Bentley extends SaaS ProjectWise to SMEs

Bentley Systems has announced new capabilities in its ProjectWise collaboration platform, building on its integration with Microsoft 365, and attempting to reach potential users in small and mid-sized businesses. ProjectWise 365 is key to Bentley’s “project digital twin” approach.

Bentley logo 2017According to an August 2019 report from ARC Advisory Group (news release), Bentley Systems’ ProjectWise is the number one platform for collaborative BIM, having successfully leveraged its relationship with Microsoft in recent years. Ralph Rio, vice president, Enterprise Software, ARC Advisory Group says:

“Bentley has a strong relationship with Microsoft and applies the chief technologies that bring together engineering and office information for improved project delivery. This has borne fruit in the EDT/BIM market as evidenced by their leading position in the BIM collaborative software category.”

In the US, Engineering News Record‘s 2019 Top Design Firms report says 43 of the top 50 firms rely upon ProjectWise for work sharing and design integration, and more than half of the top 640 firms are ProjectWise users.

Noah Eckhouse - BentleyAt Bentley’s Year in Infrastructure conference 2019 in Singapore, the company’s Noah Eckhouse, senior vice president, project delivery, said: “users of ProjectWise … have made Bentley one of the largest ISV users of Azure“. He also announced Bentley’s intention to spread the net still further by targeting potential ProjectWise users in small and mid-sized companies. Building on the 2018 general availability of ProjectWise 365, new cloud services, leveraging Microsoft 365 technology and office productivity tools, extend the reach, affordability, and accessibility of BIM and infrastructure design data for organisations of all sizes, he said: “We are expanding our instant-on, web-based ProjectWise 365 cloud services.”

“Instant-on, web-based services”

This is the latest shift towards a SaaS model for a platform that was originally created as a customer-hosted, on-premise solution – now over 20 years in development (see this 2017 short history of ProjectWise). The importance of integration with Microsoft technologies has been a recurring theme in recent years too. In May 2006, Bentley released an entry-level collaboration tool based on Microsoft Office SharePoint technologies, looking to reach new users and teams, and in 2013 it began to embrace Microsoft’s Azure cloud services. Attempts to woo customers with a Software-as-a-Service offering included the 2014 launch of  a SaaS-based edition, ProjectWise Essentials, aimed at SMEs, and the 2015 acquisition of US SaaS provider, EADOC (later rebranded as ProjectWise Construction Management – Update [4 November 2019] now being discontinued in favour of Bentley Synchro Field). At the 2017 edition of YII, also in Singapore, Bentley talked up the ProjectWise CONNECT Edition and Windows Azure, and the effort continues two years later.

Nicole Stephano (VP of product marketing, project delivery) says 2014’s ProjectWise Essentials helped extend the reach into mid-sized firms, and this accelerated with the 2015 ProjectWise CONNECT edition (post). The 2018 launch of ProjectWise 365 widened the scope for SMEs: “To be successful we have to work with the tools they are comfortable in – and most are using Microsoft Office 365.” Sharepoint remains a critical platform, she said, echoing colleague Phil Christensen’s view that “Microsoft are masters at evolving their products,” with Sharepoint transformed by its transition to a cloud-based platform (I heard similar views at the September 2019 London launch of Sharepoint-based Atvero). Sharepoint is widely used internally, even in major ProjectWise user firms such as GHD, with growing numbers of companies moving to the 365 edition, and its extensive range of templates.

Projectwise 365Purpose-built for design teams, Bentley describes ProjectWise 365 is an innovative, 100% SaaS-based offering enabling teams involved in design and engineering, from practitioner and design leads to stakeholders, to readily store and find designs, accelerate content sharing and collaborative workflows, and manage feedback, for maximum team productivity. The new ProjectWise 365 cloud services will be generally available by the end of 2019.

Stephano says ProjectWise 365 will be available pre-configured to support smaller contracting and engineering organisations:

“They can easily connect, then evolve any of their previously paper-based processes by easily configuring online workflows. They won’t need implementation support, and will simply pay for what they consume. As a lot of owners and larger firms have standardised on ProjectWise, our new cloud services enables their suppliers to connect easily to those iterations. Success will be predicated on delivering an instant-on service, making it as easy as possible and configurable based on their needs.”

The ‘project digital twin’

ProjectWise is a fundamental part of Bentley’s Digital Twin strategy, which is broadly divided into two phases: the “project digital twin”, used during design and construction, and the “performance digital twin”, used in asset operation (Bentley’s efforts to reshape industry terminology and abbreviations clearly continue). The latter is closest to the UK digital twin definition in the CDBB’s 2018 Gemini Principles (see August 2019 post: Bentley pushes ‘Digital Twin’ into AEC mainstream), but  Christensen (SVP, iTwins) says there is no international consensus on what constitutes a digital twin. He said:

“We are currently mainly focused on the design phase, which is where the highest levels of interest are because design firms have been through the BIM evolution, and are pre-primed for digital twin working. ProjectWise is a key brand in our digital twin thinking. Users are creating and sharing data to support evolution of the project digital twin, making that twin accessible by everyone on the project team. However, engineering companies also want to promote digital twin thinking as, rather than just selling engineering hours, it helps them build longer-term engagements with asset owners.

“But owners are not yet as engaged in the BIM process or in digital twins, and this is an area where we need better client education. Owners are often not as digitally literate as the engineering firms, particularly when it comes to whole life value thinking.”

The prospect of connecting multiple digital twins – the Gemini Principles were created as foundations for a ‘national digital twin’ – is still “a long way off”, Christensen said. He predicted Singapore, and then perhaps the UK, might be among the first to securely connect asset data to gain social, economic and environmental insights to inform decision-making. There are also challenges in the extent to which countries and cities encourage and adopt open data approaches, he said (“Scandinavia appears to be way ahead in understanding social obligations relating to their built assets”), and in validating information from design into construction and into operation (one ray of possible comfort: Bentley has joined BuildingSMART International, talking about a generic IFC bridge to Bentley’s iModels – news release).

[Disclosure: I am attending the Bentley Year in Infrastructure 2019 conference as a guest of Bentley Systems, who have paid my travel, hotel and some meal expenses. I am also a juror in YII Awards.]

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