August 04, 2008
Bentley and Autodesk Announce Historic Interoperability Agreement
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Bentley and Autodesk Announce Historic Interoperability Agreement
By Susan Smith
Recently Bentley and Autodesk announced an agreement to expand interoperability between their portfolios of architectural, engineering, and construction (AEC) software. The agreement stated that Autodesk and Bentley will exchange software libraries, including Autodesk RealDWG, which Autodesk uses to read and write in their own products, “to improve the ability to read and write the companies' respective DWG and DGN formats in mixed environments with better accuracy.” As a result, Bentley will be able to work directly with the Autodesk code to read and write DWGs. In the other direction, Bentley has exchanged comparable DGN libraries with Autodesk.
According to Chris Barron, vice president, Corporate Marketing, Bentley, “It’s been acknowledged that Autodesk’s handling of DGN files hasn’t been quite as smooth as our ability with DWG, so I think this will improve the fidelity of Autodesk users’ ability to access DGN files.”
The two companies will also facilitate the work process interoperability between their applications by supporting the reciprocal use of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). This should improve AEC workflows so that information can be reused by more stakeholders in the AEC process, and project teams will be able to access more software possibilities.
In response to this news, many users in both camps say “it’s about time.”
“Bentley and Autodesk got to the point that we felt it was the best thing for our users,” stated Barron. “The reality is it’s a shared world and you can say 90% or higher of our users are also using Autodesk products. Interoperability has always been a core value for Bentley and the fact is Autodesk acknowledges this in the press release by saying, we are Autodesk’s largest application developer. Some of our earliest acquisitions ran both on AutoCAD and MicroStation so we’ve had to deal with interoperability for a long time in our business model.”
Quoting a 2004 U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology study, almost $16 billion is wasted annually due to interoperability. This is a situation with dire consequences that cannot be ignored. As a result, various standards such as ISO 15926 have been implemented, but the bottom line is that interoperability also has to be achieved at the file and API level.
Another driver for the interoperability agreement is the emergence of BIM. “We’re focusing less on drawings and more on the information that is generated around a building design or other aspects of infrastructure design. And there are a lot of players contributing and needing access to that information. The more we can do to foster that interoperability, the more we’re committed to doing it,” said Barron.
Although BIM was developed to address the need for interoperability on large infrastructure projects, the need for file compatibility between Autodesk and Bentley, the two primary providers of AEC design and construction software, remained. The available APIs for their products make it possible to interact directly with applications from both companies combined within integrated workflows.
Prior to this interoperability agreement, Bentley has made use of the software libraries provided by the Open Design Alliance (ODA). The ODA develops their own DGN libraries (Bentley never made their DGN libraries available to the ODA) based on Bentley documentation and technical support. Barron said nothing changes in that relationship.
Products demonstrating the new interoperability will be rolled out in different manifestations. Bentley has already demonstrated a Revit Plug-in by accessing APIs to output a DGN file from Revit. The next major release of MicroStation, which will be released at the end of 2008, will not reflect the interoperability agreement, however, Bentley will include an update to the RealDWG libraries in an update release in 2009.
The two companies will be parties to a cross-licensing agreement – for the first time in history.
Frequently Asked Questions on Bentley’s site, here are the replies to the following question:
As a result of this agreement, what is now possible that wasn’t possible previously?
As opposed to relying on “best-guess” engineering (necessarily “after the fact”), as is presently the case, now effectively every AEC desktop with platform or application products from Autodesk or Bentley can have native code from both Autodesk and Bentley (RealDWG and the new Bentley DGN libraries) to enable interchangeably reading and writing DGN and DWG with “trusted” fidelity;
The level of information exchange with such full and trusted comprehension can now be raised above the basic DGN and DWG format to include the intelligence interpreted by available “object enabler” code (and analogous capabilities from Bentley, as applicable); At even higher levels of application intelligence, users and project teams (with software licensed from both companies), can be offered “real-time workflow” interoperability scenarios, taking advantage of available APIs. An indication of the significance of this aspect is that Bentley is already recognized by Autodesk as its largest development partner (which, to date, has occurred largely through
acquisitions and can now be expanded by design);
As between Bentley and Autodesk, in addition to their respective software “toolkits,” each will now provide technical support to the other, as required, to enable each of these levels of potential interoperability to be expeditiously achieved – and more timely sustained in regard to new releases from the other party. As a result, instead of each wasting resources on redundant file-format development, the companies' efforts can be applied to making interoperability as complete and intelligent as possible, in the progression above.
Some quotes from industry leaders in the realm of interoperability (from the press release):
Norbert Young, FAIA, president of McGraw-Hill Construction and former chairman of the International Alliance for Interoperability in North America, said, "This groundbreaking agreement directly addresses many of the critical issues detailed in the
October 2007 McGraw-Hill Construction study on interoperability in the construction industry. I applaud both companies for their foresight and leadership."
Added Patrick MacLeamy, FAIA, CEO of global architectural firm HOK and a founder and current chairman of the International Alliance for Interoperability (IAI), "As a longtime advocate of interoperability, I welcome this agreement as an important step toward enabling AEC information to be more broadly shared, increasing the value of BIM to our clients."
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