Cambashi Report on the Bentley Year in Infrastructure (YII) 2016 Conference
by Tony Christian
Once again, the annual Bentley Year in Infrastructure (YII) conference was structured to give each of the infrastructure industries that Bentley’s portfolio serves its own series of sessions alongside the plenary keynotes. The sessions were given by members of Bentley staff and external speakers, discussing technology and industry trends. As always, unless you work in a specific industry, this meant making hard choices about which industry sessions to focus on (your correspondent focused mainly on the oil, gas and mining sessions).
The centrepiece of the conference is the Be Inspired awards evening (what Bentley calls ‘The Academy Awards for the Infrastructure Industries’). This is where the nominees for the ‘best project’ in each of around 20 categories are announced, and the winners crowned. Bentley invests quite a lot of effort in collecting nominations, assembling juries, providing the infrastructure to support the evaluation and selection process and so on. This activity continues to add something special to a vendor conference like this, and is a great showcase for what Bentley users are achieving with the technologies on offer.
The Technology News
Happily for the press and analyst delegates, the usual firehose of product updates, acquisition announcements and case studies was tempered somewhat this year. Although there were important announcements in those areas, the primary focus was on the efforts that the company is making to draw sets of products into coherent solutions based on unified data structures and user interfaces. Given the sheer range of products that Bentley now has under its wing, this seems an essential investment. The potential for offering solutions with unique breadth of functionality is huge; but so, one imagines, is the technical challenge involved.
Last year, the area that was most attention-grabbing, due to its highly visual nature, was all of the new technology for geometric data capture and modelling. These technologies continue to get high billing (they are, after all, the ‘sexy’ stuff). But for much of the plenary sessions, and certainly in the process industries stream of industry sessions, most of the presentation and discussion content was about data integration and management. So why now? After all, the issue of data sharing between applications, and access to the right information by the person that needs it, when they need it, has been acknowledged to be a hurdle to full exploitation of engineering systems and their associated data management environments for years.
Bentley seems to be investing substantial resources into the whole application interoperability/data management/user access aspects of what it would call the ‘advancing infrastructure’ picture. This certainly includes better integration of its own substantial array of applications into the integrated, collaborative CONNECT Edition environment. But there are also major efforts underway on standards compatibility and, perhaps the most highly visible aspect, partnerships with other providers, notably Siemens. The strategic alliance between Bentley and Siemens was confirmed with Siemens’ 70M Euro purchase of Bentley stock in November 2016, and a joint announcement of a 50M Euro plan to develop joint solutions in infrastructure project delivery. Since then, Siemens has presented the alliance as “adding a new dimension” to its existing plant engineering software, COMOS. Siemens has also pointed out new opportunities, based on joint capabilities, for brownfield industrial projects.
This should have huge potential. Here at Cambashi we have noted before that, in terms of positioning, it seems that Bentley’s strategy is to focus mainly on supporting the ‘way in which things get done’ throughout the asset lifecycle – that is, competent rather than spectacular design tools, but building on major strengths in core areas like project management, asset information management and information sharing. So combining Bentley’s strengths in those areas with Siemens broad design capabilities would appear to offer a ‘whole-greater-than-the-sum-of-the-parts’ outcome if they get it right.
Bentley has been a leader in offering cloud-based, flexible access models to its applications for some years and continues to innovate in this area, which should position it well for the future. Despite acceptance of ‘the cloud’ being patchy among user organizations in the AEC industries, it does seem to be increasing steadily. This is driven by benefits like support for distributed project execution, access to applications on demand and total cost of ownership of IT.
The emphasis on asset information management is timely, especially in oil and gas where owners are cutting back on major projects and looking for ways to prolong existing asset lives while reducing operating and maintenance costs. There has been a lot of discussion about information management over the years and lots of effort put into standards development through the work of organisations like Fiatech. Nevertheless, it still feels as though the holy grail of fully integrated asset lifecycle management is a long way off and we will continue to watch Bentley’s developments in this area with great interest.
Progress on greater integration of the portfolio should enhance Bentley’s proposition for clients substantially. In conversations with sales and marketing staff, it seems like most conversations with customers are initiated on the basis of a particular product needed to solve a ‘local’ problem rather than a broad strategic application set. Indeed, as we have noted before, most of the projects nominated for the Be Inspired awards were focused on exploitation of a particular product rather than a broad portfolio. The combination of greater application interoperation and the relationships with third parties, especially Siemens, should provide an opportunity for Bentley to establish key strategic supplier status within more major companies.
Footnote: While Bentley covered some of Cambashi’s expenses for the event, it did not influence this summary in any way