In April 2020, Bentley Systems announced it had opened up its ProjectWise 365 cloud service, including waiving subscription fees until 30 September 2020, to virtually connect infrastructure project participants forced to work from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Extranet Evolution talked to Bentley and to a US customer about how ProjectWise 365 has helped keep projects going.
ProjectWise 365 was announced in October 2018 at Bentley Systems’ Year In Infrastructure conference in London (read: Bentley ProjectWise365 extends Microsoft integration), extending the connectivity between Bentley’s collaborative workhorse ProjectWise and Microsoft’s 365 technology and office productivity tools. A year later, Bentley announced it would be targeting small-to-medium-sized businesses with this ProjectWise 365 offering (Bentley extends SaaS ProjectWise to SMEs).
This pre-configured “instant-on, web-based” ProjectWise 365 solution has now been made generally available. It complements the enterprise-level ProjectWise Design Integration (DI) platform used — often on-premise — for work sharing by 74 of the ENR Top 100 Design Firms, said Dustin Parkman, Bentley’s VP, project delivery. With remote project working now widely enforced around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, such ProjectWise DI users said the platform helped “sustain their project productivity over the forced transition to work from home,” Parkman continued.
“Now, by broadly and immediately opening up access to our new simplified ProjectWise 365 cloud service, we’re extending ProjectWise advantages in collaboration and design review to infrastructure engineering project teams at every scale. By fully ‘digitally’ enabling every infrastructure professional, we hope to support their resilience in surmounting this crisis.”
A US-based user, Gregory J. Ellwanger, a project engineer for BLA, Inc. said:
“The present work-from-home conditions and coordination with multiple parties highlight how critical it is to our business and our role as prime consultant on projects, that our project teams always stay connected and productive. ProjectWise 365 cloud services enable us to rapidly deploy a common BIM collaboration environment that avoids the data silos, coordination delays, and the other limitations we’ve experienced while using network drives, file-sharing services, and email. ProjectWise 365 allows us to coordinate designs more quickly and reduce risk in contractual exchanges, regardless of the location of project participants, adding resilience to our design practice and increasing our ability to deliver high-quality projects on schedule.”
ProjectWise 365 uptake
Parkman told me ProjectWise 365, as a purely cloud-based solution hosted by Microsoft Azure, is good for small work groups, with none of the barriers that hamper enterprise IT deployments:
“It can start at the work group level or in small projects, where there may be just 10-15 people coordinating work, managing RFIs and other deliverables, and teams can get started in hours, not days. Our web services include review tools unique to ProjectWise 365, including markups on both 2D drawings or in models via our iTwin Designer view, on any device. And particularly on linear transportation projects, having geospatial context makes it easier to coordinate and review information.”
Since ProjectWise 365 became generally available, Parkman said there had been “incredible take-up” in just two weeks, with customers signing up across Bentley’s markets in southeast Asia, Australasia, Europe and north America, plus Latin America and India.
Coping with COVID-19 – Bentley perspective
Around 500 new organisations had signed up, predominantly mid-sized engineering companies, Parkman said. Many customers were replacing generic file-sharing services such as DropBox and SharePoint with the more secure ProjectWise 365 toolset. Some existing Bentley ProjectWise DI customers were also adopting the 365 solution for new projects, or because they wanted its BIM model coordination capabilities (Utah’s Department of Transport was mentioned).
Parkman said the COVID-19 impacts on construction clients and their projects had varied across the US, but many were focused on trying to minimise the impacts on the traditional Spring-Summer construction season, creating a massive appetite for remote working. There was also a strong focus on site-based health and safety:
“We want to do same work as before without being in physical contact. By integrating with the Microsoft Teams platform, ProjectWise 365 can help with design coordination, design sharing, markups and reviews, etc. We are doing more digitally, less manually.”
Coping with COVID-19 – a contractor view
I was also able to put some questions to Blaine Buenger, technology manager at US firm Foth about the impacts of COVID on its operations. Buenger gave a detailed insight into the realities of mobilising to support remote working:
“Foth’s infrastructure team for the most part hasn’t skipped a beat during the pandemic. We are fortunate that infrastructure and IT leadership teams have designed and implemented a versatile and robust technology solution to support our geographically diverse workforce. Mobile CAD workstations, cloud technology, VPN and RDP solutions, mobile Riverbed WAN optimization, Microsoft Teams and Skype collaboration solutions, and various document management solutions all play key roles in keeping everyone securely connected to each other and to their work, all while staying efficient and productive.
“Our office workers have taken docking stations and monitors home to pair with their laptops and try their best to recreate their office environments at home. Of course we still have to deal with a few challenges with home environments like kid’s schedules, home internet speeds, and supporting ergonomic home office setups, but we are doing our best to be flexible and keep the same level of support.
“Our field workers are basically business as usual, with the exception of new social distancing best practices. Construction and geospatial activities for our infrastructure teams have seen little disruption in day-to-day work….
“Project delivery hasn’t been disrupted other than changing priorities from our clients. Some clients are choosing to replace construction projects with design projects in order to prepare for a pending influx of federal funds. Other clients are doing the opposite and ramping up construction while travel is down to work quicker and safer. Aviation clients are taking advantage of historically low passenger air travel and choosing to divert projects to heavy traffic areas in their terminals.”
How did Bentley help Foth mitigate the impacts?
“Bentley solutions have helped our successful transition to a primarily work from home environment. We owe a lot of that success to ProjectWise. Foth runs a hybrid on-premise and cloud ProjectWise setup. The top three advantages that ProjectWise provides Foth in a distributed environment are:
- Data integrity – all of our members are connected to the same project documents. We are not wasting our time uploading files to FTPs, emailing or transferring files, or operating at risk working in isolation on local drives. All of these operations waste time and introduce risks of overwriting files and creating rework.
- Efficient speed – a perfect combination of delta file transfer technology, ProjectWise’s ability to coexist and excel working with Riverbed WAN optimization, and most importantly – delivery of multiple sets of CAD standards efficiently by using ProjectWise managed workspaces, are the recipe for speed and successful project delivery.
- Security – ProjectWise is kept secure using industry standard solutions such as Cisco AnyConnect VPN client and Microsoft Azure.”
And on what kinds of projects is ProjectWise 365 being used?
“Foth’s infrastructure team got its start using ProjectWise 365 services for construction activities on one of the largest site development projects in the U.S. – Foxconn’s new industrial facilities in SE Wisconsin. We chose Forms as the first tool to setup and start using. We are thankful we did, as it’s helped tremendously during the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing requirements. Construction staff can collect data and fill out forms in real time on their iPads, then publish data to the ProjectWise cloud project, thus allowing project managers and clients access to review progress, monitor issues, and submit regulatory forms all while working remotely. We have effectively eliminated the need for exchanging paper for several types of forms using ProjectWise 365 Forms services.”
Bentley’s collaborative portfolio
Finally, following Bentley’s acquisition of SYNCHRO (Bentley goes 4D, buys SYNCHRO), Parkman said the ProjectWise range will be expanded to include more construction-related capability, and he also briefly mentioned the March 2020 acquisition of another UK vendor GroupBC (Bentley buys GroupBC):
“ProjectWise is a powerful tool for design engineering team information management; the GroupBC platform gives strong owner-focused programme management, and both are complemented by SYNCHRO’s contractor-oriented construction operations capabilities. We now powerfully support the whole planning to design to execution to owner to digital estate data capture cycle.”