What we can learn from software version numbers

Aug 8th, 2017

Just the other day, a successful doctor called our office and asked, “What version number is Curve Dental on?”

The dental software consultant on the other end of the line was surprised by the question. Gathering his thoughts, he replied, “Doctor, we don’t have version numbers. We have only one version.”

“So, when do you provide your customers with upgrades?” the doctor asked, it being his turn to be surprised.

“All the time,” the consultant replied. “Whenever we build something new, make something better, or fix something, it immediately becomes available to all of our customers.”

“Oh, I don’t know if that’s such a good idea,” the doctor replied.

The consultant hesitated. “Why is that?”

“With that many new upgrades, I’d continually hassle with installing them,” the doctor explained. “My IT costs alone would be through the roof!”

To this the consultant chuckled. “Let me explain, sir: Because our software is on the cloud, you never hassle with upgrades. Whenever you use the software, the newest features and enhancements are always available. You never install upgrades.”

If software versions could talk

Frankly, these kinds of conversations remind me that there’s much work to be done to undo the grip of those peddling out-of-date software. Strangely enough, after I learned of this conversation, I saw hoopla surrounding the latest release of one of these older systems. If that version could talk, this is what you’d hear:

“It’s been a long wait.” A new version represents months and months of work. The number of months since the last upgrade, in this case, was more than 12. On the cloud, the story is much different. Additions and modifications are added as soon as they become available. As an example, we make changes to the system every week, sometimes daily.

“The list of new stuff is short.” Given the time that’s passed since the last version, the actual list of new features, enhancements, and fixes is surprisingly short. I believe that older dental software is starved for innovation - not for lack of want, but because the code base is brittle and difficult to work with. Perhaps more time is required to maintain the software than ever before, leaving little time for serious R & D.

“Installing me now is a mistake.” There’s never enough time for testing, so the chances of encountering a bug when you install the software are good. Why? Because the vast number of different environments in which the software will be used makes the chore of identifying every possible error monumental. However, after a release, when patches and fixes have been built and distributed, then it may make sense to install an upgrade. Do bugs occur in cloud-based dental software? Yes, but the difference is that when a bug is detected, it can be corrected immediately for everyone, or when needed, the system can be rolled back to a prior state. All of this happens behind the scenes and with little to zero disruption to the practice.

“I’ll make your IT pro smile or your family cry.” When that fancy box arrives with your new upgrade, you have two choices: First, you can call your IT pros and pay them to install, configure, and troubleshoot the upgrade. Second, you can do it yourself when the office is closed and lose a few nights or a weekend, which your family won’t like. The story on the cloud is much different: You wake up. You go to work. You turn on your computer. You’re done.

Upgrades are so 1990s

Whether an upgrade is titled with a number or a letter-number combination, it doesn’t change the fact that it is outdated, cumbersome, and a hassle to the customer. Upgrades, like servers, are products of the 1990s. Like porcelain crowns and x-ray film, they’ve been replaced with something better. And what doctors really want to use 25-year-old technology to care for their patients? You’d do well to a take a minute and have a heart-to-heart chat with an upgrade, should it arrive at your front door.


Andy Jensen has been in the dental software business for 23 years. He is vice president and CMO at Curve Dental, a software development house that delivers 100% cloud-based management software for dentists. Download his e-book, How to Build the Killer Practice on the Cloud, at go.curvedental.com/15Minutes.

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