ProjectWise suite expands

Bentley’s ProjectWise is past the tipping point in its transition from on-premise to being cloud-based, and is now the central part of an ‘ecosystem’ of cloud services.

ProjectWise “is the ‘workhorse for work sharing’ by 43 of the ENR Top 50 Design Firms,” says a Bentley press release, indicating how far ProjectWise has grown from its origins as a workgroup or extranet collaboration tool. It is no longer a single application – to quote Mike Schellhase, Bentley’s VP for ProjectWise software development: “it is a suite of applications, a set of cloud services that augment the core design integration to issue resolution.” It supports a wider range of workflows and connects to other Bentley products, some of which have acquired to complement the core solution.

A short history of ProjectWise

Projectwise logoBentley Systems’ core collaboration product was first launched in 1998 (I wrote a case study about its use by London-based architect DLG for the now long-discontinued IT Construction Best Practice Programme in 1999). Then its capabilities were mainly focused on enabling file-sharing and document/drawing collaboration.

At the time, electronic document management had primarily been something managed by proprietary software within the customer’s firewall (common EDMSs included Documentum and Sharepoint, for example), and ProjectWise was an internally-hosted server-based product aimed at engineering document management. However, during the late 1990s and early 2000s, several startups began targeting the AEC collaboration space with what we initially called ‘application service provision’, later Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), where the solutions were hosted by the vendors and information was accessed online via a standard web browser.

Initially, construction businesses needed a lot of convincing to trust their documents and drawings to the cloud, particularly after the ‘bubble’ burst in 2000. Initially, industry faith in on-premise software helped ProjectWise grow a loyal customer base in the medium-to-large enterprises that had IT capabilities fit to host the solution – and IT budgets to match (David Weisberg’s History of CAD says prices for the extranet edition of ProjectWise started at $50,000). And as it formed part of a growing Bentley portfolio of design applications such as Microstation (the popular V8 edition was released in 2001), their users often migrated naturally to ProjectWise to manage design-sharing and collaboration.

During the 2000s, though, ProjectWise’s SaaS-based rivals successfully grew the market for cloud-based solutions, with customers attracted by the pay-as-you go subscription model, the low costs of mobilisation and setup, and the notion of outsourcing a demanding project need to technology businesses established to meet those needs. And SaaS provision was particularly popular for the construction phase, as it could be quickly rolled out to a geographically dispersed, multi-tier, multi-disciplinary supply chain (many of which were SMEs) and provide greater transparency to information exchanges throughout the build and handover phases.

Bentley did not sit back, however. In May 2006, for example, it released an entry-level collaboration tool, ProjectWise Startpoint, based on Microsoft Office SharePoint technologies, looking to reach new users and teams, and potentially persuade them to eventually migrate to the more fully-functioned (and more expensive) ProjectWise server solution. The start of the BIM movement saw Bentley positioning ProjectWise as the collaboration system to help manage the ‘I’ in BIM in 2007.

Bentley eadoc - logoAnd in 2013, as long-term technology partner Microsoft started to invest heavily in its Azure offering, Bentley began to market its CONNECT services which included ProjectWise. At this time, ProjectWise was a pervasive tool within the Bentley ecosystem; Bentley CEO Greg Bentley highlighted that more than half of UK Bentley users collaborated via ProjectWise at the 2013 YII conference. But, with mobile technologies increasingly important, a report shared at the conference showed extending this collaboration beyond the site office was seen as fraught with difficulties, particularly relating to document security, secure access and version control. A year later (2014), ProjectWise seriously embraced the cloud – it launched a SaaS-based edition, ProjectWise Essentials, aimed at SMEs. In early 2015, Bentley acquired the US SaaS provider, EADOC, planning to add its complementary capabilities to the Projectwise suite. Last year (November 2016), Greg Bentley was talking about ProjectWise as part of “a connected data environment” and there was a lot of noise about ProjectWise CONNECT Edition and Windows Azure – and this has continued in 2017.

Bentley CDE

Greg Bentley presents the Connected Data Environment at Year in Infrastructure 2017 in Singapore

The growing ProjectWise suite

The original ProjectWise functionality now seems to be described as design integration, and sits alongside additions to the ProjectWise portfolio. Nicole Stephano (senior director of product marketing) says ProjectWise is now connecting what were perceived as different functional silos.

For example, EADOC has now been rebranded as ProjectWise Construction Management, though Eric Law says redesign of the user interface to align its look and feel with other Bentley applications remains “work in progress,” and the application does not yet have iOS or Android apps (mobile-wise, it is available via Bentley’s Navigator product and in a web browser).

Online bid and tender management capability is being added following the March 2017 acquisition of US-based SaaS vendor eBid Systems (see 10 October 2017 post).

And new ProjectWise CONNECT Edition cloud services, powered by Microsoft Azure, complement the core ProjectWise design integration service, “which can be deployed on-premises, as a cloud service, or in any hybrid combination”. The native Azure capabilities include:

  • ProjectWise dashboard, powered by AzureMicrosoft Flow connector to facilitate configurable workflows with native Microsoft Office 365 interfaces, including for real-time communication, email consolidation, and other document-centric work processes;
  • Microsoft Azure Search for immediate access to project and operational information;
  • Microsoft SharePoint federation to enable documents stored in Microsoft SharePoint to be referenced through ProjectWise workflows (harking back to Startpoint over a decade ago); and
  • Microsoft Power BI integration, for project and operational analytics across engineering and enterprise data sources (above right).

According to a Bentley news release, UK-headquartered engineering, management and development company Mott MacDonald “uses ProjectWise and Microsoft Office 365 as foundations for a frictionless knowledge management and collaboration experience across its global network of 16,000 experts.”

ProjectWise: a cloud solution

Stephano confirmed that ProjectWise had passed the tipping point in a transition from being predominantly an on-premise solution to being a cloud-delivered solution. Schellhase said this was definitely the product’s direction: “at the moment, we’re peeling off pieces of the onion – adding cloud services like deliverables management, issue resolution and Project Share to the core.”

Given the product’s history, Bentley does not want to penalise existing customers who invested in the on-premise server product, but help them migrate to an Azure-hosted connected data environment. Schellhase said:

Mike Schellhase“Today, customers are moving their design integration servers from on-premise, where they are responsible for all the administration, to our managed services environment where we host design integration on their behalf. And then customers can add other services around that. … Our new user growth with ProjectWise has been very heavily weighted towards cloud deployments, and a lot of those have been smaller firms that might not have invested at a higher level.”

Talking about the connected (rather than common) data environment, Schellhase says ProjectWise can fulfil the well understood BIM Level 2 CDE requirements, but can do more. It can couple services that can work upon data stored in the CDE, and it can connect to other data sources associated with federated data:

“Our work with Sharepoint is probably the best example of our work in this area – it is a recognition that a lot of data lives in Sharepoint, and we want people to be able to take action on those pieces of data whether they live in a ProjectWise repository or not.”

Less document-centric, more data-oriented

We also talked about ProjectWise Edge – nothing to do with ‘edge computing‘, but a new interface, launched in 2016, that can also be used on (iOS) mobile devices. Schellhase explained:

“It’s much more streamlined, simpler than the usual ProjectWise Explorer, and more project-centric than document-centric. We’re starting to shift our mindset from being repository or data source-based to instead thinking about the project first, and focusing on ‘what tasks do I have to do’ rather than what my document repository looks like.”

With Bentley CTO Keith Bentley set to deliver a technology keynote on automating change synchronisation, digital alignment and immersive visibility, Schellhase said this “confirms the ProjectWise shift from being document-centric to being more connected and data-oriented”. Sure enough, Keith Bentley talked about ProjectWise as the source of data changes captured in his iModelhub concept (read the white paper).

[Disclosure: I am a juror at the Bentley Year in Infrastructure Be Inspired Awards; Bentley Systems has paid my hotel and travel expenses to attend the conference.]


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