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Beyond the drawing New software from Bentley for collaborative teamwork focuses on the bigger picture of project development

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Bentley Systems has just announced the release of ProjectBank dgn after first showing it at its user conference in the autumn of last year. ProjectBank dgn is the culmination of many years' work at Bentley and is the first real indication that the company's vision of an enterprise- based working environment to replace the current workstation-based ethos is on track.

ProjectBank dgn is designed to handle dgn files in MicroStation workgroups connected locally or connected over wide area networks - or the Internet. The technology will subsequently be extended to manage native Autocad 2000 dwg files, also at the engineering component level.

ProjectBank dgn goes far beyond simple drawing management, introducing key innovations like change merging and a project-history journal. Change merging allows simultaneous editing of the same files by different users while maintaining data integrity. ProjectBank dgn identifies the changes by multiple users and automatically synchronises and merges them.

This model of parallel collaboration with 'shared files' will eliminate argument among project members for write-access to files. At present this is one of the major stumbling blocks to effective teamwork. With ProjectBank it is like having several members of the team working on the same drawing board at the same time. The increase in productivity is immense and the resulting reduction in lead times can give practices a considerable competitive edge when tendering for projects.

ProjectBank dgn also adds the dimension of time to project data through a comprehensive log called the history journal. The journal tracks all changes made on a project, including the date and time they were made, who made them, and any descriptions or comments. That means that users or project managers can look at any transaction and understand changes in their full context and compare revisions. They can even reinstate earlier versions of a model or a particular 'drawing', since transactions can be undone and projects can be rolled back to previous states. This reduces the need for multiple archived versions of drawings which in themselves can become a management problem.

ProjectBank dgn introduces to MicroStation/J 7.1 the same key innovations like change merging, project tracking, dependency tracking and multi-format data storage and exchange. ProjectBank is a major advance over current document-management systems because it manages transactions at the level of components, not files, and across the entire project database. This effectively means each element of a drawing is controlled and not just the drawings themselves.

MicroStation/J 7.1 offers other enhancements, including basic support for tagging elements with xml data. MicroStation/J also has a Java-based spell checker, an updated Parasolid modelling kernel, plotting and import/export enhancements, Oracle 8.0x support, and more. This new version of ProjectBank technology will be released as part of Bentley's ProjectWise. ProjectWise operates on a user's lan, wan, or extranet to provide a secure, controlled, centralised environment for managing all formats of engineering data.

The introduction of ProjectBank dgn is a key stage in Bentley's programme of developing tools to address the process of project development and not just the design of buildings. In many respects the cad element is a minor part of the project process, and by focusing on the back-office elements Bentley is defining itself as a comprehensive enterprise developer, rather than simply a cad company.

As with many areas in it at the moment, it is the areas of communication and connectivity that are seeing rapid growth. By developing the infrastructure for collaborative design, Bentley is building a solid future for growth. Once the software has been extended to include full support for native Autocad files, the overriding benefit of the technology will be compelling for all those involved in large-scale complex projects.

Bentley's forte is large projects and this is reflected in its user base and the fact that most of the key projects completed in the last few years had a major element of Bentley technology in their development. It seems clear that Bentley sees cad as only an element in a much larger picture. While other developers are focused on continually adding features to cad packages, Bentley is looking at how it can address more fundamental issues in work flow and project management. In the long term this could put Bentley in a position its competitors may find hard to match.

For information on Bentley packages, visit www.bentley.com or ring +31 23 556 0560

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