Jeff Richardson, CDO at Bentley Systems, discusses the state of the art cloud infrastructure that benefits internal and external stakeholders...
The global business community has responded to the coronavirus pandemic with considerably more focus on remote working than has ever been seen before. For every industry, from media to construction, demand has rocketed for technological solutions that will enable continued operations with minimal disruption. Bentley Systems, a world-leading software solutions developer serving major infrastructural construction projects around the world, has long been a proponent of this breed of tech, and today boasts a cutting edge cloud infrastructure whose benefits are more apparent than ever. In normal times, its end-to-end suite of software solutions for such large projects ensures a seamlessness of delivery for its users while cutting-edge telemetry capabilities mean development and subscriptions are current, flexible, and fair. All of that remains true during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the global crisis has revealed that Bentley’s greatest strength is perhaps in the flexibility it offers both external and internal stakeholders.
Jeff Richardson, Chief Data Officer at Bentley Systems, has been with the company since 2004, rising through the ranks from an SAP developer to the head of the firm’s data lifecycle and data strategies. In Richardson’s view, ‘global mobility’ is 2020’s key trend, and it has certainly become the undercurrent for business in a world where face-to-face contact is being kept to a minimum. “Businesses have quickly tried to adapt to global mobility now that face-to-face culture is out the window, and we instead need to have a culture of ‘can you do your job globally, but remotely to where you are?’” he says.
The scope of the construction projects that Bentley facilitates means the capability required goes way beyond the collaboration tools and Zoom meetings that have come to pervade many industries. Building a 100-storey skyscraper, for example, comes with immense data requirements, with file sizes spanning gigabytes and terabytes. “A single BIM model, made of the structural elements of the building, could be many, many gigabytes of data. The question is: how do remote workers seamlessly access files of that size to make edits, updates and run analyses?”
Bentley’s state-of-the-art ProjectWise 365 tools provide the answer, with distributed file sharing and caching technology that enable workers to easily operate within the cloud regardless of where and when they are, all with the confidence that the system is secure and continually stress-tested against potential threats. “Living in a cloud-focused world, security is huge for us. Our CIO, Claire Rutkowski, came on board in October 2016 and has been heavily focused on integrating a robust and industry-leading cloud security platform. Along with instituting a security office, we have beefed up our security staff and infrastructure by around 800% in the past five years, we’re constantly running penetration exercises on our cloud infrastructure, and we are just now implementing mock data breach scenarios with our larger cloud infrastructure compliance and data teams. As we store more and more of our users’ data in the cloud, it is both our responsibility and desire to be as safe and resilient as possible.”
During this period of business instability and uncertainty, Bentley’s protections for its customers have extended beyond its cybersecurity. Owing to the business disruptions, the company has waived the pay-what-you-use subscription fees for ProjectWise through to 30 September 2020; a measure that ties closely with Bentley’s mantra that its success is measured by that of its users. The firm has been a pioneer of this payment-by-usage subscription model, known internally as ‘ELS contracts’, Richardson explains: “We were selling contracts like that as far as back as 2006 - I’ve never heard of another company that was doing the same that far back in time. With the light telemetry we had available to measure usage, we were able to do that.” Data gathered from across software suites has not only enabled reactive and incisive development of successive products, but has made the pay-for-what-you-use model the norm for Bentley for over a decade.
Today, the latest data measurements are even more precise and complex, making for a robust service model that is accurately proportionate to the user’s needs. Not only does each contract have an unlimited potential value ceiling for Bentley, they also ensure users are never encumbered with a subscription that they don’t need and actively use. The tech also paints a picture of the usage increase that has come with vaster proportions of workforces working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. “When the crisis hit, many companies who were using other, server-based products in offices became stuck and couldn’t access those resources. For our customers, the users of our distributed cloud products, the transition was seamless and we can actually see that in the telemetry. It shows us that our work-sharing products had no disruption in usage during the country-based shutdowns resulting from the pandemic. In fact, our collaboration tools actually saw an 8-13% increase in usage, year on year, from last year.”
The sheer capability and flexibility of Bentley’s cloud infrastructure, which has in recent years been a huge investment focus for the firm, has been predicated on CEO Greg Bentley’s insistence that its operations are cloud-first and cloud-forward wherever possible. This pioneering approach to cloud, dating back to the launch of Microsoft Azure and the subsequent close partnership that the two firms have shared since, has enabled Bentley to both seize the opportunities of cloud-centralised operations and develop solutions in collaboration with its key vendors to solidify its leadership in the market. Not only that, but cloud-based operations have made Bentley enormously flexible in how it operates, meaning that, of its 3,800 staff worldwide, Richardson says that only 73 were unable to dive into the working-from-home scenario of the coronavirus pandemic from day one.
Across such global operations, this is a great indicator of Bentley’s flexibility at work. As the coronavirus pandemic gathered pace, Senior Leadership of IT meetings were held to workshop worst case scenarios, and the preparation that resulted has ensured what Richardson calls a “totally seamless” shift to the new normal. Questions of access to vital resources from home, including licences, hardware and software were answered promptly in a show of remarkable preparedness in such unprecedented times.
“We use the rules of compliance as foundational guidelines, and we always try to exceed those guidelines by orders of magnitude; complying whilst building infrastructure that supports those guidelines in a best practice sense, and exceeding those standards as far as possible,” Richardson enthuses, highlighting the strategic focus that has ensured Bentley Systems is ready for anything. To close, Richardson shares the ethos at the heart of Bentley’s operations: “We don’t want to build cloud software that’s reliable for today, we want to build cloud software that’s reliable for the next decade.” This sentiment is reflected in Bentley’s continued ability to serve its clients and continue as normal internally, a powerful indicator that Bentley’s cloud software will retain its market leadership long into the future.