places where they find a good quality of life; they are not solely motivated by money. Cities need to think in terms of not just the social needs of the poor, they also need to attract talent. A particular challenge in developing economies is coping with mega cities. There are mega cities around the world but there will be a great proportion of those in the next twenty years in Asia, particularly in India and China. Making that work requires a lot of vision and substantially better planning than has been undertaken so far.

Given your focus of capitalising on infrastructure needs, what is Bentley’s plan for Africa which has a crying need for infrastructure?
Given Africa’s huge size, our business in Africa is a bit more through partners, particularly in North Africa. We have invested strongly in South Africa and that has substantially been in the areas of mining and civil engineering. We have also recently started selling our products to African communications service providers.

Africa might be turning a corner. I am a bit more optimistic about Africa than I was five or six years ago. There are some economies which might settle down. The continent holds a lot of potential for economic growth and social progress. We don’t have the resources in Africa the way we have in other regions, say India, China, or Brazil as yet. But as I said, we have already strongly invested in southern Africa and are formulating our strategies for going to market in Central Africa and North Africa.

How are the dynamics in Europe and what is your strategy for the European market?
Europe is still witnessing growth, especially Eastern Europe. There are still some good opportunities even if economies are growing slowly. We know that the industries we are strongly involved in, like utilities, still need to make a lot of investment– in IT infrastructure and re-engineering their networks. Moving away from the macro environment and looking at a micro level, they are facing a lot of challenges. As an example, Germany has just disavowed nuclear power. They may close their nuclear power stations within ten years. A huge shift in the source of power implies a constant reinvestment in utilities, power generation infrastructure, transmission infrastructure, and distribution infrastructure. These processes will require the software we sell. In utilities, there are ongoing opportunities, irrespective of the macro-economic environment because utility issues always have to be addressed. On the civil side, there are good opportunities in rail in Europe.

Bentley Systems, under the vision of Greg Bentley, is committed to ensuring that it evolves into a truly international worldwide business, and that it has the reach to go where the opportunities are and support the economies where people need better infrastructure.