Building Design

Sustainable Is a Many-Splendored Word

3 Jun, 2008 By: Andrew G. Roe,P.E.

Civil and geospatial software find a natural niche in working toward a sustainable environment, as evidenced at this year's Bentley Conference.


The phrase "sustainable infrastructure" may conjure up various images, such as energy-efficient buildings, environmentally conscious land-development projects, and the wise use of natural resources. All may be on target for civil and geospatial professionals, but the word sustainable can also apply to the software and data we use on a daily basis. At least that's one of the messages conveyed at the recent BE Conference, Bentley Systems' annual gathering, which took on a different format this year.

Titled "BEst Practices for Sustaining Infrastructure," Bentley's May 28-30 conference at the Baltimore Convention Center featured less hands-on training than in previous years and more management-oriented sessions about designing more efficiently, conveying designs digitally, and reusing data. The words integration and interoperability flowed freely through keynote talks, discipline-specific sessions, and hallway discussions.

Bentley apparently feels a calling to encourage sustainable design, a cause that's been promoted heavily in recent years by groups such as the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Institute of Architects. The message is still captivating interest, as evidenced by the 2,000-plus attendees who heard of the urgent need to shore up infrastructure in the United States and around the world and saw impressive project renderings illustrating how Bentley users are building new infrastructure.

Sustainable Software
In the civil and geospatial software spectrum, Bentley sees more opportunities for data sharing, and is promoting its Microstation DGN-based platform as a means to share data across product lines and throughout various project phases. With the same data files potentially shared by GIS professionals using Bentley Map and engineers using InRoads and GEOPAK, the common platform "relieves the disconnects between traditionally separate CAD and GIS," said chief executive officer Greg Bentley in his opening keynote speech.

Click for larger image Bentley hopes its Microstation platform can aid data sharing across product lines. (Image courtesy of Bentley Systems.) (Click image for larger version.)

Keith Bentley, chief technology officer, followed up by using the phrase sustainable software, referring to software that advances technologically but maintains access to data created in earlier projects. The company's next release of Microstation, code-named Athens, promises to be a more integrated and interoperable platform, working in conjunction with more than 100 different discipline-specific applications, he said.

Later breakout sessions emphasized the value of interoperability throughout various project phases, including operations and maintenance after construction is complete. Combining geospatial information and the concept of building information modeling (BIM) will allow professionals to "look at buildings as they relate to a community," not just individually, said Mark Reichardt, president and CEO of the Open Geospatial Consortium, an international group that helps develop public specifications and enable interoperability. In a variation on BIM, several presenters also said bridge information modeling (BrIM) offers similar possibilities in managing bridge assets.

Which Road to Take?
Bentley users often ask what will become of the company's three separate road design products: GEOPAK, InRoads, and MX. With roots in separate companies merged under the Bentley umbrella, the products have loyal factions among various public agencies and private sectors. Bentley personnel repeatedly stated that all three products will be maintained, but that certain features may be shared among the products. The Roadway Designer, an InRoads feature, has already been implemented in GEOPAK, for example.

Beyond roadway design, civil engineers and surveyors were offered several case studies on Bentley's other products such as PowerCivil for site design and Bentley Cadastre, a product based on Bentley Map with additional tools for creating and managing land parcels.

Conference Reflections
This three-day conference sent some strong signals that Bentley is intent on maintaining its aggressive growth trends. Even after tripling revenues over the past decade to $450 million in 2007, Bentley has not let up on its acquisition quest, recently purchasing LEAP Software, a bridge analysis and design software vendor, and Common Point, makers of ConstructSim, construction simulation software (for more on construction simulation, see GIS Tech News, Feb 2007).

Based on discussions with attendees, this year's conference was a slicker, more corporate-oriented event than in years past. Most presentations were heavily scripted, with product demonstrations largely limited to prerecorded video captures, rather than live pick-and-click demonstrations. Bentley promises hands-on training will still be offered but will be shifted more to regional events. Again noting the company's desire to promote a sustainable environment, Greg Bentley said the regional training could reduce travel and energy consumption.

A skeptic might say the sustainable infrastructure theme was about increasing revenues as much as improving the environment, and Bentley seems to acknowledge that, both on a corporate level and a broader, global level. "Sustaining our environment is not incompatible with sustaining our economies," said Greg Bentley.

The guest keynote was delivered by Andrew Winston, co-author of Green to Gold, a book that describes "how smart companies use environmental strategy to innovate, create value, and build competitive advantage." So whether sustainable design is viewed as a noble paradigm shift or a short-term trend, Bentley apparently sees it as a key to future growth, both for itself and its users.


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