The Three Biggest Tech Game Changers of Our Age

Keith Bentley concisely sums up the most important technology advancements during his tenure at Bentley Systems.

Keith Bentley, CTO of Bentley Systems, has had a driver’s seat at the infrastructure software company for all of the company’s existence. That’s 38 years—a lifetime if you consider the life of the personal computer. The Bentley brothers, including Keith, took the precursor of MicroStation running on minicomputers (Intergraph’s version of the DEC VAX) and ported it to the IBM AT in 1986.

Keith is 63 years old but carries himself as a younger man. It may be the running. He runs a sensible amount, unlike his brother Ray (EVP at Bentley Systems and one of the company’s original developers), who runs marathons and ultramarathons.

We joined Keith for lunch at Bentley’s annual customer showcase, along with other journalists and attendees, at the Year in Infrastructure conference that recently concluded in London. We first sat down with Keith in 2008 in Baltimore, when the annual conference was called Bentley Empowered. He hasn’t lost a step, just as much a tiger for technology as he ever was, and is still eager to talk about it. We don’t expect someone immersed in technology for so long to be able to summarize it so succinctly—to be able to boil the ocean of changes to the three most important technology advancements of his tenure. But he can. And he does. They are:

  1. Batteries
  2. Compute power
  3. Bandwidth

Batteries make it all possible,” says Keith. “A drone can stay in the air for an hour now. It used to be 20 minutes.”

Makes sense. Just like the batteries for drones. Bentley Systems relies on drones as the most versatile platform for reality capture. Reality capture was front and center at the 2022 Year in Infrastructure and modern lithium-ion batteries have had a profound impact on the adoption and use of this technology. With the extended life and power density of lithium-ion batteries, drones can stay up and collect information longer, saving their operators from having to continually swap batteries and minimizing nonproductive time spent ascending and descending.

The increase in compute power is a no-brainer. Keith refers to the most common example, an iPhone. “We carry a supercomputer in our pocket,” he says. He is, of course, referring to supercomputers before the introduction of iPhones and perhaps to the IBM AT, which proved that MicroStation could run on a PC.

Bandwidth is no longer a barrier, according to Keith. He means online bandwidth. The Bentley brothers remember the early days, when Bentley first started selling MicroStation, when a connection was dialed up with a modem and its bandwidth was measured in kilobytes per second. At the time of the IBM AT, a 2400 kb/s modem was considered cutting edge. Contrast that to now, where we have one presenter talking about a LiDAR system generating a million points per second and uploading them to be processed is no problem.

Keith took to the stage at the Year in Infrastructure less this year than at previous conferences. This gives him more time to see the presentations and meet the presenters. At the presentations, his pride in having created the tools from which the grandest projects (bridges, dams, roadways, railroads and airports, to name a few) take form was palpable. He sat in the audience in rapt attention—as did his brother (and CEO) Greg Bentley. One might mistake the Bentley brothers for ordinary attendees, except that they don’t fidget or yawn even as the presentations stretched into late afternoon (It’s jet lag, okay?). I wonder if the audience knew that they had CAD royalty in their midst.

Giving the stage to brother Greg bothered Keith not one bit.

“You are looking at one happy man,” says Keith, when he finally took to the stage toward the end of the conference.