By Chris Remillard
August 18, 2015
In our last blog post, we took a broad overview of your central data system hardware through our Technology Health Quiz. This time, we’ll drill down a bit to what makes your computer hardware valuable: The software you run on it.
Software has come a long way from the days of endless loading from slow, tiny floppy disks that required babysitting so you could pop in the second, third…ninth one, as needed to complete an install. We’ve moved on through CDs, then DVDs, to direct Web downloads. And now more than a little software is Web-based, either via subscription downloads or simply as cloud-based SAAS (software as a service), with nothing to download at all; you simply go to the website and log in to use the program.
That said, it’s safe to say that at this point, most CCTV pipe inspection companies are running loaded/installed software, whether you’re talking about scheduling/routing programs, back-office applications such as Quickbooks or Microsoft Office, or the inspection software itself. This will likely change over the next five years, as developers begin moving away from media-based upgrades and encourage or even require direct downloads or cloud-based subscriptions. There are pros and cons to both, but there are concerns you need to keep in mind with any form of software:
- Run the latest version. With any of these options, you must always be sure your software is up to date. These days, it’s not just a matter of getting all the latest features to boost productivity, it’s a matter of making sure you’re applying the latest security patches created for the inevitably discovered loopholes that could be exploited by hackers. It’s a sad fact of life that ALL of our productivity and our profitability are affected by the need to keep up with this annoyance, but no one is safe without such preventive activity.
- Do you have an established policy and routine for software updates? The best way to make sure you’re running the latest versions and all security patches is to develop a regular software update policy for every package you use. The main user of that package should be assigned responsibility for keeping it up to date, and a log should be kept of all update and patch installations. This may also help if you experience glitches, because many such problems can initiate with the installation of a new version or update, and knowing when the last update happened will help your IT person figure out the nature of the problem.
- Are you still using media-based software, and is it time to explore the advantages of cloud-based apps? Only you can decide the best fit for your company, but based on how many people use each package, how mission-critical the software is, and the cost differential between media-based programs and SAAS or subscription versions, you may find one of the latter is a better deal. You need to consider all the costs of operation—including your mobile workforce—before making a good decision, but your provider should be willing to do a comparison that will clarify what makes the most sense for you.
- Do you have protection from malware/viruses on your computers? With the proliferation of hacking and just plain bad actors who think fun is figuring out who can do the most damage to innocent users, it’s just not safe to use unprotected computers any longer—especially considering that in the kind of fully networked environment most of us run today, one infected machine can quickly spread to every workstation in your operation…and that includes off-site machines on your network!
- When’s the last time you updated or tested your anti-virus protection to make sure it’s working? More so than with any other kind of software, it’s critical to keep your anti-virus/anti-malware program up to date. These packages are sometimes updated as often as every few days. Some of them provide a setting that automatically checks for and installs updates, virus definitions and patches during a time you can schedule to be least disruptive to your daily operations. Take advantage of this customizable feature, as well as any others that can keep you protected without being slowed down. And by all means, test this software on a regular basis (you can make this a part of your Software Update Policy) by running it manually and watching the activity and reports. Because this type of program should protect ALL seats in your enterprise, it may be the first application you decide to take to a subscription basis, just to keep things simple and low-maintenance.
- Would it be worthwhile to give your computers a speed check? Regardless the software you use, it can only perform as well as the machine it’s installed on. The average optimal use life of today’s personal computers is 4-5 years. This means that after that much time, the machine slows down through everyday wear and tear, the hard drive may be starting to go, and the processor is likely not able to keep up with the demands of newer software, so you’re not realizing its full efficiency. Also, by then, newer models are available with much faster processors, greater RAM, and overall better components. One way to speed up an older computer you’re not ready to put out to pasture is to dump old software you’re no longer using.
- IMPORTANT TIP: When you’re ready to buy a replacement, don’t assume you’ll realize the speed of an optimized store display machine running the latest software on maxed-out RAM and the fastest processor available, unless that’s what you intend to buy. You want a reasonable “oranges-to-oranges” comparison, or at the very least, an “oranges-to-tangerines” assessment. Make sure to ask the salesperson how the machine you’re actually considering will compare with what you have now, running ALL the software you currently run simultaneously. The difference in speed of a stripped-down, new machine running one or two programs, and the same one running a full load of software, can be startling. It’s best to manage your expectations from the start.