Digital transition means believing in our people, says Bentley Systems CIO


The pandemic sped up the digital transition and that transition has not slowed down since. We talk with Bentley Systems senior vice president and chief information officer, Claire Rutkowski (CR) ahead of the Global Infrastructure Conference about what industry should expect next and how it can adapt.  

Interview with Bentley Systems senior vice president and chief information officer Claire Rutkowski. 

IG. Some changes can’t be predicted – as we saw with the global pandemic. That unique crisis saw radical and rapid changes in how companies operated. How did Bentley Systems adapt and were you able to help clients and projects adapt too?  

Cr: “Bentley Systems was in a relatively good place for pandemic preparedness, compared with some of our peers. Approximately 98% of our workforce already used laptops, and our network was not hub and spoke, but rather a software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN). These factors enabled us to avoid some of the pitfalls of colleagues not having computers, or of experiencing the bottlenecks many other organisations experienced when the full workforce started hitting the network all at once. 

“Our transition was seamless. While our colleagues were fine from a systems point of view, they were rather less certain when it came to their own emotional states and the new demands of providing for children learning from home, caring for loved ones, and learning how to work effectively from home. We provided flexible work hours, guidance on working remotely, tips and tricks on how to use videos in meetings, and supporting messaging around self-care. 

“We were lucky enough to not miss a beat when transitioning to fully remote working. We soon expanded this into a ‘Bentley Has Your Back’ campaign, which provided written support, webinars, and free trials of some of our software to ensure our users and accounts could continue to work remotely as effectively as if they were in the office on all products. We covered everything from how to use TVs as monitors so designers could see the details of their designs to open office hours and many other things, all with the goal of supporting our accounts through the crisis.”

“Change is always hard for people. Combine that with an ever-increasing pace of change,  and workers can be in an uncomfortable and stressful place.”
Claire Rutkowski

IG: New digital technologies and applications are emerging all the time. How does a technology company like Bentley Systems keep ahead of the curve on which solutions industry will need next?

CR: “Bentley Systems has several different ways of staying connected to what the industry needs:

  • We have an industry solutions group dedicated to staying abreast of current and upcoming needs. They speak with our major accounts and attend industry conferences to determine what industries like oil and gas, mobility, cities, and water will need next. They are responsible for using various tools from our software toolkit to put together comprehensive solutions that meet the needs of specific industries.
  • Our Account Advancement team conducts quarterly business reviews with many of our accounts to determine what they are doing, what their strategy is, and where they want to go next. We then put together plans to help them get there.
  • To augment quarterly business reviews, we conduct user sentiment surveys on a very regular basis, with executives at Bentley speaking with their counterparts across our accounts. These sentiment surveys give us great insights into what people are thinking of doing but don’t have the tools for yet. Unmet needs are opportunities to provide something new.
  • Our User Success and Product Advancement teams keep a keen eye on help tickets and service requests to identify enhancement opportunities and keep our products current.
  • In addition, we have a digital integrator programme to enable companies to integrate Bentley solutions with other solutions and create brand new offerings.
  • Similarly, we have chosen to keep the Bentley iTwin Platform completely open so that developers, whether at our accounts or with independent software vendors, can create additional solutions as well.

“Whether at the industry, account, platform, or product level, we are doing all we can to stay abreast of what is happening and what is coming, as well as providing the opportunity for completely new things to come along as well.”

“Our industry faces a major problem — we don’t have enough engineers to design, build, and maintain all the infrastructure the world needs.”
Claire Rutkowski

IG: Growing quantities and speed of data and the proliferation of technologies can lead to real challenges for people across the industry as they see their roles and expectations change. How crucial is it to address that talent challenge and ensure your people and your clients’ people are best able to capitalise on digital technology? 

CR: “Change is always hard for people. The Great Resignation and the retirement rate in our industry has forced those who remain to take on more tasks. Combine that with an ever-increasing pace of change and elevating digital demands, and workers can be in an uncomfortable and stressful place.

“At Bentley, we believe in ensuring our colleagues are equipped with the latest and greatest tools and training to do their best, and we extend that to our user community too. We conduct webinars, host community forums, and deliver training on a regular basis. We also provide guidance and assistance on automating workflows and supporting component-based design so that our accounts can do more with less.

“Reducing the time that each individual team member needs to complete a given task enables them to be more effective and get more done. Importantly, the use of automated workflows and component-based design also reduces risk and increases the quality of the outputs, ensuring safer projects.”

IG: Modern infrastructure delivery involves a far greater crossover of disciplines than in past decades. To what extent have you been able to lead from the front in making sure technology supports that by breaking down discipline-by-discipline or sector-by-sector silos?

CR: “Complex infrastructure projects call for a variety of roles and skills. Engineers (including civil, environmental, hydraulic, mechanical, electrical, geotechnical, and more), architects, estimators, managers, and operators must all come together to work on a common platform on an asset, which may or may not be broken down into smaller projects.

“Bentley has made sure that our technology supports all disciplines by providing solution suites through our Industry Solution group, focusing on interoperability, and growing through acquisition where necessary to ensure we can support all disciplines needed. A digital twin then forms the core model which ties everything together.”

IG: Finally, we can’t talk about talent and technology without talking about Bentley Systems’ work with the Future Cities Competition each year. How vital is it to help young people understand the dynamic industry they will hopefully choose to be part of?

CR: “Our industry faces a major problem—we don’t have enough engineers to design, build, and maintain all the infrastructure the world needs now and in the future. Electrical engineers have traditionally shown the highest staffing gap, but the need for mechanical engineers is now becoming acute as well. This talent shortage is due to several factors, including higher retirement rates, not enough STEM graduates, and lower than optimal salaries.”

“It is, therefore, crucial that we expose young people to the exciting world of engineering, and DiscoverE’s Future City Competition is one of the fun ways we can do that. The competition is global and open to middle-school students, generally aged 11-14. Students form teams and have a mentor to help them solve a particular challenge, such as designing a city that will support human habitation on the moon. They need to write an essay about it, create a model of the city with some moving parts and components (for example, water filtration and air), and then present and answer questions about their submission. I delivered a speech at one of the Future City events and was so impressed by the intelligence in the room.

“Additionally, Bentley’s Future Infrastructure Star Challenge exposes students to conceptualising, designing, and visualising infrastructure. The global competition is open to students from community colleges, polytechnics institutes, and universities. Students take their ideas that improve quality of life, working to model, simulate, and visualise their idea to develop a design model.

“The only way that we can hope to bridge the talent gap and educate a whole new generation of engineers is by engaging students about how exciting engineering can be.”

Claire Rutkowski will be speaking about these issues and more at the Global Infrastructure Conference in Geneva this September.