I am a long time MicroStation user currently reviewing a number of the leading BIM platforms out there - namely Bentley Architecture, Revit, & Archicad.
Now I am not a 'die-hard' Bentley fan and so my remit is to simply try and evaluate each package on its own merits in order to get a fair comparison and to help inform our decision about which to use.
So far I have a good understanding of the pro's and con's of each but with regards to Bentley Architecture my initial experience is that it is incredibly complex and has unbelievably poor 'help' documentation (especially when compared to Bentley's competitors) making it very difficult to learn the software. To me this sounds like shear arrogance on Bentley's part or market share suicide - not sure which at the moment. Even once the software has been mastered it is my impression from reading the forum that Bentley are still way behind the likes of Revit and Archicad in terms of meeting user suggestions / feature requests?
Is this is a fair opinion of Bentley Architecture and if not why?
Also does anyone have experience of trialling / reviewing both Revit and Archicad?
Thanks in advance...
Since I am a Bentley colleague I will refrain from telling you which is the best BIM platform (I think you could guess what my answer would be), but I will try to address a couple of your concerns and share some things to consider in your BIM evaluation for your firm. Obviously there is no software package in the world that is perfect, and Bentley does not claim to be exempt from that claim. We recognize we have deficiencies and work hard to erase those and also respond to user feedback in a timely manner. I would find it difficult to believe that you would hear claims from Revit users that they have the direct communication with Product Managers and developers like that occurs every day between Bentley and our clients. While at times some of the comments and posts that occur in BE Communities forums seem critical of some tools or applications, I firmly believe that the users in these forums feel comfortable posting their opinions (good or bad), because they are heard by Bentley product managers, developers, support and even the Bentley executives. Often times this result in a quick turn-around on a bug fix or additional features added to builds to meet a particular clients need. On the other hand, I have been told by several dual-platform clients that Revit's feature list is frozen for the 2014 release already (and closing in on feature freeze for 2015), therefore any feature requests or complaints on an Autodesk forum would be done so in vain. I really only mentioned that because I don't think that I have ever come across a person who confused Bentley with being arrogant, and I hope the users in this forum will reinforce this sentiment.
Regarding your concerns about Bentley, I would encourage you to take a look at AECOsim Building Designer rather than Bentley Architecture. Building Designer will be the next release (1-2 months away) of Bentley Architecture. However, for me to say that Building Designer is just the next version of Bentley Architecture is a gross understatement. Building Designer is a complete BIM solution in a single application that in addition to added architectural features includes full functionality for Structural, Mechanical, Plumbing, and Electrical design/documentation, a robust and intuitive clash detection engine, hyper-modeling, Dynamic Views, and additional feature enhancements. This is what you should be using as your benchmark against other BIM vendors.
If only looking at Bentley Architecture, I believe that your concern with poor 'help' documentation is valid, and as I stated above, Bentley has identified this as a shortcoming and invested in a thorough update to both the content and delivery methods of help/informational documentation that will ship with AECOsim Building Designer. In addition to this, an even bigger effort was initiated to overhaul the Bentley delivered datasets to make Building Designer production-ready with little-to-no customization required by the end user. This effort was guided by several of our BIM consultants with experience working everyday with our users from all over the world to capture the functional requirements of a vast user base and reflect the collective knowledge gained from this user collaboration into a workspace that everyone can leverage. The dataset overhaul was in direct response to user comments that the applications were complex (as you observed) and aimed to set out to show users that the solutions and workflows can be simple, while still affording the ability to customize the applications, workspaces, and processes to support even the most complex organizations, which in my opinion has always been one of Bentley's greatest strengths.
In my architecture days before Bentley I was faced with the same choice, which BIM solution is best for me and my organization. Given that I am now working for Bentley it is apparent which I chose, but I at time I was an more of an Autodesk user than Bentley if that indicates that I haven't been biased my entire BIM career. In fact, still to this day I have nearly as much experience on Autodesk applications as on Bentley applications. Full disclosure out of the way... Below I will include a couple points that you should consider in your evaluation as they are often overlooked items. At firms that I have worked for or consulted with, I have seen the workflow/staffing impact that oversight of these items has yielded and more importantly to a business the resultant hidden project and organizational costs, which are often substantial.
Interoperability - Bentley BIM solutions are all built on top of the DGN file format and thus there is no file export process required to move between 3D data-rich models and static 2D construction drawings that can be opened by clients, contractors, or reviewers that do not have Revit or Archicad. Additionally, since BIM is an intra-disciplinary process that requires intense collaboration by all project stakeholders (architects, engineers, contractors, owners, and more), Building Designer, as a unified BIM application, enables live referencing of models from all disciplines with full data fidelity to offer an immense project savings on avoiding data/time loss on import/export/link processes that can stall the design process. Bentley even provides a free plug-in that allows collaborators that might be working in Revit to publish i-Models (with precise geometry and BIM data) that can be referenced directly by MicroStation, Bentley BIM solutions, and even Navigator for Clash Detection and Design Review processes. Don't be mislead by Autodesk's claim that they allow direct linking of DGN's in Revit 2012 as an interoperable solution. Despite Autodesk having the DGN file format as part of the interoperability agreement between Autodesk and Bentley, they only allow a Revit link to a V7 DGN, which would require a Save As or Export, which disrupts live coordination and wastes project time and money on data exchange processes for your company.
BIM is a Collaborative Process.... Many people falsely assume that the main point of BIM from a design perspective is to simply have better coordinated 2D Construction documents, because they are extracted from the 3D model. While this is a benefit of BIM, anyone that identifies this as the primary reason to adopt BIM is clearly missing the point of the BIM process and is likely to not benefit much, if any, when it comes to the bottom line after additional software, training, and related overhead costs are factored in. BIM (as a process) should be utilized in conjunction with BIM software in order to produce a better designed (thoroughly coordinated across all disciplines & being free of costly, last minute coordination changes that compromise the overall design) & constructed built asset (reduced/eliminated change orders as a result of design phase coordination, among others) for the owner. BIM applications that nearly force you to work through a building as though it was a set of 2D drawings rather than a 3D facility (which needs to be inhabited, operated, and maintained in a 3D world) seem to be missing this critical component to the success of BIM, and the primary reason that owners are starting to more frequently require BIM. Personally, I have never physically experienced a building through plan, section, or elevation and as such can't understand how a designer would want to design a project in this manner when a 3D simulation model is being created. This is not something to be taken lightly, because as an architect or engineer you are not contracted to create pretty drawings that state it is someone else's problem, but instead you are to produce a coordinated design that will satisfy the functional requirements of the building program, codes, and owner's requirements. Also, if collaborating across offices, make sure to examine the process for sharing data/models as well as communicating design coordination information. Beware of being required to align software versions with all project consultants, which may result in users having to have multiple software versions on their machine at the same time in order to work on more than one project.
Infrastructure... Make sure to examine the system requirements carefully to avoid an unexpected overhaul of hardware in your office. In addition to just the computer hardware look at network bandwidth. I have seen a dual platform firm deploy Revit after doing a small pilot project (project approx. 20% of their normal project size), and as soon as they had a project of normal size they discovered they needed all new hardware and still the software had difficulty handling the complexity and size of the project. Upon bringing a second Revit project into the office the network was nearly crippled for most of the work day, and users had to begin to save to Central 30 minutes before they wanted to leave for the day. This resulted in the company being forced to upgrade their entire network, which combined with the hardware upgrades resulted in hidden costs that were greater than the software licenses (not even quantifying lost productivity into that amount). This experience is not intended to cut down Revit, just to warn you of what they won't tell you until after they have your money, if they tell you at all. Historically, Bentley's federated approach to workspaces and model organization has allowed numerous firms to save substantially by not requiring hardware or network upgrades and I would recommend that be considered in your evaluation.
As a BIM consultant, I work with users every day, and I think that you will see that most of the time despite the fact that I am a Bentley colleague that I will side with the user on topics related to functionality change requests, but at the same time tirelessly respond to user's inquiries with software questions and workflows that make BIM teams more profitable. It is with this experience in mind that I challenge you to look at a project's overall BIM workflow involving not just those that touch the BIM software, but the entire project team. I will tell you that making the transition to BIM is a challenging and potentially expensive one that involves substantial workflow/cultural changes in order to be most successful and maximize your return. Any software vendor that tries to sell a BIM solution without recognizing the need to interoperate with not only other disciplines, but also other vendors is not painting the entire picture for you and you will discover that cumbersome workflows for collaboration along with losses in time and data due to poor interoperability workflows are exponentially more costly with BIM than they are with CAD.
Well despite what this lengthy post might make you believe, I am a professional services consultant and not a marketing or sales guy, but I too often see the marketplace get consumed by the marketing machine of Autodesk that fails to tell the BIM story. I apologize if any comparisons seemed limited to Revit/Bentley that is only because I have limited experience with Archicad as most clients i work with are multi-disciplinary and mandate a BIM suite that includes capabilities for all engineering disciplines. If you would like any additional information regarding AECOsim Building Designer (or any of our products, preferably somewhat related to buildings), or if you would like more information on the BIM process, feel free to send me an email.
Now I will let the rest of the community chime in with their less-biased opinions. ;)
Nice and very informative reply Travis.
I have been a Microstation user for many years and have not found Bentley to be arrogant during that time by any means. There is no other software that I am involved with that gives the users such direct interaction with their programmers and developers. That said, we too are in the process of evaluating BIM systems here at my office. Mind you we are very biased towards Bentley but to be honest there are two major factors holding us back. The lack of parts/content in their BIM package and the lack of help/tutorials. The content is the biggest issue to us by far but hopefully, when AecoSim is fully released, this will not be an issue at all. We are an MEP outfit so the biggest selling point for us is the fact that AecoSim comes with multiple disciplines. Very nice attribute. Good luck in your decision process.
As someone who fell for the marketing buzz and spent a lot adopting Revit only to dump and return to Bentley here are the main problems we found with Revit vs BA
Design restrictions - Revit expects you to design the way it wants you to design. Revit is very much an component based application. By that I mean if you want to create a stair you only have the limited stair options. If these options aren't available in Bentley then you can use traditional modelling techniques like using tried and tested solids to get the design you want. You can then apply the information required by BIM to the object(s) after. Its a difficult concept to grasp. When people take up BA they expect the door, wall, stair, etc tools are the answer to everything. The reality is you have to be flexible and use the wide array of tools available. That's where Revit fails. This can kill a project
Not Scalable - Because Revit uses the Single Model mentality it does have trouble with large projects with lots of people. Whilst Worksets is a nice concept, the reality it fails to deliver if the project gets beyond 4 people. Syncronisation issues, who has what, who owns what and so forth. Size is also an issue. You are looking at huge file sizes which have it's own hardware and networking issues. This can be catastrophic on a project.
Not interoperable - The reality is architects don't use a single piece of software. Nothing talks to Revit therefore combining Revit with other design apps is difficult. We shelled out tonnes of money on Navisworks to do clash. I did not think for a second Navis couldn't read a Revit file. That was a harsh lesson. Autocad can't read a Revit file. Revit 2011 cannot read 2012 so if you expect working with a consultant on the same project using a different version of Revit would not be a problem. Think again. What I like about Bentley is they make an effort to be interoperable and it shows in the array of file formats that can be read. And going between 2D, 3D, BIM, Clash, visualisation, etc I can use a single formats and pull in files from others.
Price - We got a good price going from Microstation to BA. Revit cost us a bomb. Not only in software but in training and hiring in a consultant to work with us on workflow. Whilst the initial interface of Revit might look friendly, when you try and get into the deep stuff, no video or tutorial can help. Like you do with BA, You need to train - simple.
BA has its downfalls, theres no doubt about that, but we find we can always get a project, presentation, whatever it is, delivered in the Bentley stuff. We often failed miserably on Revit - perhaps it was just the way we were working. Who knows. Good luck.
I am also a Diehard Microstation user.
However, I am a Revit user by my company's policy recently.
Revit and Microstation will be mutually used for the time being for the cause which you showed.
I approve of all your opinions.
However, the advantages of Bentley which you show is the advantages of Microstation, and is not the advantage of Bentley Building.
Though regrettable, there is Bentley Building Solution in the middle of the pursued to Revit.
Although AECOsimBD is pursuing Revit, a hand is full of it by improving processing of a view at most. Parametric does not reach.The system of grid which crosses a plane and section and elevation does not exist. I hope to complete a product carefully to the last.
Revit will have a schedule with structure and MEP with Design from the next version.
I continue waiting for Bentley's improvement eagerly.
Interesting links about adopting to Revit....which may or may not be useful to you.
There are a lot of problems with the particular brand of parametrics that Revit uses... which is very history-based. Bentley has an opportunity to leapfrog this. Even in the MCAD world, there: is recognition that the history-based techniques have their limits, and moves to accommodate more flexible modeling techniques.
I think that the new HUD dimensions are really cool and can be a lot more powerful. Driving dimensions and local rules-based constraints would be great productivity boosters. I think even Bentley realises that they can not rely on GC adoption alone i.e. a big increase on scripting amongst the user base for productivity gains. Maybe Bentley should get LEDAS to look at this. They seemed to have bolted this onto Sketchup and Rhino fairly quickly.
2. Solids Modeling:
This was the big differentiator for BA in the past. Revit's parametrics was/is powerful but restrictive. But 10 years on, the old Triforma stuff is looking pretty passe and needs a big refresh. It seems that the Feature Solids stuff does not integrate with forms or BDD's Data Group System very well. Even GC isn't very well integrated, but that is easy enough to be a firm item on the roadmap... ?
The TriForma Forms / DGS don't even integrate very well with Mstn platform tools like fence operations. Apps like EliteCAD, which is also Parasolids-based and very similar to BBD in its approach to modeling, highlights a lot of the lack of real updates to the tools.
A lot of things are just really small usability refinements. Also look at the way Bonzai3d's offset/booleans tools work. A shape can be used to imprint a subtractive cut in a solid. Mstn can do that as well. The flanking faces of the 'cavity' can then be moved. Mstn can do that as well, although it has trouble finding and offering up the faces to the user. But with Bonzai3d, when the face is extended past the solid's volume, the subtraction or 'hole feature' becomes an extrusion or 'boss feature'. With Mstn, the shape just disappears.... leaving the user with that 'workaround-needed-again' feeling. Why can't the tool switch between hole and boss code smoothly? It seems like each tool has been developed isolation without any thought of handling call(back)s between tools, or composition or wider UI issues/opportunities.
In EliteCAD, window objects or boolean operations can span automatically over multiple solids or walls. Bonzai3d can also dynamically recognise other solids that intersect the solid that is being modified. So, if a dormer is being extended past a roof plane, the boolean tool automatically pulls the roof plane into the 'working' set. With Mstn, the user has to preselect everything, and if there are any changes you'll have to select the relevant solids again.
A lot of the stuff is scattered around the different tools... and really UI-based. Maybe the way the tools which were set up 15 years ago is obsolete because they all came about before the OO craze. Maybe we are waiting for a general overhaul of the underlying Mstn event -handling, state-machine, dependency framework plumbing model. V9?
DDD is way overdue for an update. Maybe compatibility with DWG Dynamic Blocks and Parametric Drawing will start to drive these changes. I suppose a lot of the groundwork could be borrowed from the new-ish Civil Geometry platform? Even mid-range apps like VectorWorks have constraints... and solid modeling these days.
There is a lot of in house tech available. Hopefully, after ABD is released (2012), it would be stable enough for things like GC, FS/DDD can be integrated (2014?)
3. Mstn Platform:
Yes. Mstn is a pretty awesome platform. But, I suspect we architects have the largest herd of users that are using vanilla Mstn without a vertical. Now with the pressure to adopt BIM, and more complex assemblies of 3d models, there needs to be a lot more integration of the platform tools with BBD. The BBD dev team will need to do or delve into more heavy stuff that was previously done at platform. Things like editing-cells-in-place probably requires a lot of surgery 'deep-deep-under-cover' in platform territory that will be disruptive to all the verticals regardless if it is useful to them or not.
Thanks to everyone for your responses to my original post – it’s great to hear people’s BIM experiences and views.
Travis, seeing that you offered the longest response and the fact that you are a representative of Bentley I will direct my response to you if I may…
Firstly, I agree with you entirely when you discuss BIM as A ‘Collaborative Process’. BIM is a collaborative method of working and not simply a debate about software. This is a very common misconception within the industry. That said, in order for BIM (as a process) to be possible it does require the BIM technology (i.e. software & hardware) to work effectively and this is why such emphasis and discussion revolves around this at the moment. This is why I am currently evaluating all the leading BIM software out there - so that we as a company can try to answer our own internal questions / doubts rather than simply sticking with our existing software provider (Bentley) or listening and falling for the marketing spiel from any of the BIM software providers.
As far as I am concerned the key to BIM is in the letter ‘I’ – ‘Information’ and how this data is linked to entities within the model and how is this information is easily added, interrogated, extracted, and used by the different parties on a project. Every BIM program is capable of building 3D models but ultimately BIM (as a process) falls apart completely if the information contained within the model cannot be exchanged effectively and accurately between platforms. As an aside I saw a webinar slide recently that showed a test project where the same 3D model had incurred information loss and alteration when it was passed between differing platforms – a sort of ‘BIM Chinese whispers’ I suppose which clearly goes to highlight the need for all the key providers to ‘collaborate’ (funny that!) in sorting out interoperability issues. In my opinion BIM will not succeed until the fundamental issue of interoperability is addressed.
In terms of software I accept that all the leading platforms have their relative merits and drawbacks and that there is no perfect platform out there. In fact I am just as aware of the issues with Autodesk (thanks for your feedback Brian J!) as with Bentley. However, it seems from my first-hand experience (as well as the other contributors to this discussion) that Bentley has more than its fair share of drawbacks - and this is leading many in the industry to regard Autodesk as the safer bet out there at the moment.
I must admit I am reassured by your comment about Bentley recognising that there are deficiencies with their software and that they try hard to remedy them. On reflection maybe my comment about Bentley being ‘arrogant’ was a tad too harsh (I had just spent a morning trying to get to grips with Bentley Architecture that day with frustrating progress and rubbish help files!). I suppose what I was trying to communicate was that ever since I started using Microstation 10 years ago I have always felt that Bentley have been lagging behind other CAD software (especially in terms of features and usability) and over my 10 year horizon have come to regard Bentley as complacent and only playing catch-up in the marketplace rather than trying to lead it. I feel that this is still the same with BIM.
Don’t get me wrong I do understand how powerful Bentley’s suite of applications are (in theory) and I do generally understand and agree with the underlying strategic approach with regards to how Bentley develop their software but my fundamental issue is that the interface and tools are so extraordinary complex and clunky (especially when compared to competing software) that it makes it virtually impossible for average users to harness the power of the application. For instance in my office I am probably one of the most technically / IT minded members of staff and even I find Bentley Architecture incredibly difficult to grasp but in comparison I am finding both Archicad and Revit a delight to use (deeper BIM issues aside). I am absolutely adamant that my less technically minded colleagues would struggle enormously with Bentley Architecture and I must stress that usability is a very important issue I will be considering when I present back to my bosses. It is also clear from the other contributions to this discussion that others share my grievances.
With regards to your suggestion about looking at AECOsim BD I must admit I had never heard of it but I did manage to download the Beta version from your website. To be completely honest apart from a revised menu of Structural and MEP tools (which is quite neat but as architects we will never touch) I have observed no real improvement or addressing of the issues I have documented using BA (for example my compound wall problem still occurs in AECOsim BD). If you say this is what we should be using as a benchmark against other BIM vendors then I would be very worried if I was Bentley as even the help information remains incredibly poor and as do the library parts (sharing John K’s concerns). I am hoping that these issues are only because I am using the early beta of AECOsim BD and the imminent full release you mention will address all these issues and more. To be frank though, at the moment I am in complete agreement with both Damon and Dwy.seah – in other words BA and AECOsim BD are completely stagnant and need to be re-written to compete with the likes of Revit, Archicad, EliteCad etc in order to make them far more intuitive and user friendly. As Dwy.seah says these are actually relatively small usability refinements but the problem is that there is just a lot of them!
Personally I think Bentley need to act very fast as I envisage them losing significant market share in the coming years. This is especially true in the UK market at the moment due to the UK government requirement for BIM level 2 by 2016. At the moment UK architecture firms are frantically starting to jump on the BIM bandwagon and unfortunately from Bentley’s perspective the vast majority of them see Revit as the software of choice and BIM standard. This seems to correlate with reports I have heard (and discussed here) where large architectural firms have chosen Revit and employed Autodesk consultants to assist with the transition. My perception is that Autodesk are doing a very good job marketing Revit and this is supported by the fact that BIM conferences that myself and colleagues have attended recently we have not heard or seen one Bentley representative talking about BA or AECOsim!
In terms of size big firms may be able to afford the luxury of run dual platforms (and wait to see how the market plays out) but for smaller firms (such as the one I work for) this is simply not feasible. I have heard quoted the cost of £15k to introduce BIM per staff member (i.e. software license, training etc) and there is simply no way firms like mine could justify spending £30k per seat. Therefore, the decision of software is actually crucial for us and if Bentley’s are perceived to not respond to the issues raised here then I forecast that they will suffer quite badly in the long run.
So, in some sort of conclusion I understand Bentley’s underlying strategy to BIM and I have a lot of confidence in it. Whilst the single model concept (Archicad & Revit) makes initial sense I can see the pitfalls with this strategy as project models grow in size and complexity and across disciplines. As such I can appreciate just how powerful the federated approach could be in theory but I am utterly frustrated by the unintuitive and clunky interface and tools which hinder this from being a reality. Therefore, what I would wish for is all your BA and AECOsim product managers actually down-tools for a week and download the free trials of Archicad and Revit just to see just how intuitive the interface and toolsets are – for this is what I observe BIM users are coming to expect as a benchmark. In tandem the help sections need to be fundamentally addressed with better content. For instance both Autodesk and Graphisoft have YouTube channels with learning videos and the only Bentley Architecture videos I have been able to find online were produced by a Lawrence Eaton – an employee who left Bentley two years ago!
I seriously hope Bentley will take on board all the concerns I have discussed above because I if Bentley Architecture or AECOsim BD had the same level of accessibility and intuitive toolsets as competing BIM software then I am certain Bentley would be leading the field in every aspect and we would most certainly not even be thinking about switching software provider.
"£15k to introduce BIM per staff member"
Holy cow! Isn't that about the next 15 years worth of subscriptions?
If that's accuarate, don't be surprised if management asks you guys to lump it and learn to love those 'quirks' :-)
Although I am familiar with the numerous and various technology differentiators between the various software option, I am a design architect and ultimately make decisions based on final results...the printed drawings.
Microstation has historically been respected for its ability to deliver great looking drawings with less fuss than the competition. Within the past decade however, Autodesk has matched many of Bentley's graphic control features that appealed to designers (lineweight control, color options, etc.) Moreover, with the advent of BIM I find that Bentley has lost the high ground in its ability to present building models more-beautifully that the competition. Printed graphics are "table stakes" before any other so-called feature in my book. In a side-by-side comparison, we picked Revit.
Prior to Revit, we were a mixed AutoCAD and Microstation shop. I recall when Autodesk undertook several substantial revamping of their user interface. This was a very painful process for long-time AutoCAD users to endure, but the result was that the software emerged as being much easier for new users to pickup and use with reasonable skill. As it is now, the current Bentley UI presents new users with a numer of challenges to easy adoption. I learned enough Revit to draw my house over a long weekend, but when I tried the same experiment with Bentley's BIM tools the results were dismal. Not a scientific experiment, for sure, but I was struck by what I learned.
Finally, I think it is important to pay attention to what students are doing and thinking. Universities are not production offices, but if your firm values innovation and design there is much to be learned from how students are using (or not using) the numerous and variuos tools available to them. Some portfolio projects today are simply stunning; none that I've seen were produced using Bentley. Why?
When considering Microstation v. Revit v. whomevever, it is easy to dive into all the technical details, draw up side-by-side comparision charts, and do any number of rediculous productivity analysis exercises. Don't. Just try to draw your house over a long weekend...put it on a title block...print it...look at the results...talk about the experience...then build the conversation out from there. It can be a very illuminating experience, I find.
fully agree, such simple exercise is worth thousands of reviews