SDGs as our most strategic priority over the next ten years: Rodrigo Fernandes

Rodrigo Fernandes is Director, ES(D)G - Empowering Sustainable Development Goals at Bentley Systems from August 2021.

Exclusive Interview with Rodrigo Fernandes
Exclusive Interview with Rodrigo Fernandes

LONDON (Metro Rail News): Metro Rail News Managing Editor Mr Narendra Shah conducted a one-on-one interview during his visit to London for Bentley System‘s Year in Infrastructure Conference and Going Digital Awards 2022 with Rodrigo Fernandes. During the interaction, Mr Fernandes talked about Sustainable Development goals and recognised infrastructure.

Rodrigo Fernandes is Director, ES(D)G –  Goals at Bentley Systems from August 2021. He is also working as an Environmental Engineering Industry Expert from October 2020 to till now. He completed his Ph. D in Environmental Engineering from Instituto Superior Técnico from 2012-2018, and after that, he got a certificate in Sustainable Business Strategy from Harvard Business School Online. He worked as a Scientific Researcher, Project Manager, and Environmental Engineer and joined Bentley Systems as a Senior Consultant in November 2017.




Q How can the construction sector address climate change amidst sustainable development goals and recognised infrastructure?


Ans: In the construction sector, we consider two main topics that interconnect with each other but need different approaches. One is decarbonising construction. That’s one of the significant challenges, and the other one is climate adaptation and resilience. We consider both points to be adopted in parallel or together, but from a decarbonisation point of view, we need to start leveraging the low-hanging fruits of quick wins. Bentley, as a company and many of the technologies we have around, work on efficiency, circularity, and reducing water and material usage by designs. Considering machine learning, AI, cloud technologies, and digital twins, we can effectively reduce carbon footprint of infrastructure projects, which is a critical approach that we consider.


The other thing that can still be mentioned in decarbonisation,  is open collaboration and open ecosystem partnerships. We believe that no single company, vendor, or organisation will be able to tackle climate change and decarbonisation alone. We have a lot of challenges managing data in large infrastructure projects such as managing multiple industries, disciplines and organisations. For instance, we are handling a railway project; we shall need infrastructure managers, and we will need to work with multiple companies and disciplines many times because this infrastructure shall stay with us for a long time. The only way to address this is through a digital platform which can work in an open environment, where we can bring all the vendors and all the data formats together, federating all the data.


In many cases, we also depend on materials supplied by others. This can also affect our business. For instance, we will be affected if we depend on materials that will become unavailable due to a shortage of resources. An open platform allows us to work with stakeholders at different levels, even in the supply chain; going upstream-downstream, we need to handle that. An ecosystem of collaboration is strategic for addressing decarbonisation.


Then there is also climate resilience and adaptation, which is something where we can also leverage quick wins and many of the technologies that are available today for planning and to adopt a proactive approach for climate resilience. This is possible using technology for better studying and quantifying the impacts, giving suitable options, and helping in what-if scenarios, so if there’s a flood, drought, heat wave or anything else that might happen.

Still, we also need disruptive technologies so that we can meet the number of challenges that we can face. We still need to work on innovation, research and technology for instance in green mobility options, or carbon capture usage and storage in sectors where we cannot  decarbonize easily.

Q How does the Bentley system help India to empower sustainable development goals through Bentley software and services?


Ans:  ES(D)G is Empowering Sustainable Development Goals. We have three ES(D)G main priorities for us. One is mobility, another is the grids, and the last is environment. On grids, we include anything related to clean energy transition, including reducing energy consumption and increasing efficiency in energy production.


So, we have solutions to empower all these, not only by producing and diversifying the portfolio of renewable energy with solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, or green hydrogen but with technology for transmission and distribution because this infrastructure is essential for electrification. It doesn’t matter if you produce a lot of energy; it is useless if you cannot distribute it. So, we have technologies like SPIDA and OpenUtilities that are used for managing electric grid digital twins.


When we move to the environment, there’s a direct link with grids. We often need rare-earth metals or materials for new-age technologies like EVs, vehicles, or even turbine blades. For these special rare metals needed, we also need to do responsible mining, where Seequent (the Bentley Subsurface Company) can help.


In the environment, we also include all the water infrastructure, water supply, sanitation, groundwater detection, saline water intrusion, floods, droughts, and heat waves; all these are part of our solutions and technologies for the environment. Similarly, in the transport sector, I would say that fifty per cent of the world’s population still doesn’t have safe and convenient access to public transport. We don’t need highways everywhere, for sure. But we need collective transport means, a priority, like a rail & metro, that’s strategic. We also need micro-mobility to help people run scooters and bikes for individual mobility, reducing congestion. But then again is a problem of vehicular emissions, reducing carbon footprints, saving the environment, opting for eco-friendly solutions, etc. So there’s a lot of discussion for a sustainable urban transport system.


We also have mobility simulation tools to better plan how to avoid vehicle congestion in the future. Finally, we have software for pedestrian simulation, to increase the efficiency of time taken by people to walk across different modes of public transport. It would also help in multi-modal and last-mile connectivity.

Q Indian Railway has planned to gradually reduce its carbon footprint and become net zero carbon by 2030. In what ways can Bentley’s system contribute to achieving this goal? 

Ans: We are talking about massive projects, and it is challenging to manage large infrastructure projects. We need to talk about open collaboration again for this. To reduce carbon footprint, companies need tools in the early stages of design; they need to start planning in the early stages on how they can reduce the carbon footprint from the materials, from the construction, they need to model it, they need to digitally quantify things in advance.


Suppose organisations start planning and quantifying things in the early stages. In that case, they will be successful, reducing not only the carbon emissions but, in the other lifecycle stages like operations, management etc. For example, we have partnered with Building Transparency to enable carbon calculations in the iTwin platform (our digital twin platform) at no cost, based on an open source carbon calculator – EC3. This will be a game changer for better designing and construction, and even procurement, because it will allow the infrastructure managers to choose less impactful options in terms of carbon.


Similarly, when you go to operations, we have established a partnership with Microsoft, Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability, to understand and to find ways for monitoring, reporting and analysing what’s going on in terms of carbon footprint during the operational stage. So, that’s one of the things that I think is important because we can only manage what we can measure; there is no possibility of reducing if we are unaware of our impacts. Therefore, in my opinion, digital tools can be beneficial in quantifying, estimating and ultimately reducing carbon in these infrastructure projects for transport.

Q What, in your opinion, are the possible solutions through which Bentley system technology shall benefit India in increasing production efficiency and providing significant energy and cost-saving solutions? 


Ans: From the perspective of increasing production efficiency and providing significant energy and cost-saving solutions, we’ll like to discuss things in the realm of two major SDGs – SDGs 07, focused on energy and clean energy transition and SDG 12, which focuses on responsible consumption., resulting in less waste, and less impacts on the natural environment and resources which is essential for all of us because. This one is much focused on efficiency and circular principles.


So, suppose we want to achieve success and maintain performance with the minimal resources possible and know how to use technology and work together. In that case, Bentley has an answer to all, which is part of our business strategy. Many of our solutions are focused on that. We have solutions for operational analytics, software solutions for asset reliability, etc. We can give an example or multiple examples.


For instance, let’s think about infrastructure. Let’s think of an offshore wind platform. They must regularly do inspections. So, there are a lot of steps involved, such as how to plan the inspections By using our software, they can analyse the historical data and safely reduce inspections by x per cent or by extending the number of days without inspection. This process can save energy, carbon, and cost by optimising and rationalising these operations.


I gave an example of an offshore wind platform. The exact process can be replicated for manufacturing and process industries as these industries also have reliability problems. So, this is an important way of doing the required maintenance or maybe an up-gradation using our software. Similarly, our solutions can be used for the water sector. The water leakages can be identified; the system can detect anomalies using operational analytics on our operations software. So, if we can reduce the wastage of water, we save resources and money We can also help optimizing water pumps to reducing energy consumption.  These are just examples of how efficiency can be increased.

Q Based on the learning at the event, can we say that Bentley is touring the cloud and preparing sets of goals that can be used by another project based on the client’s experience and the project studies? What would be your views on that? 


Ans: It’s interesting. Because at Bentley, we work for innovations, and when we think about the following stages, we make efforts for the same. We have seen things moving from a file-centric perspective to a data-centric perspective. So, moving to the cloud in a way that we not only work with files but can also work with data available on the cloud.


The main idea is about efficiency and circularity because when we talk about reusing data, it is just closing the infrastructure loop. Similarly, we always try to create a loop between planning, designing, construction, operations, and maintenance when discussing infrastructure and lifecycle stages. In many cases, we also need to include the decommissioning and repurposing. In several cases, we have an old infrastructure, which we must repurpose into a new one. But, it should be a closed loop as much as possible, avoiding all the loss of materials, energy and data. Because if we collect data, and don’t reuse it, it means a waste of time and energy in the cloud, which makes no sense. Hence, we are trying to close the loop, the circular approach we see more and more.

Q Delhi Metro has been a massive success in India. But, now we have no. of cities in the country that want the metro. So, what would your insights on data use in developing city transport systems be? Does it ease system development? Can data of one system be fully replicated in another?


Ans: Not the exact same data, but the methodologies can be replicated. In many cases, the data from one project might be used in another one, but in many cases, that’s not possible to reuse it. So, I would rather say that an infrastructure digital twin, in many cases, can be independent of the other depending on the circumstances.

When we talk about going digital for developing city transport systems, we need to think big, proove small and scale fast; this is all about what’s being discussed. So, once we think big by envisioning the desired digital transformation , we need to start proving small with a small pilot project. We can scale it to a more extensive area if it works.

Similarly, once it has been done for a medium project, a city, or an infrastructure, it will be easier to apply to another city. Again, the learning would help in expediting things. One will be available with learning and enough data collection to scale up the project, expedite all the processes of achieving results and manage the infrastructure.


However, we cannot agree on reusing all data for a different project because there are always specificities in each project. The data from a specific project might not be replicable hence, in a different project of similar capacity. But data can – and should – be reused in the different lifecycle stages. The data from design can then be used in construction, can be used in operations, and used in maintenance. You should not lose time building new digital models in every lifecycle stage.

Q Bentley is known for their initiative, where they help start-ups by funding them. Similarly, manpower availability is a significant issue in most companies today. So, do you have any training or learning program for students at your educational and research institutes where you can teach Bentley, software to students in college? 


Ans: We have Bentley Education. I shall try to give you an overview. Bentley education provides licensing to universities and tries to establish partnerships with universities under a specific agreement. Also, Bentley research in many cases might be involved in sponsoring Ph. Ds and research studies in many of these cases. So, if they are aligned with our vision for infrastructure digital Twins and our main objectives, that can also be part of our strategy. Then we have iTwin ventures that focus on making minority investments in companies aligned with our digital Twin strategy for infrastructure.


The idea is to help and incentivise start-ups to work on our ecosystem of infrastructure digital Twins. We also have iTwin partner programs where the idea is to work closely with start-ups without minority investments, but to help them use the iTwin platform as part of their business strategy and accelerate the adoption and integration of iTwin.


In the past, we saw Bentley as The infrastructure digital twin company, but not anymore. Because we know that’s not possible. There won’t be one company capable of addressing all infrastructure challenges alone. We now envision Bentley as The infrastructure digital twin platform company. We want to empower other companies, independent software vendors, engineering firms, start-ups, and whosoever works with infrastructure digital twins to build their businessesusing our platform as a service and build their solutions with their own intellectual property.


But we also simplify things if you are a user or a practitioner and don’t want to build your own tool, or you don’t have time to develop: you can use our commercial products, powered by the iTwin platform in the background. So, the iTwin platform is supporting us (our products) and others simultaneously. So, this is the ecosystem collaboration. We think this will be the key to increase efficiency and accelerate digital transformation – as equally, sustainable transition.


The only other thing that I want to add is how important it is to acquire and retain talent and resources. With the main challenges the world is facing right now or maybe in the next twenty years, empowering sustainable development goals is our most strategic priority for the next ten years. So, if we act on it and can explain our purpose, I believe we will be readier to get new talent and motivate people to work at Bentley.


If we are disconnected from what is happening in the world right now, I believe that people coming from a university will look for another company that is more aligned with the vision of the future. So, we are preparing ourselves to get new people through all these.



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