Last week I had the pleasure of attending Bentley Systems’ Year in Infrastructure conference in Singapore. The 2017 event marked the first year the conference was held in the Asia Pacific region, and from what I could gather, it was hosted there for two main reasons. First of all, almost half of Bentley’s ‘Be-Inspired’ project submissions were from the region, which reflects both its’ importance to Bentley’s top line, but also the scale, vigor and interest to apply Bentley’s software in solving increasingly ambitious engineering design and operating challenges. In water-related segments, which I estimate generate between 5 to 8% of Bentley’s total revenue, this competition sees engineering consultants and water utilities from around the world vying for the award, and I saw compelling presentations from Brazil, China, and the Philippines, to name just a few. Secondly, and not to be dismissed lightly, Bentley wanted attendees to take note of its part in creating many of the designs showcased in the rather impressive Singapore skyline (and buried water infrastructure below it!). After a week filled with new product developments, acquisition announcements, and interviews with executives and thematic specialists from Bentley and partner organizations, I thought I´d share some reflections on what I learned, through the lens of municipal water, and with a look to how the industry will evolve.
1) Modelling is rapidly shifting from a planning tool, to an operational tool. Bentley, who first moved into water with its acquisition of Haested Methods Inc. in 2004, has been a top 3 provider of hydraulic modelling software ever since. At the conference, it announced the acquisition of ACTION Modulers, a Portuguese firm specialized in coastal and 2D modelling of urban drainage. Adding the 2D component to the Haested stack of 1D products, along with ACTION’s real-time capabilities in translating precipitation forecasts into hydraulic scenarios, will strengthen Bentley’s product portfolio toward operational insights, enable increasingly responsive collection systems, and help urban managers more accurately model the impact of storm events to optimize existing and future infrastructure decisions.
2) Cloud-based asset management is top of mind. Bentley’s looks to ramp up its AssetWise solution for municipal water utilities in 2018, with plans to release a module customized for water utilities in Q1. This GIS-based platform should offer an asset-centric management hub for utilities, with functionalities ranging from lifecycle information management, tie-ins to inspection records, documents, risk assessment and reliability, inform maintenance planning, real-time dashboarding, and operational analytics, fully integrated with utility ERP systems and available from the cloud. From my vantage point, asset management could very well be the most dynamic smart water segment in 2017, as players from across the operating spectrum position to best assist utilities in understanding, managing, and replacing their assets. Reinforcing this industry interest was EQT Partners US$270 million acquisition of Innovyze in March 2017, which established a new benchmark for software solution providers for municipal water utilities. Bentley’s product portfolio and migration toward asset management is highly comparable to the evolution of Innovyze’s market offering, and the acquisition should support future valuations of Bentley Systems.
3) Bentley-Siemens partnership highly complementary, should bode well for water-specific portfolios. The two companies announced a strategic alliance in November of 2016, which saw Siemens take a minority stake in Bentley of US$77.5 million, and create a joint R&D program. Related to water, Bentley’s front-end products complement well Siemens operations-centric hardware portfolio. Siemens presented its current developments in smarter water management, touching on a pump optimization / energy efficiency software called OPTIM, and a software module that notifies of pipe-bursts. While still early-days in the partnership with respect to how they will jointly develop solutions for water utilities, the sharing of IP and sector experience should benefit both companies moving forward. Tighter collaboration between companies with hardware-centric business models and software firms playing higher up the project development curve is a trend across the industry, with Schneider’s plans to merge with Aveva another recent example.
4) Bentley is on the leading edge of technology advancements in the civil infrastructure. I found two technologies particularly impressive: ContextCapture, and iModelHub. The former is Bentley’s spatial mapping software that turns images into reality models, and can be applied across the civil engineering spectrum. Applied to water and wastewater, ContextCapture can enable utilities to gain geospatial and structural data from visual inspections, which should streamline surveying activities while populating physical models for design processes and help reduce conflicts during construction. I was told that there is work being done to map out parts of the centuries-old sewers of Paris, France, using the technology. More broadly, ContextCapture could add new possibilities in the development of a digital twin, a core concept of the industrial IoT movement propagated by Bentley and its partners Siemens (MindSphere) and Bureau Veritas, as well as competitors GE (Predix), Schneider Electric (EcoStruxure), and others. Another advancement, iModelHub, is a nascent product that will change the way that Bentley users manage their workflow across Bentley’s design platforms and ProjectWise. Structured like GitHub for software developers, iModelHub concentrates solely on the changes made to Bentley’s iModels. By logging these changes in the cloud, iModelHub presents a new paradigm for how engineering models are shared, submitted, and reviewed, all of which should create substantial efficiencies in both time and budget in front-end and detailed design engineering phases.