Software, AI must help fill engineering skills gap: Bentley

Staff reporter

‘The engineering resources capacity gap to fulfill the demand for infrastructure is widening’

New York-listed US engineering and industrial software company Bentley Systems says digitalisation and AI “copilots” must help fill a growing resources capacity gap constraining energy transition and other infrastructure build rates.

“We’re simply not, as a full ecosystem, not creating enough engineers fast enough to cope with the demand,” the company’s chief operating officer, Nicholas Cumins, said on Bentley’s latest financial results call.

“The engineering resources capacity gap to fulfill the demand for infrastructure is widening.

“In the most recent ACEC quarterly survey, US engineering firms across all sectors continue to expect a higher backlog of projects 12 months from now. This fits what we are hearing from users around the world—they are struggling to find the people and skills necessary to fulfill the demand.

“All of this is fuelling the need for infrastructure organisations, large and small, to go digital and leverage software to be able to do more with less in better ways.”

Cumins said using AI as a copilot for engineers to be able to do more was “quite promising”.

“It’s all about making them more productive,” he said.

“And we think AI has a tremendous potential to make them more productive.

“Here [in project design], our investments are around site engineering, using AI to automate the proposal of site layouts, to automate drawings production. It’s still very early stage. We’re very much at the cutting edge here.

“But we’re working together with a lot of representative users, a lot of representative accounts, who are fully endorsing the direction given its potential.

“Across both AI for asset analytics and AI for design there is a true platform opportunity at the most fundamental level.

“It’s the digital twin platform. When we do AI analytics, we actually create a digital twin of an infrastructure asset. When we power infrastructure engineers to do better design through copilot capabilities, we also leverage digital twin technology.”

Bentley, a company with a circa-$15 billion current market value, is forecasting 2024 revenues of US$1.35-to-$1.375 billion after reporting $1.23 billion sales for 2023 and nearly doubling earnings per share, year-on-year, on the back of a net income jump to $327 million from $175 million in 2022.

Cumins highlighted extension of $1.05 billion 2021 acquisition, Seequent’s mining subsurface software business deeper into the civil engineering market, which he said was a strategic aim of the acquisition. He cited major transport tunnel projects in Europe that were significantly reducing resource waste – energy, water and so on – through better pre-project modelling and analysis.

“Understanding the subsurface is critical for infrastructure,” Cumins said.

“The largest element of technical and financial risk lies in the ground, according to the Institution of Civil Engineers.

“More than one-third of project overruns are related to unexpected ground conditions.

“Using technology to help reveal what lies beneath can help reduce risks, costs, and the environmental impact of infrastructure projects.

“Projects like these, which bring together engineering and subsurface data to support the full lifecycle of infrastructure assets, demonstrate both the value of integrated digital twins and the opportunity for Bentley.”

On M&A, CEO Greg Bentley said the company remained watchful for the right bolt-ons.

Bentley’s current strategy prioritised “outright acquisitions in asset analytics, where our breakthrough offerings for communications towers [OpenTower] and for roadway conditions [Blyncsy] are proving that AI now enables instant-on infrastructure digital twins, at scale”.

“I believe that asset analytics cloud services, monetised per asset, can significantly increase our total addressable market and digital twin growth,” he said.

“You see that we only spent $38 million last year [on M&A], including VC investments.

“We are going to focus in particular this year on opportunities in asset analytics.

“We may not find them. We hope we do.

“Blyncsy was an opportunity that came to us as a potential VC investment, and we want to incorporate and consolidate those and have this platform advantage and be the back-office provider of the AI and reality modelling processing at scale because we think it’s difficult otherwise for organisations that have good proprietary analytic capabilities but don’t have the resources to provide an experienced back office.

“And we’re going to get very good at that.

“I’m bubbling over with what’s new and exciting and interesting, but it’s not a substitute for what’s growing better than ever in the mainstream business.”


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