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The idea of long-term maintenance is an essential component of sustainability. Individually, thinking about every purchase is the way to combat our throw away culture, and to place fewer stresses on our planet. Wrapping your business plan around the concept of sustainable development means a long-term commitment to customers that delivers value and maximizes their efficiency.

There was a time when products were built to last, and necessary repairs were done locally. You may remember when there were vacuum repair shops, cobblers and electronics repair shops around. While those days of local repair have faded, given our finite resources there’s a growing movement to return to the production principles that ruled in those times.

It’s not that big of stretch to relate the repair and maintain philosophy to building quality software, hardware, systems and consulting services. The guiding principals of sustainable development require a measured and consistent approach that takes into account both short-term and long-term goals with a culture that is committed to making a positive impact on the world.

Software Can Be Sustainable

While software products are different than tangible manufactured products they can still adhere to the tenets of quality manufacture that stands the test of time. Part of that philosophy revolves around design of products that adapt well to change and are supported by professional assistance and user education.

All sustainable development focuses on efficiently doing what’s needed now, while supporting long term needs and keeping the cost of change under control. This development requires a measured and focused approach that minimizes complexity while allowing the code to be adapted to specific needs while also providing a solid core that performs quickly and without catastrophic errors.

It is possible to break software and to lose considerable time and productivity. There are also many instances of major software upgrades that dramatically discard the previous generation of product and force users to spend considerable amounts of money to port over to a new system that isn’t backward compatible.

The geospatial software tool space has a core set of corporations that take the long term view with quality customer support and an eye toward an efficient user experience. Continued vigilance is needed to keep the customer experience central to all subsequent products and upgrades.

Hardware of Professional Grade

When it comes to geospatial hardware, such as handheld GPS mapping tools, rugged computers for fieldwork, scanners, large-format printers and other surveying equipment, these products are designed to be professional grade. The professional grade status realizes that these tools will be put to the test in a production environment, and that any losses of worker productivity means losses in revenues. With this focus, the consumers of these products pay higher prices than consumer products with the understanding that they’re paying extra for quality design that is backed by a professional company.

While there has been considerable consolidation in the surveying industry lately, the shrinking of companies and products have also resulted in a refined focus on research and development. The drive toward greater precision means the need for more durable and precise instruments rather than toward cheaper and lower quality tools.

Maintenance for Meaningful Decisions

In the geospatial services and practitioner’s space, the implementation and maintenance of systems requires a long-term view that looks beyond the short term gains. While many of the initial system installations took a myopic view toward quick return on investment, the companies that have benefited most from their geospatial technology investments have realized that with a long-term commitment they can achieve constant business process improvements.

The quality of data in these systems is directly related to the value of decisions that can be derived from them. Adding more and better data results in better decisions, but there’s also a need to constantly check and improve the quality of the existing data so that bad business practices don’t foul the system.

The geospatial technology toolset is helping to solve the broad needs of communities with an eye toward the health of our entire planet. While contributing to these broader goals, keeping an eye toward sustainable development within each company will enable these companies to achieve and maintain consistent business returns, improving the lives of customers and employees, while making a positive impact on the world.

Resources

How to Achieve Sustainable Software Development, by Kevin Tate, informIT, Jan. 27, 2006

Sustainable Business Practices, a checklist from the International Institute for Sustainable Development