Last year we released Geocortex Workflow 5 and – for the first time – we delivered a Geocortex product as software-as-a-service (SaaS). This is the direction Esri has been moving with ArcGIS Online, and has been the industry standard for most business software applications since the early 2000s: GIS arrived a little later to the game.
For those who aren’t familiar, SaaS is a way of delivering centrally-hosted software via the Internet – instead of downloading and configuring a piece of software in your environment, you access the application in a web browser.
One of the key benefits of SaaS is the concept of continuous deployment. Because applications are centrally hosted by the provider, new software updates can be pushed to customers with a much higher frequency.
Future-proofing your investment in Esri technology has always been at the forefront of our product direction, and this is an inherent protection that comes with SaaS delivery.
Since our beta release of Geocortex Workflow 5 last August we’ve built and deployed 11 successive releases – each containing exciting new features and adding improvements – and without interruptions to our users. Customers didn’t require compatibility testing, or incur any downtime to upgrade their applications. In fact, most probably didn’t notice: they simply logged in to do their work and were running the most current version of the software.
Many of us have experienced the pain of needing dedicated GIS- or IT professional assistance to complete an upgrade. It can take the better part of a workday, and involves significant planning and testing to ensure everything works as it did before (and even then, it sometimes doesn’t).
Due to the resources required to keep large, on-premises software deployments current, many organizations avoid upgrades, only to find themselves in a sticky situation a few years down the road when they’re finally forced to do so. This is never a good situation to be in, and the ease of upgrades with SaaS helps organizations limit the technical debt that comes with delays.
Rapid deployment of new features
We all love new features; with lots of traditional solutions, however, we can end up waiting months for new features that need to be scheduled into a long release cycle. SaaS, in comparison, allows new features to be built and deployed at a rapid pace. In some cases, new features can be delivered within a matter of days.
There is no better example of this than our 2017 Geocortex Business Partner Summit, an annual event where we bring all our international partners to our Victoria Head Office for three days of learning and collaboration. We dedicated the first day to a Geocortex Workflow Hackathon, where our partners teamed up to build the best workflows they could.
Our partners built some really cools apps, and provided a bunch of great feedback to our Product team about their experiences with Geocortex Workflow 5. By the last day of the Summit (roughly 48 hours later), our Product Manager was able to show them some of the feedback that the team had already implemented in the product.
Applications that are always secure
As noted above, organizations are often saddled with technical debt from not upgrading once new versions become available. Not only can this result in more work when you’re finally forced to upgrade, it can expose your applications to security vulnerabilities.
Many of our customers use their GIS for mission-critical business applications, which makes security even more critical.
The rate at which new releases are pushed to production assures that your applications are always secure. Instead of waiting to upgrade to new versions, every time you log in you know you’ll be working with the latest version of the software that’s been tested to ensure the strongest security measures are in place.
This is the approach most SaaS providers have adopted. For example, your Google Chrome browser has likely updated every week without you noticing. Google takes security very seriously, and pushing consistent updates lets them assure that their users are always running the most secure version of the browser.
Lower cost, better uptime
SaaS applications are centrally hosted, and this ensures that your applications are always hosted in an optimal environment. When customers host their own applications, there are inconsistencies in the configuration of the hosting environments, and they may not be hosted for the best performance.
For Geocortex Workflow, we use world-class hosting services from Microsoft Azure. If anything goes wrong with the hardware in the hosting environment, teams of Microsoft engineers are standing by to fix the issue. And if something goes wrong with the software, we have a team ready to investigate and fix the issue, which can typically be achieved by pushing a new release or software patch.
The cost of hosting your applications is included in the cost you pay for the product. The hosting environment is scalable and includes protections such as failover, which are both difficult and expensive to achieve in your own environment. You don’t need your IT department to worry about managing your servers – we take care of all the hosting and associated maintenance. It’s a win-win: you free up your people for more important work, and you get a hosting environment that’s set-up in the best possible way for the product.
It’s easy to see why SaaS offerings are becoming the standard for business software solutions. Being able to offload a bulk of the costs associated with hosting your own applications can save you (and has saved many organizations) thousands of IT hours and dollars each year. The lower initial cost and the rapid delivery of new, powerful features are why we think SaaS is the direction more and more GIS tools will move towards.
“It’s a win-win: you free up your people for more important work, and you get a hosting environment that’s set-up in the best possible way for the product.”
We’ll still be offering on-premises solutions for situations where it makes the most sense, but SaaS is where we’re headed. This is the model Esri has adopted with ArcGIS Online, and is sure to be the model for future ArcGIS products.
If you’d like to chat about what adopting a SaaS-first approach would look like for your organization, please feel free to get in touch with us. You can also get your hands on Geocortex Workflow 5 in our Discovery Center, complete with tutorials, demonstrations, and sample applications you can try.