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Behind the Curve?

Posted by Michael Scott on August 18, 2016

Software updates can feel like you’re dealing with a horse race. New features are constantly released and trendy modules are always available. I often find myself asking, “Shall I move forward and install these updates, or stick with what I have?” Constant updates, changes and new features can actually challenge efficient workflow. Upgrading software takes time, but working on outdated versions can keep you behind the curve. Unfortunately, we must deal with daily updates from Microsoft and the multiple updates and service patches from other software vendors. While user friendly updates, such as Windows updates, are usually easy and can subtly be run in the background, other vendors require a lot more work.

Let’s talk upgrading GIS software for example. Esri is the premiere maker of GIS software around the world. Over half a million people use it. At Waterborne, we too have a significant number of staff using this mapping and spatial analysis software, so upgrading is not a trivial task. Yes, upgrading the desktop software is easy. In a mere 20 minutes, we can dump the old and download the new. It wasn’t always this easy, however. In the past it was painful. Esri (called ESRI at the time) took 3 + hours to uninstall and reinstall and was a somewhat painful process.

Despite faster download time, Esri’s GIS desktop software upgrade now has a cascading effect. Desktop software needs to be updated as well as servers and databases. A single software update might be painless, but issues with software applications can arise. Often users, Waterborne included, choose not to upgrade and stick with the old version so application upgrades are not required. To address this problem, we run a mixture of versions ranging from Version 10.0 for hosting ACI’s iSTREEM, to Version 10.2 SP2 for running OECD’s ENASGIP and ArcSWAT 2012.10.8 and Version 10.4.1 for all other work.

When we consider all the challenges and potential for incompatibilities, why upgrade? I think human nature drives our desire to have the “latest and greatest”. GIS software is like a toy with many fun tools to work and play with, so the newest features and updates are certainly sought-after. However, we must remain pragmatic and knowledgeable of potential obstacles in the endless race of new software versions.

Gerco Hoogeweg, Ph.D.
Lead & Manager GIS and Data Technologies