Data Management

Year in Infrastructure 2017: Bentley Systems Seeks to Ditch Dark Data with New Take on iModels

13 Oct, 2017 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

By moving beyond information containers to timelines, the company hopes to give infrastructure professionals a better handle on the constant in AEC projects: change.

At its annual Year in Infrastructure event, Bentley Systems honors notable applications of its software in infrastructure projects around the world, and also announces major news and product updates. The theme for this year’s event, which was held this week in Singapore, was “going digital,” explained CEO Greg Bentley. The goal is finding and reusing information across a project — which is only possible if it’s recorded and stored correctly.

According to Chief Product Officer Bhupinder Singh, data is the most challenging aspect of digital transformation: “Moving all of this data to the cloud doesn’t help you get any more insights,” he noted. Currently, companies are only analyzing about 1% of their data, he said; the rest is “dark data.”

On Wednesday, Bentley Systems annouced significant changes to its data management and collaboration strategy. The company unveiled the iModel 2.0 cloud platform and its first new service, iModelHub, for users of its ProjectWise project information management and collaboration services. “I think it’s the most exciting thing we’ve ever done,” enthused Chief Technology Officer Keith Bentley.

According to the company, the iModelHub cloud service “synchronizes and distributes changes made through discipline-specific BIM [building information modeling] applications; aligns semantically and physically their constituent digital components; and maintains immersive visibility for comprehensive and continuous design reviews across all project disciplines and participants.”

The Limitations of 1.0

Bentley Systems first introduced i-models back in 2009. These “containers” for infrastructure information were designed to collect all the files associated with a particular project into one, enabling users to “extract a snapshot” of the project. “That has worked out fairly well, but I think we need to improve on that,” said Keith Bentley; the 2.0 version, he explained, it is both a file and a relational database.

In part because the company invented iModels (now styled more like the name of an Apple product) before the rise of modern cloud computing, the company “missed three things” the first time around, said Keith Bentley: alignment, accountability, and accessibility.

Alignment. The information in a database can only be queried and analyzed successfully if it is aligned — consistent in terms of units, semantics, and structure. But the programmers of various applications all have their own systems for structuring data: Are the distances in meters or feet? The angles in radians or degrees? The temperatures in Celsius or Fahrenheit? “That filter is aligned however that programmer thought [it should be],” Keith Bentley pointed out. The result of combining all those unaligned filters, when working with a half-dozen or dozen applications on a large project, can be compared to looking through multiple polarized lenses, all aligned differently: your data is dark. ”We can’t leave it in this tangled mess, so … we need to realign our data before we can use it and repurpose it,” said Keith Bentley.

Accountability. “iModelHub’s mission is not to store iModels; iModelHub’s mission is to store change in iModels,” Keith Bentley explained. Answering questions such as, “What changes brought us to this point?” and “How was the project affected by that change?” provides far more insight than the current state of the project can. He likened it to the amount of information provided in a bank statement: The context-free revelation that an account balance is lower than it was last month is much less useful than seeing all the intervening deposits and withdrawals that resulted in the new balance. “[This is] an accounting system for your projects,” he said.

In addition, this approach relieves users of the time-consuming burden of creating an entire new iModel every time something changes, even if the second is 99% the same as the first. “We should store not the result of change, but store the change,” he asserted.

Keith Bentley also acknowledged the thornier side of accountability: Some people feel threatened by the idea of having each change — and the liability that potentially could come with it, in the case of failure — tracked and recorded. But this same record could be used to exonerate innocent companies and individuals in the case of disputes, he believes.

Accessibility. Making the information in the database available to any project member or program that needs it, without impairing other users’ progress, is the goal. This is managed by replicating the database whenever necessary — made possible by the power of cloud computing — and then synchronizing all checked-in project changes through iModelHub, which uses Microsoft Azure cloud services. “There is no ‘master iModel’ … my master copy is my timeline,” said Keith Bentley. For example, field workers can use an iModel while temporarily lacking Internet access: “It doesn’t need connectivity to iModelHub to be valuable.”

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