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We are working today to create value for our users tomorrow

Malcolm Walter
Malcolm Walter
Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President, Bentley Systems

By constantly innovating and creating better performing intelligent assets for the users, Bentley Systems has managed to maintain a steady growth despite a worldwide slowdown. Malcolm S. Walter, Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President, Bentley Systems reveals the secret behind this consistent performance.

Despite a worldwide slowdown, Bentley witnessed a constant growth in the last few years. Your comments?
Our preferred commercial model for doing business is subscriptions. We think this is a better model for aligning our interests with our users. If a software company doesn’t regularly invest in the tools it offers, to make them better in terms of performance, their usefulness in meeting the users’ newest challenges can deteriorate over time. In the subscription model, our users pay as they use our offerings, and our goal is to ensure that our users continue to get value out of our software; otherwise, they will stop paying for it. The very thing that motivates our users to do a good job everyday is exactly what motivates us to do the same. Today, 74% of our revenue comes through subscriptions, so we are highly motivated to make sure that on what we are working today will create value for our users tomorrow. That is why we have committed to reinvest at least 20% of our annual revenue into R&D. This is the secret of our steady growth.

Which are the areas in which Bentley holds a leadership position?
We focus on everything in the built environment – from roads, bridges, and utility networks for water, gas, and electricity to industrial factories, processing plants for chemicals or pharmaceuticals, power plants, oil and gas platforms, offshore and on shore structures, rail and transit, and more.

The investments can vary by region. In some parts of the world, the focus is on roads and bridges and water and wastewater systems, while in others it is on, say,mining and metals. For example, mining is very important to our users in Australia, South Africa, Brazil, Chile, Canada, and India, because these countries have abundant natural resources.

Bentley is number one in the world in providing software for sustaining water and wastewater utilities, bridges, roads, and rail and transit networks, as well as for structural analysis, construction simulation, collaboration services, and 3D city modeling. Almost all of our revenues are generated from the architectural, engineering, construction, and operations (or AECO) market. We are roughly at number 2 or 3 position in the plant processing industry, and at number 3 in GIS, with Esri being a clear number 1. In the broad AEC segment, Autodesk is our sole competitor.

Innovation is the buzz word these days. What is the latest innovation in which Bentley takes pride?
Keeping with our commitment towards creating new value for the users, we regularly introduce important innovations. One example is Bentley’s OpenPlant for the design, engineering, construction, and operations of plants that process oil and gas, pharmaceuticals and chemicals, handle water and wastewater treatment, etc. OpenPlant is uniquely based on the open iRING/ISO 15926 data standard. One of the challenges the processing industry faces today is that its designs are locked up in proprietary file formats, making integration among software and systems difficult. Our OpenPlant solution resolves this problem. Another emerging pacesetter from Bentley is our AECOsim Building Designer, which provides interdisciplinary building design, analysis, and simulation software focused on helping architectural, engineering, construction, and operations practice leaders deliver high-performance buildings.

A common trait of many Bentley innovations is their advancement of information mobility across multiple disciplines and the entire infrastructure lifecycle. Some of these advancements in the area of information modelling include design-time visualisation by which engineers can render and animate civil engineering models on the fly directly in the design environment, the ability to integrate point-cloud data in design environments for analysis, clash detection, and documentation, and our Navigator Mobile app for the iPad that lets users review and query 3D information models with engineering precision anywhere, online or offline.

We will also continue to aggressively add to our growing portfolio of Bentley Apps, which are fully enabled by Bentley Passports and facilitate information mobility among multi-discipline project and operations teams and across the infrastructure lifecycle. They address the varying needs of infrastructure professionals (from architects, engineers, and constructors to geospatial professionals, inspectors, and operations and maintenance teams), and can be used on a selection of mobile device platforms, including iOS and Android.

What are your views on open standards? How geared is Bentley in addressing this challenge?
Bentley is committed to delivering interoperability for a very good reason: we know that most of our users are deploying software from multiple vendors. As a result, having interoperability means they are more likely to be productive with our software if they can access different file formats and bring data from different sources into an information modelling or GIS workflow. And standards are an interesting topic.There are, of course, both de facto and de jure standards, and it is Bentley’s intention to support both when and where it is in the interests of our users.

Bentley is an active participant and principal member of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), and supports OGC standards such as WMS, WFS, and CityGML in its geospatial products such as Bentley Map and Bentley Geo Web Publisher. Another area where interoperability is vital is in water modeling and analysis, where Bentley is the only vendor that supports Esri, Autodesk, and MicroStation – all in the same products.

Interoperability is also leading us to cooperate with other organisations, such as Siemens and Trimble. Our strategic collaboration with Siemens was initially aimed at advancing the integration of digital product design and manufacturing process design with information modeling for facilities lifecycle design. More recently this collaboration was extended to target increased interoperability between the Comos engineering software solution from Siemens and Bentley’s OpenPlant 2D/3D system to bring more value to our users. Bentley and Trimble have a strategic alliance to further the connection between virtual and physical environments for infrastructure projects. This will establish a new benchmark for construction and operations quality, efficiency, and safety.

Does your alliance with Trimble seek to answer the problem of integration and open standards?
Trimble is doing great at global positioning. Our partnership with them enables us to layer our designs against their GPS coordinates. But we have also shared a good relationship with Esri over the years, and are able to easily read their data. In addition, we have also gone for strategic acquisitions to build on our portfolio. The four acquisitions last year were based on specific industries, but with a global focus. They included Ivara asset performance management; InspectTech field inspection applications and asset management services for bridges and other transportation assets; SpecWave software that helps AECO professionals author and configure structured text content, including engineering specs and related codes; Microprotol for the design and analysis of pressure vessels and heat exchangers; and topoGRAPHsoftware for high-precision surveying, earthworks, and road and railway design. We are expecting to take this technology and make it available everywhere else. The nice thing about India is that so many of its standards are consistent with what already exists. The software that we use in Australia, UK, and Canada can be used here, too.

What are your strategies for emerging markets?
We specifically have a focus on the BRICS countries, and our strategy is to have our own people there. Asia is an important market to us, and we have invested heavily there. It is upto our local people to understand the requirements and analyse which of our solutions can be best utilised there. In India, our largest market segments include power, water and oil and gas, whereas in Brazil they are oil and gas, transportation and mining and metals.

The developing markets have been slow to adopt technology, and moving from 2D to 3D would be in their best interests. You cannot have an information model without 3D. With the help of 3D, one can develop high-performing infrastructure. It is really important for us, as a software supplier, and for these countries as investors and owners of very expensive assets, to make sure they are developing high-performing, energy-efficient, safe, and cost effective infrastructure with reduced carbon footprints and the ability to provide high ROIs for owners.

Most of infrastructure projects taking place in these markets are government projects. How aware and open are these governments in terms of policies?
It varies from government to government. Some governments are hearing our problem but are not actually listening. The UK has made building information modelingmandatory but India still has a long way to follow. The US has made some progress but has not done anything like the UK. China has implemented 3D modeling in theoil and gas sector, which is important to the country”s economic engine, though its buildings and roads departments are still not following it. Brazil is largely a 2D world with the exception of petrochemicals. Russia is also a 2D market with exception of power generation, nuclear, and petrochemicals.

We are convinced that, in emerging as well as developed countries, Bentley’s unprecedented advances in information mobility will continue to drive increased use of information modeling in integrated projects for the creation of intelligent infrastructure that improves asset performance.

(Click here to read Malcolm Walter”s exclusive interview on water utilities as published in the October 2013 edition of Geospatial World)