Bentley Year in Infrastructure 2016 Told In Tweets
Rande Robinson posted on February 14, 2017 |

Journalists are increasingly covering their events with Twitter. Some companies that invite us to their shows pay very close attention to the number of tweets we produce, even ranking the journalists by their Twitter production. Rande Robinson, civil engineer, has been recognized as “top tweeter” at previous events. Does it work for the reader? Take a look at one writer’s journey as he negotiates through Bentley's Year in Infrastructure (YII)—but now with some elaboration if 140 characters was not enough.

I like to tweet at an event. I am good at it. It allows me to do a couple of things.

  1. Comment on the event.
  2. Be in two or more places at once by following others’ tweets.
  3. Take notes.

It's also fun.

The problem with tweets though can be context. Exactly what was going on at the time of the tweet? Why did I think it was interesting enough, important enough or sarcastic enough to comment? With that in mind, let's look at some of my tweets from the 2016 Year in Infrastructure.

CrossRail is a long-term major project that employs technology to the hilt. From what I can tell, it is the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) world's building information modeling (BIM) crown jewel. Bentley has been with the company from the beginning and is not afraid to let everyone know. If you want to see an example of how to implement BIM, then look no further.

This was about a quick demo video on OpenRail Designer. I'm a road and bridge guy, so other than cussing at the railroads, I try to have as little as possible to do with them. This product looked like fun. Now, exactly how many railroad design programs are out there is anyone's guess, but this looks like a good one.

3D printing has been looking for the killer app. Well, here it is. Model railroaders are an interesting group of people. They are part designer, part engineer and part artist. I could see them using OpenRail to design, layout and then print unbelievable dioramas.

This tweet is an open question and one that every user needs to start asking. Bentley is like every other software company out there. It has the problem of having to come up with new and exciting software products every year. Several reasons drive this:

  • Marketing
  • Stockholders (though not in Bentley's case)
  • Keeping up with competitors
  • The need to be “cutting edge”

But when one looks at the state of software versus the state of practice, there is a big divide. Software in general is way out ahead of practice. BIM, for example, comes to mind. Since most people only use a fraction of the power of their software, why keep adding more and more unused features? My concern here is that the software may be too far ahead of its users. What do you think?

This tweet was about Bentley's Doc Center. It has always amazed me that as good as CAD and design programs have become, it is still a pain to produce paper documents from them. I understand that printing/plotting has always been an afterthought. CADD has always intended for drawing data to be electronic in nature. The paperless society that everyone has been waiting for (which never seems to get here) is nowhere to be seen. Paper may be old school, but one can use it in about any environment and doesn’t need batteries or a plug—which, if you have ever been on a construction site, can be in short supply. The Doc Center will provide a comprehensive and easy-to-use tool to output data in any format.

Drones will save us all—or so it seems that the vendors (both software and hardware) want us to believe. Drones are a case of vendors driving a technology. I concede that drones are a fantastic technology and have multiple uses in the AEC industry—although they also still have a long way to go. The Google Glass reference is about another technology that also got a lot of press, but of a different kind. Google Glass had as much if not more potential than drones but wasn't as socially acceptable. Beware the Ides of Marketing.

Like Intergraph before it, Bentley has always tried to provide a “field to finish” suite of products. With the age of BIM and the Internet of Things upon us, Bentley has been moving to encompass the complete life cycle of a civil project. It has created a pretty substantial portfolio of products to do that. My concern— and something worth discussing in greater detail—is the life expectancy of software and data. If a bridge or a building is going to be in service in 50 to 100 years, will our software products last that long? It is a crucial question still looking for an answer.

This tweet was about the Merchant Square Rolling Bridge. I had read about it and seen it in various technical magazines. I came across it when I went outside for a walk, at lunch. The Tower Bridge it isn’t, but it is one of the amazing things that you can see in London. Wonder what software designed it? Note: My wife's high school (a STEM school) class, which was following my tweets, found this fascinating.

MicroStation has had fantastic visualization and animation tools built into it for years. Why, after all this time, are we enthralled with it? As a matter of fact, it improves with every version. Every software presentation I see these days emphasizes the built-in visualization capabilities. I rarely see any roadway or bridge designer use visualization in their day-to-day work. In most organizations, it is still an activity handled by a specialized group, which uses specialized software instead of the built-in capabilities of the MicroStation. Why? Wish I knew, it is one of those things that bothers me.

Bad typing on my part—it should have been “Martyn the Martian.”

These two tweets are about the same thing. YII2016 was the first time I had got to see and use Microsoft’s HoloLens. While it is still a rudimentary device, its potential is unlimited. Currently, it is a bit bulky, and the software still needs some tweaking, but it is useable. Once you get the hang of the basic gestures, it is even fun to use. Although Microsoft provided some simple demos to look at, I was able to use it to surf the Internet with a Web browser, which was fascinating. I can see it in the future attached to hardhats on every construction site in the world. As Microsoft continues to refine the HoloLens's hardware and software, all it needs is a few good third-party applications. A CAD viewer or even a good PDF viewer would make HoloLens the must-have engineering tool of the future. (By the way, ART stands for “Another Random Thought.”)

Interesting question. I'm not sure there is a right or wrong answer, but it's an interesting question to ponder. It points out the difference in original idea or innovation (Pong) versus the refinement or advancement of software and hardware (SimCity).

Another random thought. I seem to have these all the time when I’m watching a presentation. It is so easy to get caught up in the moment that we forget the big picture. CAD has been around for over 30 years. A question about CAD you need to ask yourself is “What couldn’t I do 10 or 20 years ago that I can do today?” Yes, software and hardware have advanced at a rapid pace, but taking that out of the equation. What is new? 3D? Bill of materials ? Plotting? What will be the NEXT killer feature?

As an American, it can be easy to forget about the rest of the world. It isn’t until you attend a meeting or conference outside the United States that you realize it isn't all about you. In this case, I sat down for lunch with a group of Brazilians and Columbians. They could understand me since they all spoke English. I couldn't understand a word they were saying amongst themselves. It is a very humbling feeling and one that makes you think about your place in the world.

This was a quote from Mark Hansford during one of the keynote addresses. Although I doubt the average engineer has a majority of the 41 weather apps on his or her phone, I’m sure they have a lot more than they use. This situation points out a big problem in today’s technical world. How many different software packages does an engineer or architect need to do his or her job? Five, six, a dozen or more? An individual could spend six months or more than a year keeping up with new features and versions.

What if there is a power outage? Then what is your plan B? It makes you appreciate pencil and paper. It also makes you wonder if software and computers are necessary to do your job. Why is there never any money for new cutting-edge stuff?

This tweet is pretty self-explanatory. Bentley is not a one-product company anymore. It has grown from a single-product to multidimensional services company that can provide not only the software, but also the expertise, hardware and networking solutions to make it work. That’s an impressive feat for a small firm from Pennsylvania to accomplish.

The question that always gets asked at a Year in Infrastructure conference is “Will Bentley go public this year?” Again, this year the answer was no. I understand that an IPO could make the Bentley family and a lot of long-term Bentley employees wealthy. It would be a disaster for the customers. As a private company, Bentley can partner with its customers for the long run, which is a value that is hard to calculate in today's AEC world—at least IMHO.

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