It’s a new age for upgrades

June 1, 2012
Dave Barry, one of America’s favorite columnists, summed up Bill Gates’ secret to wealth — “Bill Gates is a very rich man today ...

By Andy Jensen

Dave Barry, one of America’s favorite columnists, summed up Bill Gates’ secret to wealth — “Bill Gates is a very rich man today … and do you want to know why? The answer is one word: versions.” The tried and true business model for software developers is to provide their customers with valuable upgrades. The upgrade model has created a long list of billionaires, Bill Gates being at the top of the list, and this seems to have worked well for both user and developer. But, as every doctor knows, there can be a dark side to upgrades.

“Upgrading your client-server software is one of those tasks you just want to put off as long as possible,” says Dr. Marty Jablow, who writes a dental technology blog. “There is always the concern there will be problems during the upgrade. Then there is the time needed to upgrade the server and workstations. This task can take hours even if everything goes right. It’s no wonder offices dread the software upgrade.”

As I see it, there are two ugly faces to upgrades

I. Upgrades are not liked. When the upgrade arrives in that fancy box, it represents one of three things — a late night at the office at best, a weekend in the office most likely, or a couple of days of lost productivity at the worst. It’s the lucky doctors who can upgrade their systems in one evening and be home in time to tuck in the kids at night. Typically, a doctor will upgrade his or her system and then spend the next couple of weeks tweaking configurations to get the software to perform as it did before the upgrade.

Many doctors have learned to turn over upgrades to a professional — the dental integrator. The experienced dental integrator knows what connections and defaults the upgrade will break. “On average, an upgrade requires at least two hours of my time,” says Justin Shafer, owner of OnSite Dental in Texas, an experienced dental integrator. “When I’m done, I spend a little more time making sure everything still works, such as testing how long it takes to print a treatment plan. There are those times when an upgrade will cause problems, and probably one out of every eight will be troublesome.”

II. Doctors distrust upgrades. Doctors do not upgrade because they’ve been burned before, or they’ve heard horror stories from colleagues who were too eager to install the upgrade in the fancy box. I believe there are enough horror stories out there to create a new TV show for late-night cable called “Upgrades Gone Wrong.” Many doctors wait until the software company sends out a patch; then they install the upgrade.

You would think that with the paranoia surrounding upgrades, software companies would invest a little more in Q&A. It’s not that simple, really. The vast number of variables in configurations, hardware, and operating systems makes it difficult for any company to really test the software for every situation. Invariably, a number of customers who install the upgrade will live a nightmare in an effort to get their systems in working order, adding another story to a growing book of nightmares to share.

The cloud changes the upgrade experience in three refreshing ways

First, the customer never installs an upgrade. Gone are the late nights at the office installing software on computer after computer. Customers won’t have to call their favorite dental integrator for assistance. They won’t have to worry about data backup or the potential for losing data.

Second, they’ll never experience a buggy upgrade again. A bug-free upgrade is idealistic thinking, even for web-based developers. The defining difference is that in the case of web-based software, if a problem is discovered, the software can immediately be rolled back to the previous version. Most customers will be completely unaware there was ever a problem.

Third, the software is upgraded frequently. Most web-based applications are in continual development. When a new feature is completed and tested, it can be rolled out anytime. As an example, Curve Dental usually upgrades its system every three to four weeks, which customers enjoy. “With my old software, I saw upgrades maybe two times a year,” says Dr. Mark Colonna, who put his practice on the cloud more than a year ago. “With my current software, I see continual improvements and enhancements, and I never install software. I’ll never go back.”

Readers can read about upgrade nightmares or share their stories by visiting

Andy Jensen has nearly 19 years of dental software experience. He is currently a member of the Curve Dental team based in Orem, Utah.

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