How Bentley are shooting themselves in the foot

I spent some time thinking whether to write a reaction to older discussions) about MicroStation SDK availability and recent steps leading to closing of “a world of MicroStation programming”. Originally, I thought about “What is Bentley long term strategy for 3rd party developers” theme, but at the end it seems to be the tangle of problems / issues that is not easy to describe. So, I use this slightly more general and provocative subject and try to express my feelings.

At first, a disclaimer: This post represents my subjective opinion and is based mostly on my experiences (small and mid, typically engineering but also utility, companies) from Czech Republic, and partially also what I heard from my friend from other European countries. Maybe my arguments are not valid for long term complex projects delivered to big asset operators in telco or power distribution and less fragmented markets (European Union represents one from 3 biggest economies in the world but comparing to US and China it’s fragmented to many local markets).

At second, I’d like to apologize for lengthy text.

And at third, I also probably should apologize for black and white and maybe too strict evaluation. I guess a combination of winter depression with a contradiction between MicroStation CONNECT Edition with rich (even no too much documented) API and steps against people who like to use this API. On the other hand I will repeat what other people wrote in other discussions already: Limiting access to SDK and API is another bad Bentley decisions complicating using Bentley products.

Ok, let’s return to my original question: “What is Bentley strategy for 3rd part developers and related ecosystem formed by any extensions from simple macros to complex applications?” I assume there will be an answer like “We have (great) BDN program and we carefully listen and take care about 3rd developers”, but despite of it sounds nice, this is far from reality. And BDN itself is not my focus (I appreciate information provided by Bob, Arthur and YonganFu), because it’s about the development in general.

For many years Bentley have closed MicroStation programming and limiting the access to it step by step. I remember all tools (MDL) were delivered with MicroStation automatically. Later the separate SDK was created, but still accessible to everybody. And last year, it was closed to BDN members only. No information about such change, no information about how to start with development available on web (“ask us” / “fill form” is not information but annoying obstruction).

If I compare it with other solutions, both commercial (AutoCAD, Revit, ArcGIS, Allplan, ArchiCAD…) and open-source l(PostgreSQL + PostGIS, GeoServer, Open Layers): Do you want to develop anything? Download it, it’s simple, just click “Download” button, typically even registration is not required (and when it’s required like in ArchiCAD case, the whole process and requirements are clearly, without marketing fuzzy formulations, described). The route between idea / requirements to dev tools installed and start coding is straightforward and fast.

In my opinion Bentley also failed in teaching developers and motivating new ones. This applies both to the area of education (schools and universities) and existing users. Bentley has close to zero presence in (Czech) schools and I know about plenty of people stopped to try to teach MicroStation or other products simply because it’s so complicated and costly and Bentley don’t care to support them. Especially when compared with so many events, educational programs (often created in Czech language) and competitions organized by local offices, local partners (when no company has office) or local communities sponsored by the company.

And when somebody (a student because of seminary work or dissertation, current user because of company internal requirement or just for joy or manager looking for solution of specific problem) need to develop anything: No chance. Even for existing SELECT users, as was mentioned already in some discussion, to extend agreement to BDN SELECT is not acceptable, because it’s slow (does not allow to start immediately) and requires legal acts (which is tough process often).

What about consequences? As Stuart wrote in the mentioned discussion, he lost his enthusiasm for Bentley products and has resigned to a role of “MicroStation advocate”. What I have seen for last several years at different conferences and talking with customers, is even worse:  Bentley, MicroStation or other products are less and less presented there or discussed as the used tools. Bentley products are dismissing from market.

For me long term business strategy is like a table with more legs. When all are durable, and suddenly some breaks, it’s not an emergency. But when more legs are weak, the sensitivity is higher, and stability is low. Using this picture, many table legs are rotten I guess, but moreover the legs related to programming were effectively severed by Bentley itself.

One from “removed leg” is about how to fulfill local specifics and requirements. I assume all software companies are persuaded their software is genius piece and will solve anything and everything. Nothing can be more distant from everyday reality in any project: There are so many local rules, country or industry standards or even company specific procedures that no software is able to handle them all well.

When the software allows to be extended / customized and at the same time there are people capable to do it, the problem is solved. The first condition is solved, MicroStation-based (but also ProjectWise and other software) provides rich API. Great! But … there are lack of people. Bentley are responsible that there are no new ones and if anybody is interested in CAD development, he will probably choose other platform (even simple tasks like preliminary study whether API supports a feature cannot be done, because contrary the others, nothing is available publicly). Bang, first leg crashed and removed.

Because there are no individual and internal developers (of course commercial developers exist), no tools exist. I assume many users will agree there were quite a lot MDL apps available in time of MicroStation 95 or J. Many from them were simple and developed by individual in their spare time, but they were valuable. Today? Just a few. Even Bentley have not been able to migrate own tools available for free (tool library) to CONNECT Edition. The situation is worse because there is no “application central point”. Compare it with other platforms, where plenty of macros, tools, applications are available, often for free and available in different lists. I remember many situations when in community or at conferences some problem was discussed (data import, drawing output generation…) and somebody told “I developed own macro and can share it with you”. No chance for MicroStation. Crack, second leg broken.

Unfortunately, it’s even worse. In Europe Bentley have ignored INSPIRE for many years (for people don’t familiar with INSPIRE, it’s EU directive aiming environmental spatial data, mandatory for all EU countries and all subjects anyhow related to environment and nature protection like utilities, network operators, of course government and cadaster etc.). One from results is that INPISRE data must be published, so they are available to people, usually in OGC formats (Open Geospatial Consortium) like GML or WFS (I think sometimes local formats are used also). After 10 years of existence of INSPIRE, Bentley products are not able to handle these data at all (e.g. WMS-T or WFS in MicroStation) or had reported but not corrected problems (WFS in Bentley Map). What competitors? For last few years, at least in Czech Republic, the problem is solved. Quite often through local developers and in some cases the local solution was good enough that international company don’t develop own one (which I think is great example of possible synergy, where local developers solve the problem how to “act locally”).

Because environmental data is part of literally every engineering project, inaccessibility of INSPIRE data is competitive disadvantage and I know several companies that migrated (or are in such process) from Bentley platform, because to don’t be able to access all necessary data easily is more expensive than the migration itself.  Now, very loud crash, another leg broken.

The last consequence relates to the development itself: Because there are no students with MicroStation knowledge, and how to develop application skills are quite low between users (because there are no good resources and it’s impossible to access even API description), the development is more expensive than a development to other platforms. To hire new MicroStation developer means to find general developer and to teach him MicroStation and API. It requires at least a half of the year to work independently and after one year he will be come productive. As I wrote, expensive. To find somebody with e.g. AutoCAD, Sketchup or whatever else knowledge who has at least basic experience with development (e.g. he tried to create a macro as student or as employee) is substantial easier. So, this is 4th leg broken.

Is there any “final question” or conclusion? I am not sure, probably not. It was just about to express my feeling that things get worse and that to have technically above average product is not enough and there are areas where competitors are far more active, open and friendly, which possibly will help them to win in future. History is full of such examples: Microsoft won with Windows over OS2 and other OSs because at this time great VisualC and availability of other dev tools from Borland, recently he failed with Window Phone because bumbling API and developer support. And so many open-source projects survived early stages not because of its their quality, but because of great community providing support, learning materials and documentation, so other developers were interested in to commit and use it.

But maybe it would be enough to only clearly describe on web what Bentley strategy and priorities are and that Bentley decision is to provide access to any API under BDN agreement and for anybody else only VBA is available. But I don’t find any such information.

With regards, a bit depressed,

  Jan

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  • Hi,
    I shall managing the BDN activity going forward. I report to Sudipto.
    Currently BDN program works in mainly two ways:-
    1) BDN Select:
    If you are already a Bentley user then you do not need to pay anything for for SDK access.
    You just need to fill a BDN select from and send it to my team to get entitlements for SDK download.
    BDN select does not give you any additional product license and you can use the SDKs for your own organizational purpose. 
    2) BDN Commercial :
    If you want to commercially use the Bentley SDKs then you need to apply for this. BDN commercial comes with a yearly fee. 
    But under this program you get licences for 5 different products for 5 users each for your SDK related development and testing.
    Additional licenses beyond this can be purchased extra. 
                                         
    Now the above is the standard BDN offering, but we do understands that there can be different needs for different users. 
    For example in the first year you may not commercially use your apps and want to focus more on development,
    or you are developing a complex application where you need more than 5 licences. 
    So we are open to discuss such instances for a case to case scenario and discuss about grants in such cases for a limited period.
     
    Users needs will always our priority. 
    For any BDN specific query you can contact our BDN inbox (bdn@bentley.com) or you can also reach out to me directly (tamanud.das@bentley.com).
    We are always open to help our users within our capacity. 
    Now coming to recent updates
    1) From last year we have restarted the BDN summit. This year also we were planning for 2 summits. But the recent Corona virus situation may alter the timing and venue.
    2) We shall soon be launching a new portal for Bentley third party developers. More details will be posted in the community soon.
    3) We are also working on a new opportunity for our BDN commercial users which will be announced soon.
     
    Going forward I shall try to regular post BDN program related updates in the community.
    Thanks 
    Tamanud
  • Welcome to the BDN team: thanks for responding!

    Under [BDN] you get licences for 5 different products for 5 users each for your SDK related development and testing.

    That's the first time I've seen that statement.  For a new ISD wanting to join the BDN, what is the fee?

    It isn't the cost of the BDN membership that's the issue as much as the terms of the agreement and the information that needs to be provided. Our company feels the financial information required to be provided to Bentley is too intrusive

    Why does Bentley Systems take such an intimate interest in ISDs?  As mentioned here many times, other companies who compete with Bentley Systems make their SDK available publicly at no cost without the need for extensive application and assessment procedures.

    For any BDN specific query you can contact our BDN inbox (bdn@bentley.com)

    In my experience in recent years, that mailbox leads nowhere.  Who monitors incoming messages? 

    I shall try to regular post BDN program related updates

    I look forward to reading them!

     
    Regards, Jon Summers
    LA Solutions

  • How does this help the casual programmer? How does it encourage new people to become interested in learning to program for Microstation? The restrictive nature of the BDN practically ensures that anyone who might have some interest in learning to code for Microstation will not have access to any opportunity.

    I learned how to code by playing around with MicroStation Basic, and then MVBA, over my lunch hour. I didn't need permission from The Company and I didn't need any special access from Bentley. I was able to use the tools in the software and the Help/documentation that was delivered with the software, and I was able to learn how to make things happen. I developed an interest because I had access.

    Now the Bentley SDK is under lock and key, and nobody has access to it unless they can justify (either to their own Select Administrator or to Bentley themselves) why they need it.

    This stifles innovation and it crushes curiosity. It discourages people from developing an interest in writing code for Bentley products, and anyone disinterested in using Bentley products may become that much more interested in alternatives.

    Not all of us are professional programmers. We aren't going to develop the Next Big App for Bentley products. We aren't even programming for our company; we aren't likely to develop the Next Big App for our employers (at this point). We are the tinkerers, the journeymen, the amateurs. We don't know enough to program for a living. We just want to root around under the hood and see what we can do. We don't want to bother our bosses for a BDN membership because our interest isn't official - we don't have a cost-benefit justification nor a manhour assessment of why we need access. We don't know what we can do until we give it a shot.

    The BDN program, even if included with a SELECT contract, is stifling creativity and discouraging interest. A lot of goodwill and creative solutions can be generated by encouraging people to experiment with software! Putting the most creative aspect of that software on lockdown without an official justification wastes the potential of thousands of curious users.

    MaryB

    Power GeoPak 08.11.09.918
    Power InRoads 08.11.09.918
    OpenRoads Designer 2021 R2

        

  • Hi Mary,

    How does this help the casual programmer?

    that's serious question and I have asked it repeatedly for last several users. I have never every received any meaningful answer (and I guess also nobody else). It's proven reality that the developers community is zero value for BDN management and they do not care to answer any question or issue discussed in this and also BDN forum.

    The restrictive nature of the BDN practically ensures that anyone who might have some interest in learning to code for Microstation will not have access to any opportunity.

    That's exactly the point: Many tools, that have happened crucial for users of any CAD / GIS platform, started as hobby / in house development, done as free time projects by students or employees. Also many people I know who design or develop applications in Autodesk, ESRI etc. partners were hired or moved from engineering companies with knowledge both of engineering and development (which is important but rare combination).

    Bentley intentionally closed this option for everybody, which in longer term (and it's the opinion of the most of my friends in different countries) they actively killed MicroStation-based application future (maybe Bentley products future in general). There are no simple tools developed anymore, there are no students or junior employees with even basic knowledge of MicroStation API. It both makes the development expensive (to hire and educate requires many moth and bit investment) and MicroStation usage inefficient (even for simple tool used in a context of particular project you have to try to find BDN member).

    I developed an interest because I had access.

    This idea is too complicated to be understood by BDN management (I mean community management and development, not technical support) . They do not care about developers, they do not care about users. There is not single communicated vision or strategy, just hopeless silence and a group of people in India too scared to post anything to any discussion (recent Tamanud's post is the exception after several month).

    and anyone disinterested in using Bentley products may become that much more interested in alternatives.

    It has happened already. When I talked with users that decided to do not migrate to CE and to use other platform as their primary solution (and it's not small number, the drop down of interest of my customers is uncomfortably large), it's one from evaluated facts: All competitors offer basic access (typically NET API + documentation, no support or licenses included) for free and they have active community, so it's no problem to develop (or migrate from MicroStation) all necessary tools using internal staff or to hire student (because there is always somebody available with necessary knowledge). No way to do it for MicroStation.

    We aren't going to develop the Next Big App for Bentley products.

    You never know the future! All "big apps" were small at the beginning. Plus take in account, that the most of applications, today sold by Bentley, were not created by Bentley originally, but they bought them (as apps or as companies). I cannot prove it anyhow, but I guess when the same closed restrictive (and in fact very arrogant) politics would be applied at that time, many from them will be never created. And it's what Bentley is actively doing now.

    The BDN program, even if included with a SELECT contract, is stifling creativity and discouraging interest.

    Any program does it. Plus today world is somewhere else, whereas BDN management works like Intergraph and IBM in 90' ... restrict everything, control everything, love papers and procedures. Competitors understood many years ago that openness, free access and proper community management bring huge benefits. Not only in a number of available applications, but help to maintain knowledge, produce potential employees and in general make users happier (because it' so simple to solve discipline, country, standard, project or whatever else special issue, that general international solution can never handle).

    So after 30 years with MicroStation, I have to say I do not see optimistic future of MicroStation, because as you wrote, people like to play with code, do things with passion, think about new ideas and solutions. When they are not actively managed to be part of "your community", they quickly (today it can be in hours) move to competitors or start to develop "next big thing" that will kills and eat your business in future.

    With regards,

      Jan

  • Hi Mary,

    Thanks for your interest and enthusiasm in MicroStation SDK. 

    I am sure we can work out a short term and long term solution here. 

    I have send you a separate email to discuss a short term solution. Lets work from there. 

    In the log run we are working on making SDKs and development licences more easily available to our users.  

    I shall update the details in the BDN communities in the coming months.

  • We are working on making SDKs and development licences more easily available to our users

    That will be a welcome move!

     
    Regards, Jon Summers
    LA Solutions