In a sign of the times, AEC software vendor Bentley has replaced its 2009 user event, the BE Conference, with a free online seminar series that started late last month. “We were hearing from customers that their travel budgets were very restricted,” says Chris Barron, the company’s vice president corporate marketing.

In addition to making participation in seminars more affordable, Bentley also hopes that the virtual approach will allow it to reach a broader audience. Last year’s face-to-face conference, held in Baltimore in May, drew about 2,000 attendees. By mid July, approximately 8,000 people, including about 4,000 from outside the U.S., had registered for the online series, which Bentley is calling “Be Connected.” Data was not available for the number of Be Connected sessions viewed. “That is more tricky to track,” according to Barron.

Through November, Bentley is conducting nine or 10 “live,” hour-long seminars each week via streaming video, which will then become part of the Be Connected on-demand course library. So far, more than 40 courses, including a few on high-performance buildings and building design and analysis, are available for on-demand viewing.

Barron says that Bentley will revive the BE Conference when the economy recovers, but will likely also make the conference content available virtually.