Founded in 1984, Bentley is the leading provider of engineering information management software to architects, engineers, geospatial professionals, constructors, and owner-operators. The company’s ‘mission is to empower its users to leverage information modelling through integrated projects for high-performing intelligent infrastructure.’ Malcolm S Walter is the COO and Senior Vice President of Bentley. He joined the company in 1999, and has served in the current position since 2000 with responsibility for Bentley’s global sales and marketing organisations. He spoke to Anoop K Menon on Bentley’s product evolution, applications for water and power sectors and the link between digital models and sustainability.
Could you brief us on Bentley’s evolution as a infrastructure software provider?
If I go back to when I started with Bentley Systems 13 years ago, we essentially had one Computer Aided Design (CAD) product called MicroStation and went to market through a global group of resellers. Since that period, we have focussed our efforts on providing much more complete solutions to the entire range of infrastructure or built environment, from linear assets like roads, rails, utility networks and communication networks to model-based assets like buildings, bridges, power generation, process manufacturing, and water and wastewater plants. This has been achieved through a combination of products that we have built on our own or acquired. We have gone from a single product company to one with a very broad range of products in its portfolio, many of which are industry leading brands. Today, there are a number of categories where we are number one like structural analysis and bridge design to name a few.
Do you have specific solutions for specific industries or are they horizontal solutions that can be used across multiple industries?
Depending on the application, the answer can be a yes or a no. Our approach is in terms of asset categories, so if we consider the example of the power sector, we break that into two segments – power generation, and transmission and distribution (T&D). In T&D, we will look at what are the solutions needed, end-to-end, to support an owner who has these assets. Then we will look at our portfolio and see what applications we have that can help that owner. If there are gaps where we don’t have a solution, we can build it, or buy it or integrate with a product or solution in the market which fills that niche beautifully –we don’t have to own it, we simply integrate with it. We take a solution by solution approach. In some cases, the application applies across multiple solutions. In other cases, it is very specific. In fact, we follow this approach with regard to water sector too, whether it is networks or treatment facilities.
What are your specific solutions for water and power?
In the area of power distribution, we recently came out with an application for intelligent substation design, which up until then had really been a 2D process. Our solution takes it into a 3D environment which makes it easier to visualise and document substation plans or execute clash detection and clearance checking. Today, substations often have to be fit into fairly tight spaces, which can be challenging from a construction stand point. In addition, the tools that we provide can cut the design time by over 50%, so designers are not only saving a lot of time in design, but also end with something they know is constructible.
In water, we have WaterGEMS for doing analysis in water distribution networks; we also have a wonderful product called the Darwin Calibrator which provides a cost-effective way to estimate the location and extent of hidden leakage in underground pipes. It is estimated that globally, 30% of water supply never reaches its intended destination. But if you have a model of your water network, you can simulate a fixed amount of pressure and see how the network should be operating. You can then apply that same pressure through your actual network and see how it is working. If there are gaps, these are more often than not, caused by leakage.
Today, the state-of-the art when it comes to detecting a leak is to wait till it comes up above the ground. What the Darwin Calibrator does is literally run millions of iterations against your model until the shape of the curve starts to approximate what you are actually seeing through your network. It starts to narrow down where you need to go and look for leaks, which I think is a tremendous advantage.
Does the Darwin Calibrator integrate with existing systems that utilities may have like data loggers or SCADA networks?
Bentley focuses on interoperability, and we recognise that there are industry standards and de facto standards. WaterGEMS specifically works with the ESRI solutions. Water CAD does the same thing, but with MicroStation or AUTOCAD. So we offer two solutions that essentially do water analysis depending on whether you are in the ESRI environment or AUTOCAD and MicroStation environments. In a large project, data is going to be coming from different sources. So we pay very careful attention to interoperability.
Are you happy about the level of awareness of your products in this region?
This region had gone through a real estate boom and perhaps, at some point, we might argue that some of those projects should have never happened in the first place. What we are observing now is people are talking about projects that are rational and will benefit the region. Of course, we had the Arab Spring which created economic and political instability in parts of the region. But the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) area has largely benefitted – oil prices have remained high, tourism sector is growing, GDP figures have returned to normal and of course, population growth continues unabated. As a result, infrastructure spend is, sort of, back on the table. The focus areas seem to be power, water and transportation, fundamental sectors that can dramatically help and improve what goes on in the region. What I mean is that before you start building buildings, you need to have water,power and transportation in place.
Last year, in Fukushima, we saw a developed country – Japan – overwhelmed by massive devastation. Hypothetically speaking, can infrastructure software solutions that touch multiple facets of the built environment bring things back on track, and if so, how quickly can that be achieved?
There are tools that can simulate disasters though one may never be able to simulate the kind of disaster that happened in Fukushima. However, the ability to simulate the impact of a 100 year flood or something similar to that is possible as long as you have the model. This is something that is very useful in terms of future planning, and water and wastewater authorities are already doing such activities to make sure the systems they have in place are going to operate adequately.
Coming to Fukushima, we had two users – both are mapping and survey companies – who went in as soon as they could get in there and started mapping the area, creating the routing for disaster relief to come in. This happened almost immediately. In fact, one of them won an award from Bentley for the work they did. Our geospatial tools are great tools that allow you to take photographic images and convert them into models.
There is a lot of talk about sustainable infrastructure development in this region. What is your take on the concept? Is the rational approach to real estate and infrastructure development in the aftermath of the bust helping the case?
For us sustainability has many meanings. One of the fundamentals of sustainability is that the assets that are built continue in their purpose for as long as possible. Because of the tremendous amount of investment that has flown into the digital economy (the Internet is pretty much ubiquitous and even parts of the world it didn’t reach, they are now building that out), in cloud computing, and the tremendous advances achieved in both suggests that the types of applications and services that distributed project teams need can be got to those projects no matter where they are.
We also have the consumerisation of Information Technology (IT) – today, everyone has got a smart phone and tablets, so much so that we have mobile computing at a level we didn’t know two years ago. Because of this consumerisation, Bentley’s engineering information management tools and desktop applications allow you to have a digital model of your assets that is truly a reflection of the physical as-built.
The old process of building infrastructure is one where architects and engineering consultants did a lot of digital work, hit the print button and gave the paper to the contractor, who went and did a lot of work on the same lines. But they also marked up some things that were different, and finally handed the marked up documents to the asset owner. As a result, all the rich digital content stayed behind. Now, because of the advances in the digital world, we can bring that content forward so that as an owner I can have a real digital model of my asset. There are some real advantages to this, the primary one being sustainability because in that environment, a water distribution network or a wastewater treatment plant or any asset for which I have a digital model is going to be much more sustainable. I can simulate that asset’s performance, measure actual performance and then, I have chance to reconcile the difference. I can also use such a model to respond to disasters.