Deciphering Bentley Systems’ “Extreme Mapping” Strategy

By Joe Francica

Recently Bentley Systems issued a white paper written by Carey Mann, their vice president of Geospatial Marketing, on their vision for providing customer solutions.I briefly had a chance to sit down with Mr.Mann at their offices this past week for an informal update of their strategy and to get a better understanding of how Bentley sees their position in the geospatial marketplace.

Certainly, in these times, every vendor talks about comprehensive workflow "solutions" as their over-arching competitive advantage.However, the word is thrown around way to frequently as if everyone has "the" answer to "every" geospatial challenge.So, whereas Bentley will also talk about "solutions" they define it in fairly narrow terms.The white paper does a good job of that and it is worth reading.So, let me try to decipher the salient points in the context of the current geospatial market picture.

Focus...to the Extreme
The white paper is entitled "Extreme Mapping" and you have to let that title wash over you a few times before grasping its true connotation.Bentley is all about capturing data; fast; accurately; in the most efficient manner possible.It is not about GIS, which Mr.Mann correctly points out comprises an entirely different data model and function."Mapping, the application of interpretive symbolism to represent a territory, should not be constrained by the rigidity of a GIS data model." I don't agree that GIS is "rigidly" constrained but we should all realize by now that mapping and GIS are related but functionally distinct.

Bentley feels their software should be focused on "production efficiency" and "streamlining processes" where "every click counts." Mr.Mann states, "We have paid close attention to the discrete elements of mapping workflows, consolidating steps and streamlining processes." Finally, a vendor with the clarity of thought that is not trying to do "soup to nuts."

Frankly, it seemed like over the course of the last decade that every geospatial software vendor tried to be all things to all people.Even Bentley, for a time, was much too concerned with beating Intergraph at the CAD/GIS game when even, at that time, Intergraph didn't have a clear vision as to what kind of company they wanted to be.Without question, the competition between the two sucked a lot of energy out of both companies.

Common Platform, Optimal Data Store
Perhaps the most compelling argument Bentley can make in their strategy to service the geospatial professional is the ability to have a common technology platform on which to build applications and to facilitate the workflow between civil engineering and mapping content, i.e.MicroStation®. But, in addition, they have acquired technology from companies that address specific workflows such as their acquisition of the LRSx software from TransDecisions (now termed LDMx for Location Data Manager Express), at this time last year, to perform a linear referencing workflow, specifically for departments of transportation to manage and analyze the attribution of their digital street network databases.

Bentley also sees that their platform maintains an "optimal data store" for vector data in a mapping workflow.There's no argument here.In order to deliver the speed that a production environment requires, it would be folly to maintain the attribution in a relational database (RDB) when capturing data.But here's the tricky part.At what point do you release the data to a spatial database for analysis, update, and management? And why would you do this anyway.Directions' Senior Contributing Editor, Hal Reid, asked this same question in a recent article regarding CAD/GIS integration.

The question is one of interoperability.On this topic, Mr.Mann states, "By definition, an enterprise must federate its distinct applications and data stores if it is to operate holistically.To fully participate in the enterprise, geospatial technology must work together.This objective cannot be achieved by merging all technologies into one."

If you look up the word "federate," or similarly "federal," it means "constituting a union of states recognizing the sovereignty of a central authority while retaining certain residual powers." If this were the case, then it appears that this is an argument for the eventuality of managing all geospatial data in a central data store such as an RDB.Perhaps I misunderstood but there seems to be some contradictions in Mr.Mann's argument.I believe that Mr.Mann is arguing for distinct workflows within separate software solutions but that interoperability should be achieved.

Enter ESRI and the AEC-GIS Interoperability initiative that both companies are undertaking.Another white paper that explains this program is available.If you read this white paper, it explains the methodology for data exchange between ArcGIS and MicroStation.It is advisable that any company or organization with both software products becomes familiar with the workflow.

A Spatially Enabled-Managed Environment
"A Spatially Enabled-Managed Environment" is Bentley's term for managing spatial information among mapping disciplines and where integration with architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) information is essential to maintaining an accurate flow of data between the stakeholders of infrastructure information.It is an apt construct, and its separates the notion of data capture and maintenance from spatial analysis.Mr.Mann says that, "Despite its use of a spatial index, geospatial content management should not be confused with GIS." And so often, we try to make the two into the same. This is how some desktop mapping systems in the early 90's were forced into supporting digitizing platforms and device drivers, and eventually suffocated under the weight of extraneous functionality, which at the time seemed necessary to win customers.

They defined the following requirements for a spatially enabled-managed environment:

  • Support input, retrieval, and display of documents based upon location;
  • Integrate map management;
  • Abstract the user from differing coordinate systems; and
  • Include the necessary infrastructure to support interoperability with GIS.
This is a simple statement and Bentley makes a clear break between where they provide functionality and where GIS picks up.(Read more about this in their white paper)

They are also clearly differentiating themselves from a strategy that, Autodesk, their prime competitor, seems to be articulating.Autodesk is embracing its support of GIS workflows through its interoperability with Oracle Spatial (See this whitepaper from Autodesk).Nowhere in either Bentley whitepaper is a workflow with Oracle Spatial discussed.However, the company's MicroStation Geographics software does offer this support and, of course, the LDMx solution, as the product literate states "enables transportation organizations to store, reference, manage and analyze location data stored in an Oracle® database." By design, perhaps a white paper devoted to mapping shouldn't necessarily discuss relational database support, but it seems an oversight when a good deal of the strategy is focused on spatial data management and interoperability.

Embracing "Geospatial"
Finally, Mr.Mann states how nomenclature is a large part of understanding the evolution of our industry and points to the use of the word "geospatial" as a term to embrace."The energy in this industry deserves a unifying voice.We should choose a term, adopt it, and starkly reveal just how mainstream and important the industry's products and services have become." I think this it is an excellent choice of words that offers a coherent context for discussion among technologists within our industry.I happen to think that to address the broader information technology community, however, that "location" is a more understandable term to the "geospatially challenged."

Bentley's whitepaper offers a very thoughtful approach to their strategic advantages and provides much to think about unlike some whitepapers that are so much pap.In general, this paper clearly articulates Bentley's approach to Mapping, GIS, and AEC, and helps to provide a context for understanding their product strategy.


Published Thursday, January 15th, 2004

Written by Joe Francica



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