In this interview for the Worldfolio, Christopher Liew of Bentley Systems gives us his unique insight into his company, and how the innovative technology solutions developed in-house improve the entire lifecycle of infrastructure projects.
Could you introduce us to the activity of Bentley Systems?
Bentley focuses on the engineering side of information and communications technology, providing solutions for the complete lifecycle of infrastructure assets. We view it as more than just a process from construction to maintenance, but a process that comprises five stages – conceptual, design, construction, and maintenance and operations. Bentley provides solutions for the complete asset lifecycle of infrastructure and offers applications for each stage, regardless of the concept, while considering how the data flows to the next stage of the lifecycle. Our applications act as a facilitator of the design for the architect and the engineer, and follow the creation of the building from the design stage to its maintenance and control, throughout the entire lifecycle.
Historically speaking, Japan has always been known to be a hardware maker, as embodied by the “Monozokuri” philosophy. In recent years, we have seen many corporations challenging this misconception. Some titans have re-oriented their businesses (SONY, Fujisoft), while many new entrants have developed innovative solutions in cross-sectorial fields. What is your assessment of Japan’s current software knowledge and capacity when compared to the USA? What competitive advantage does Bentley Systems bring to the Japanese market?
We are seeing, and advocating for, more convergence between information communication technology (ICT) and engineering. The latest McKinsey Report that came out last June discussed how the adoption of ICT in the engineering workplace will create a difference in organizations remaining competitive, productive, and effective. The report said that top ICT companies are going digital, and this is where Bentley is focused. We are helping infrastructure owners and companies in their pursuit of going digital. Data interoperability is very important, and Bentley provides comprehensive solutions for each phase of the infrastructure asset.
Toward the 2020 Olympics and as Japan is awaiting to welcome some 40 million tourists, experts have voiced their concerns as to the infrastructural capacity of the country. To renew the country’s connectivity, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has presented a $62 billion package, as more investment is expected from the private sector. What are the challenges and opportunities that arise from this need for infrastructure? How is your company working to address them?
Many governments have set standards and guidelines for BIM (Building Information Modeling), and we provide our users with solutions that comply with these standards. Japan has some catching up to do in terms of adopting BIM processes on their projects and in terms of going digital. Our goal is to highlight the advantages of using BIM methodologies among Japanese engineering firms, and having it accepted on a wider scale.
Founded in 1984, Bentley Systems is an American-based software development company specialized in infrastructural operations. Can you tell us more about the milestones achieved since Bentley’s foundation?
Bentley has built its company through research and development of applications as well as acquisition of complementary software and solutions that have allowed us to broaden our reach. MicroStation, our flagship product, was a standalone CAD system that became the backbone of the world’s leading solutions for engineering and design professionals. When ProjectWise, our information sharing and collaboration system, made its debut in 1998, it enabled distributed project teams to have available to them the right information at the right time to improve decision making and project delivery.
Today, we offer solutions that expand the entire infrastructure lifecycle for asset performance, bridges, buildings, construction, roads, rail and transit, utilities, and water and wastewater networks. In 2015, we released the CONNECT Edition of our MicroStation and ProjectWise products and have since rolled out many of our other applications as CONNECT Editions. The CONNECT Edition of Bentley’s engineering offerings provides a purposefully connected environment to improve the performance of infrastructure projects and assets from design through to construction and operations.
Leveraging the reach and computing power of Microsoft Azure, and supporting a hybrid environment that includes on-premise servers, desktop applications, and apps, the CONNECT Edition completes the reach of information mobility for advancing infrastructure. Moreover, the CONNECT Edition establishes a comprehensive modeling environment that supports the delivery of infrastructure projects to unify the work across the entire project ecosystem and over the full lifecycle of the project. The result is improved performance, with infrastructure projects being delivered on time, on budget, and with less risk. The CONNECT Edition also establishes a connected performance environment that empowers teams to extend beyond design integration to comprehensive project delivery. A connected data environment empowers enterprises to ensure the application of consistent standards and processes across a diverse portfolio of projects involving distributed multi-discipline teams.
In April, Bentley rolled out a new subscription service for its users called the SELECT CONNECT Edition. It is the most significant update of the SELECT subscription program since its inception. Leveraging Microsoft Azure, the new CONNECTservices enables project teams to collaborate, ensure users master their use of Bentley software through adaptive learning, and empower individuals with the personal mobility to get their work done at any time from any place. The benefits also include ProjectWise Connection Services that deliver ProjectWise to everyone, allowing users to securely share and deliver application data, create, send, and receive transmittals, submittals, and RFIs as well as the ability to access content and BIM standards to support design and analytical modeling.
These are just some of the milestones we have reached in our 30-plus years providing comprehensive software solutions for advancing infrastructure.
Historically speaking, the Japanese market has always been known for being quite closed-in upon itself and difficult to penetrate. From cross-shareholding between companies to the lack of transparency, it has the reputation of being a tough market for international competitors. As a foreign company, how would you describe your integration and evolution within the Japanese market?
Engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) firms make up the bulk of our users in Japan. Chiyoda, JGC, and Toyo Engineering are, I would say, the largest EPCs in the country. They do business on an international level and focus on all types of infrastructure. The three largest owners, excluding the government, are Hitachi, Mitsubishi, and Toshiba. The government, of course, is our largest user.
From a global point of view, your organization faces an ever-growing competition, with companies such as Autodesk, Siemens or Trimble. How do you differentiate your services from your competitors?
At Bentley, our mission is to provide innovative software and services for the enterprises and professionals who design, build, and operate the world’s infrastructure – advancing both the global economy and the environment for improved quality of life. Essentially, this means we advance infrastructure and provide solutions for the entire lifecycle of our users’ projects.
Our focus is on interoperability among third-party vendors and intra-operability within our own applications. Our goal is to maintain accurate information for each stage of the project lifecycle, from conception, to design, to engineering and construction, to operations and maintenance. Regarding Siemens, in January this year we announced an agreement to jointly develop solutions to accelerate digitalization of planning, design, and operations for power utilities and industrial power organizations. The first of the new offerings will integrate Bentley’s utility design and geographic information systems capabilities with Siemens’ Power System Simulation Suite, with specific solutions for power transmission, power distribution, and industrial facilities. Combining these two platforms provides users with Bentley’s expertise in 3D infrastructure asset modeling and GIS with Siemens’ knowledge and renowned experience in energy system planning and simulation.
Bentley Systems is also known for its heavy investment in R&D. In 2014, it was reported that around 20% of your overall revenue was invested in research. Since 2008, your company has invested over 1 billion USD in research, development, and acquisitions. Can you tell us more about the innovative solutions that you are currently developing? What innovative solutions are we to expect in the upcoming years? What problems will these products address?
Bentley is focused on going digital. This is being realized as infrastructure professionals take advantage of software that leverages a Microsoft Azure-provisioned connected data environment that digitally connects and converges people, processes, data, and technology to yield significant results. Digital engineering models act as visual operations and connected infrastructure asset performance as they take advantage of cloud computing, the industrial Internet of Things, big data, and operational data from a variety of sources.
Our MicroStation application is well known in Japan, and our goal is to increase the adoption of many of our other solutions. Japan International Consultants for Transportation (JIC) recently funded a project for a high-speed train in India. Bentley is providing solutions for project collaboration between the two countries. Engineers are using design applications from two vendors, and they need to collaborate so that they see a single model, and all parties are looking at the design with all the updates made by the engineers and construction team. With our solutions, if there are any disputes or delays, the problem can be traced to where it occurred and solved.
In 2012, Hitachi-GE engaged in the construction of a high-quality, reliable power plant. To design their new Integrated Plant Construction System, they used Bentley’s MicroStation software. Over the last 5 years, what Japanese project are you the proudest of having collaborated on? Looking at 2017-18, which project are you most excited about?
We are proud of all the projects in which we have been involved in Japan. Each project is different. I have been doing my current job for 11 years and the thing that I love about it is that it involves infrastructure, and the type of infrastructure that improves people’s lives. From roads, bridges, and transit, to communication and utilities, to water and wastewater plants, they all make positive impacts on citizens around the globe.