Man, if you have told me 5 years ago I’d be in this spot, I would have said why the heck wasn’t I there two years earlier…I’m loving working at Gannett Fleming, mainly due to the great work environment and attitude of the employees. And it’s given me a chance to step back and take a look at the whole big picture of where we are in the design world right now. There are some parts that make me just go “wow” and other parts that make me go “c’mon…”. And that’s what my next series of articles will be about.
You all know I’m an Autodesk guy. We’re family, no matter how dysfunctional it may be. I grew up with them, and they’ve made my career…so you know what camp I’m in. But out in the real world, I’m faced with different priorities – with number one being to make sure I take care of my team, no matter what the circumstances are.
Enter the Bentley…we do a lot of work with government agencies, and as most of you know, they’ve had a long standing relationship with the brothers from PA. We have several projects where BIM has become a topic, but because they’re bound like Siamese twins to Microstation products, we had to make a decision – take the work on that platform or leave it. It ain’t smart to turn down opportunities like this, so you know what we’re doing. And besides – we’re already good at the design part, so I’ve been psyching myself up by saying it’s just a tool, and we can do anything we set our minds to. One saving grace is that most agencies that are not tied to GSA are just now figuring this out, so it looks like we're all going down together...or up, depending on the outcome.
So last month, I did the unthinkable – I went to the Bentley LEARN Conference, which was an experience for me...going to the "dark side". On a comparative scale, you can tell who owns the market by looking at the annual conferences. I had classes where there were only 5-10 people on the buildings and electrical side, with the most in one class being about 30. I’ve had bad classes at AU that had double that number, and that still doesn’t come close to the body counts we pile up in Vegas every year.
One thing I noticed right off the bat – Bentley users are every bit as loyal as Autodesk users…actually more like Ron Paul supporters (if you’re not into politics, you may not get that joke). My other observation about Bentley – please forgive me for this – is that they’re more like the hot Brazilian model that has multiple personality disorder. They’ve got some sexy stuff going on, but can’t decide who they want to be. But I was also really surprised to see familiar faces from the Autodesk world. Apparently, we’re not the only ones having to learn how to live in both worlds and get the most out of them...go figure...
And here’s my equal time for Autodesk. Yes, we’re family. And like the drunk on Saturday night hanging out with his pals, you know I’m going to be the one to say “I really love you guys…” before passing out on the floor. But like family, you got your own issues with identity…and I’m blaming the short attention span, app-based world we live in for doing that. You’ve gotten away from taking care of the core, and are playing around with these hot little numbers like Force Effect, Flame and Photofly. I know I’m the old spouse that will always be there when you get done with your infatuation, but come Monday, you’d better be ready to get back to work.
For this post, I’m going to keep my observations down to a couple of generic points, mainly about the user experience. Autodesk wins this hands down, but it doesn’t mean I totally dislike what Bentley has done. For starters, the ribbon interface that’s common to most Microsoft-based applications make learning these tools easy. And having common mouse button functionality also makes program hopping work smoothly. For example, being able to pick it and right click to change objects has been a mantra of mine for years. The context sensitive ribbons are making me like them more now, especially since they always show up in the right (side) place.
Microstation – c’mon. After all these years, let the ESC key get you out of a command. I know you want to be yourselves, but this ain’t 1990. I like the toolboxes, but give me something to replace the exclusive cryptic letter entry keys. You shouldn’t have to type in Y to get a feature similar to otrack – make the tool visible and clear on the screen. DOS is dead, guys…Every tool should be available in specific graphical areas, especially ones that control alignments, snaps, etc. And the tools should follow the workflow process. For the most part, they do that in the toolboxes, but finding something anywhere else was pretty maddening.
The view controls in AutoCAD and Revit and view cube trump Microstation navigation, although I didn’t have any trouble getting around once I figured out the view number icons. Overall, the bottom line is that the user interface is in bad need of overhaul. Get out there and study ribbon technology – if you want to be competitive in the future market, you’ve got to figure out a way to make the user experience easier, not harder.Now I will say this – since my focus is going to be the Substation and AECOSim products, the hook feature you have in substation is an improvement on the snap tool, since it can control direction. Sort of like the connector in Revit, it gives you a little more flexibility when it comes to adding a wire to a connection point. But it’s going to take a lot more than that to impress me. I could go on for a while, but it’s time to wrap this up.
And my next topic will cover one of the most important concerns I have in regards to BIM applications – the “I” and the relationship with the data. Bentley has definitely been playing in the database game a lot longer. What Substation brings is linking data the way AutoCAD Electrical, AutoCAD P&ID and Plant 3D should have brought to the Revit world...let's leave it at that. There are definitely two approaches going on, but I’m going to spend a little more time figuring out how Autodesk and Bentley plan on handling this before I comment on it. It’s one of the deciding factors in who’s going to be the real player in the market in the foreseeable future, so let’s see what these guys - both companies - are going to do about it.Happy BIM’ing – David B.