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ProjectBank

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PROS:

Works with MicroStation/J Excellent component handling Versatile for mobile and laptop use

CONS:

Potential for large volumes of data stored on desktop computer No user-level access security without ProjectWise Performance can drop across a busy network ProjectBank is possibly the most mis-marketed tool in the CAD world. Some years ago Bentley systems came up with a road map for its corporate and application development, designed to take it from 'dumb' CAD to the more trendy 'intelligent-data' modelling approach for creating graphical construction data-drawings. There were five key points which, when combined, result in Lifecycle Project Integration. Those five points are:

project web;

engineering back office;

MicroStation/J;

project data management; and engineering component modelling.

In the three years since the company first presented the road map to a packed Proactive Engineering Symposium audience in Rome, three of the steps have been delivered with the fourth rolling out as I type. The project web was addressed with the introduction of Engineering Links (web hyperlinks attached to geometry) and intranet-based cell libraries which can be accessed from a web page and dropped into the model file. The engineering back office was addressed by the release of Project Wise - a collaborative tool for data management. In 1998 MicroStation was rewritten to include the Java Virtual Machine, enabling external Java connectivity with model data, and MicroStation/J was born. The fourth target, project data management, is being delivered now. The fifth target, engineering component modelling (intelligent, thinking components) will (we are assured) follow in time. There is nothing startling about most of the objectives:

web-based collaboration; greater application functionality and compatibility with other systems; and moving away from file-based working to object-based working.

However, it is within the confines of the 'object' that problems arise. Ask any specialist or industry commentator and you will get a different description of an object. Autodesk will tell you that an object is a line, circle or arc. GraphiSoft will offer another explanation. Much confusion followed and the 'object' as a term slipped away.

But perceptions alter and, in the same way that staying in is the new going out, so components are the new objects. Bentley Systems has come up with ProjectBank, a component-management interface for MicroStation drawings.

Drawings can be dropped into the ProjectBank and effectively shredded into individual components - lines, arcs and circles. Thereafter, whenever a file is accessed through ProjectBank the information is served up as a collection of components, each of which has its own definition in the database. 'Why would you want to do that?' I hear you cry. The answer is increased granularity. Well that's what Keith Bentley says anyway. By having more data granularity you have more options, greater flexibility and greater control over the information. More people can work on the same information at the same time.

So how does it work? Essentially, ProjectBank makes a copy of the drawing components from the server, groups them in a MicroStation Design file and stores them on your desktop computer's hard disk drive, a process which is particularly useful for laptop users when working away from the office. The components in these files are then compared with those in ProjectBank whenever connected to the server and the data is synchronised. All component actions are recorded and can be 'rolled-back' at any time. Furthermore this audit trail which is created for each component could prove invaluable should arguments arise over design decisions in the future. Each component is stored with its definition in ProjectBank and a full history of actions since its inception is logged. At any time it is possible to roll back the component definition to a previously posted version for review.

But what happens if two people change the same component at the same time? ProjectBank has a clever conflict-resolution capability for alerting the user to multiple and concurrent changes to the same components. For example, if two designers move, edit or delete the same component, ProjectBank will not allow the amended components to be posted back to the server. The two parties are forced to confer and resolve the conflict prior to posting the changes back to the server.

What about security? This is at the moment the Achilles heel of ProjectBank. Unless you buy ProjectWise, there are no user-security access restrictions, so an engineer could merrily change the data traditionally owned by the architect and vice versa. Furthermore, a team may choose to use ProjectBank but may have already chosen to use a different back-office solution. Bentley needs to address this issue.

What does it cost? ProjectBank is free to Select Subscribers. Select is Bentley's on-line software support and upgrade programme which costs approximately £500 per year per licence. Select also enables users to get the most up-to-date software fixes and enhancements.

So, ProjectBank is the latest point on the Bentley road map and a significant one at that. Why then do I think it is possibly mis-marketed?

Because it is only just short of great and yet the adoption by the MicroStation user base is incredibly slow. Small practices think of it as a tool for large projects, and large practices are waiting for it to prove itself first. Bentley should stop whispering about the benefits delivered by ProjectBank and start shouting. It is possibly the most realistic approach yet to a component modelling solution which can be used at all levels in any size of practice.

Joe Croser is a director of adrem-dcx - a specialist in the implementation of CAD within architecture and construction. To contact him tel 020 7436 1616, e-mail joec@adrem -dcx. com or visit www.adrem-dcx.com

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