The World According to Bentley, 2017
Roopinder Tara posted on October 24, 2017 | 3047 views
Stealing the show. Bentley Systems held its annual Year in Infrastructure in 2017 at the Marina Bay Sands resort, which includes the hotel, the second most expensive building in the world and arguably the most distinctive. Its “sky park,” 57 stories above street level juts 65 meters off the front, makes it the biggest cantilevered public structure, according to Arup, the firm that analyzed it.
Stealing the show. Bentley Systems held its annual Year in Infrastructure in 2017 at the Marina Bay Sands resort, which includes the hotel, the second most expensive building in the world and arguably the most distinctive. Its “sky park,” 57 stories above street level juts 65 meters off the front, makes it the biggest cantilevered public structure, according to Arup, the firm that analyzed it.

Bentley Systems held its Year in Infrastructure (YII) in Singapore and invited 128 members of the media, the biggest number ever. While modest in size as CAD companies go—Bentley has 3,000 employees, about a third of Autodesk—the company has a lock on some of the biggest engineering firms responsible for many of the most impressive engineering projects in the world. In the United States, almost every Department of Transportation uses Bentley software.

Annual revenue is stated as “more than $600 million” in the stack of announcements the company made available. A private company, Bentley has no obligation to report its revenue, though it usually does with an annual report, missing in this year’s conference.

Chief Technology Officer Keith Bentley delivers the technology keynote at YII2017 in Singapore after a three-year absence. CEO Greg Bentley looks on.
Chief Technology Officer Keith Bentley delivers the technology keynote at YII2017 in Singapore after a three-year absence. CEO Greg Bentley looks on.

The Bentley brothers can be credited for the company’s success. On stage were Chief Executive Officer Greg and Chief Technology Officer Keith Bentley. At least a couple more Bentleys hold positions at the company. It’s a tightly knit clan with an iron grip on the reins. You don’t get to lead Bentley unless you are one of them. Keith, who developed the code that became MicroStation, wrestled control of his software from the giant Intergraph in the mid-90s so they could focus on CAD on the PC. Intergraph was more diverse, including selling software for workstations, the workstations themselves and even their own microprocessor. Bentley, as it broke free, had only MicroStation, the second most popular PC-based CAD after AutoCAD.

This was more than 20 years ago. Bentley had 110 employees, almost all of them in Exton, Pa. Its users have gone from making floor plans in 2D to 3D and BIM. Through development and acquisition came a host of applications and talent that grew the company and increased the scale of projects that could be worked on.

Growth by Acquisition

The original reason for existence, MicroStation—still very much in use—is hardly heard at YII2017. Bentley these days is the sum of many more parts. A few notable additions to the Bentley family I have seen in conferences over the years follow.

REI, based structural analysis software division of Calcutta-based NetGuru, was acquired in 2005 and added STAAD to the portfolio and Santanu Das to the executive ranks as a vice president. Some of the biggest buildings in the world have used Bentley’s structural analysis applications, including the buildings near the Singapore Convention Center, where YII is being held. The towering, instantly recognizable Marina Bay Sands Hotel, a stunning three-tower 2,000-room complex topped with a “sky park” and three infinity pools, stole the show. But the venue wasn’t chosen for its looks. Its avant-garde architecture was assured safe with Bentley structural software.

SITEOPS, parking lot design software, acquired by Bentley in 2014, may be one of the smartest software I’ve seen.

GEOPAK acquisition (2001) expanded Bentleys customers base to those planning roads and railways. Amazingly life-like trees sway in the wind along the roads and railways after the acquisition of e-on software and the LumenRT product.

Drilling Big and Long

There’s no better example of the massive scale of Bentley projects than the tunnels. While product designers and manufacturers drills holes in little blocks of metal, Bentley users are using truck size boring machines to make holes in mountains for roads and railways. Bentley software can help plan for the creation of massive offshore platforms, pipelines to deliver the oil and gas, and the storage of it, all the way to the refineries that process it.

Why Singapore?

Bentley’s scale of operations includes entire cities with their 3D Cities initiative. There was a reason why Singapore, on the other side of the world from Exton, was chosen for this year’s conference. The city-state has expressed its goal of becoming the first Smart Nation.

The Republic of Singapore exists entirely on a main island that is 278 square miles. While it keeps trying to increase this area with land reclamation—MBS and convention center are on land that was once a swamp—it also is concerned with building vertically.

Ownership of “land” exists in the z axis, Greg noted. They are helping Singapore build its 3D land cadaster.

Business Opportunity

The Singapore conference was the largest yet, drawing the most attendees ever, many from Asia. China and India firms were well represented.

It must be tough sledding for western software companies to get significant penetration in foreign markets. Cultural and political differences are as wide as the oceans between. Rules—or lack thereof—for IP also play a part. It all adds up to a maddening barrier to foreign sales,

The most active of all countries in foreign development projects is China. Chinese companies led all finalists at YII2017 with 14 projects, more than any other country. This sounds promising and points to an exceptional acceptance of a software company at a scale unmatched and probably the envy of other design or engineering software companies.

(Image courtesy of Bentley Systems.)
(Image courtesy of Bentley Systems.)

While many of the China’s projects have been in Africa, not one African project was represented at this year’s YII.

The Opportunity in Urbanization

A slide used at YII2017. (Image courtesy of KPMG.)
A slide used at YII2017. (Image courtesy of KPMG.)

Bentley tells us how more people moving to cities can only help its business. According to National Geographic, one out of the 7 billion people on Earth now live in slums. Dwellings for many are constructed of found objects and scavenged building material. The Chinese solution has been to build high rises. If Bentley’s software be a savior able to stall urban blight and slummification, the bane of the big cities in Africa, Latin America and Asia, that could indeed prove lucrative for Bentley. These high-rises can be modern and high tech, leading to smarter cities.

The New Silk Road

China’s ambitious plan to expand trade routes is being called the New Silk Roads. (Image courtesy of the Wall Street Journal.)
China’s ambitious plan to expand trade routes is being called the New Silk Roads. (Image courtesy of the Wall Street Journal.)

China’s ambitious $900 billion plan to open most of Asia, being called the New Silk Roads, immediately involves two types of infrastructure Bentley is good at planning: roads and railroads. As routes are supported with services—fuel, food, lodging and more—Bentley also can help with design and construction of that type of infrastructure.

The original silk road was an inland route between China and the West that dates to Roman times. The New Silk Road, as detailed in China’s One Belt One Road plan, does one better by adding sea routes. Increased maritime activity would result in improvement and expansion of port facilities.

The Yungui Railway Yunnan Co. is building a railroad as part of the New Silk Road that includes one of the longest arch bridges in China. The project was a finalist in the Be Inspired Awards at YII2017. (Image courtesy of China Daily.)
The Yungui Railway Yunnan Co. is building a railroad as part of the New Silk Road that includes one of the longest arch bridges in China. The project was a finalist in the Be Inspired Awards at YII2017. (Image courtesy of China Daily.)

One of the finalists at YII2017 was part of the new overland route of the New Silk Road. The China Railway Eryuan Engineering Company and Yuanui Railway Yunnan Co. have teamed to build the railroad between Dali, in the center of the Chinese province of Yunnan and Ruili, near its western edge on the border of Myanmar, a 330 km stretch that includes a 1,024-meter suspension bridge and what may be the longest railroad tunnel in the world, the 34.5 kilometers through Gaoligong Mountain. The teams used Bentley’s PowerCivil to model the routing for the railway tunnel, ProStructures for the steel truss arch bridge, and MicroStation to model the terrain and foundation.

Due to political complications, part of the New Silk Route in Myanmar has stalled, but I am told by a Bentley employee that the Chinese teams will build the Dali-Ruili section right up the border and wait for Myanmar’s leader to reconsider.

Domestic Infrastructure: On Again, Off Again

At home, Bentley may have been counting on campaign promises of President Trump and the $1 trillion plan to revitalize US infrastructure—highways, bridges, subways, water systems, etc.—now much in need of some attention. However, a University of Pennsylvania analysis of the Trump budget shows the government applying only $200 billion toward infrastructure while cutting existing infrastructure projects by $255 billion, for net loss in infrastructure spending of $55 billion.

Bentley Management and Ascension

Bentley faces competition from other software companies. Autodesk has managed to take the lead in building design with Revit. In GIS applications, it faces competition from Intergraph and ESRI.

Upper management remains cohesive, with the Bentley brothers in top positions. Bentley is the only family run business of this scale in the CAD industry. Below the Bentleys, there may be some vacancies.

Malcolm Walters, Bentley’s last chief operation officer and previous master of ceremonies at YII conferences, left Bentley after 18 years. Businesses often groom the COO for a CEO position.

The very personable Huw Roberts, who spent 18 years at Bentley, was for the last 4 years a VP. Huw may have been the most accessible and knowledgeable spokesperson for all things Bentley during his tenure.

No young Bentleys have been making their presence felt at public events I know of, which would signal another path of ascension.

Bentley was on the verge of filing for an initial public offering, which if successful would have offered a step up to the next level. Plans were abandoned, though faint hints of another have been offered in subsequent years.

Bentley has received an investment by European giant, Siemens, of 50 million Euro toward the end of 2016, which the companies refer to as a minority stake. While an acquisition of Bentley is a possibility, most of Bentley’s business is not common to that of Siemens, says an analyst.

What happens to Bentley Systems in the next decade will be most interesting.

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