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By Roopinder Tara, December 4, 2012
There were 84 of us media types that assembled in the historic Grand Hotel Karsnapolksy in central Amsterdam, where amidst the picturesque canals, "coffee" shops, and a surprising proliferation of Argentinean steak house, we heard all about how good Bentley was doing.
photo courtesy of Bentley
The event started with a Media Day. We were showered with product news (over 20 press "briefs" and releases), acquisitions of 2 companies, financial status (record revenue of $523M) and forward thinking strategy (lots of attention to mobile devices).
The rest of the event was devoted to finalists in the Be Inspired contest, culminating in a formal dinner and announcement of the winners (see press release). This event is invitation only, for press but mostly for elite customers whose work would be judged exemplary, or would in some way inspire. The more democratic Be Together conference is for all users, closer to Bentley's headquarters, and in Philadelphia this May.
photo courtesy of Bentley
Only after I dug myself out from under the news was I able to pay attention. I heard a lot about Bentley going mobile, both in terms of mobile devices and "data mobility." Presenters were not only showing the mandatory iPad, but also Android devices -- and the brand new Microsoft Surface. I was curious. I understand Bentley must support Microsoft and whatever it might come up with (even the hateful ribbon interface, now the Surface), but the Bentley employee demoing the Surface seemed none too thrilled. We agreed the keypad was a bit awkward. He had no difficulty in learning how to use it and mostly ignored the keypad, which comes with the device. He had adjusted to typing on the iPad and now was having trouble learning to do the same with Surface.
Bentley even hired Wired editor who regaled us about mobile and Internet at all levels and places in the world, from its role at the Olympics, where unforeseen heavy use shut down the network and to the social unrest in Kenya. And let us not forget Arab Spring.
With so much attention being paid to mobile, on stage and in the hallways, plus showing products that were still months away from release just to increase the mobile buzz, I had to ask if Bentley was getting carried away. Was Bentley throwing everything it had in development of apps for mobile devices, and in the process ignoring the desktop use that was its bread and butter? After all, most of Bentley users do still work on desktops. Most content is created and processed on desktops. Aren't these mobile devices just eye candy?
I sought the Bhupinder Singh, Bentley's level headed SVP, who is responsible of overall product strategy. Bhupinder explained to me, that no, Bentley still had its feet on the ground, and was quite respectful of its desktop apps.
Bentley is moving forward on the mobilization of data. Bhupinder reiterated what Greg Bentley had mentioned, that the production of data was the domain or the desktop, but increasingly the consumption of data needed to be on mobile devices. For example, the plans for an infrastructure project, once a public agency owns it, could be available to the public -- and for commercial projects. Bentley acquired InspecTech (see press release), which gets data from bridge inspections and provides its customers -- although for security concerns and proprietary reasons the data is not publicly available. For wide exchange to data, Bentley offers i-models, containers for the open exchange of infrastructure information including component data for properties, geometry, 3D and graphics. This is what Bentely calls truly mobile data. Not data in silos.
That might work for "public" data, which is captured at the expense of the public. However, wouldn't that leave vast blank areas with no data or private data, created by private companies? For example, a LIDAR scan done for a shopping center. A company may have no interest in making its data available to others - or for the common good. The exception is a big one. Google has provided considerable data for anybody and everybody in the form of Google Earth. But Google can afford the largesse -- it makes billions of dollars of profit. A thousand vehicles with multi-lensed cameras to ply every paved road? No problem. CAD companies just aren't that size. But since I regularly hear about how Bentley it is at the root of every major infrastructure project in the world, I press on.
Of course, Bentley is hardly the size of Google. It cannot behave like a charitable concern, like Google is. It has to make money. But why not have Bentley act as the broker of the data its customers own? It is in an ideal position to do so. The terabytes of point clouds of processing plants. the BIM data... even whole cities, dams, bridges, water treatment plants...more. Collectively, it would be a vast amount of useful data. Instead of it being stored and archived in private solos (Greg Bentley calls this data mortality), here is a chance for Bentley to play a part in making the data available and useful, making itself the data steward for the world's infrastructure data.
But Bhupinder stresses, first and foremost, Bentley’s commitment is to protect the proprietary content and data of its users and it does not have any intention of moving in this direction.
It's an opportunity lost for Bentley. It could be the Google of the infrastructure world. It could have charged a small brokerage fee -- who could fault them-- created a new revenue stream for itself as well as for the companies that owned the data.
|Roopinder Tara, TenLinks founder and CEO, has spent over 28 years in the CAD, CAM and CAE business, including roles as CAD manager, senior engineer, manager of a CAD division, editor in chief of CAD magazine, conference chair, professor of engineering and CAD. He has a masters in engineering and is a registered professional engineer. More...|