The big question If you operate a 2000 acre cash crop operation and you have a guidance system and yield monitor, what is the best mapping (GIS) software for you? If you are a crop consultant with an assortment of customers with different types of operations, what is the best mapping software for you? In both cases my answer is the same: whatever you will actually use! There is no one size fits all, magic bullet or one click button for any solution. All of the software on the market has some similar features, some pros and cons, a streamlined function and some higher end tools. No two operators are going to need the same things out of it, or experience the same success with it. So how do you know you have the right one or how to buy the right one?
Acquiring software is very much like buying a car. You have a budget range-but you would rather pay less.You need a certain number of seats or to be able to haul a certain amount of gear but even if you take it for a test drive you won't really know if it is a good fit until the first family camping trip including the dogs. You prefer the seat to feel a certain way, the console to be arranged a certain way but you can compromise if the drive is good. You might want it just to look good when you show it to someone else or have a name with the right cachet. You might really just want it to be like your old one only newer. So how DO you pick the software that is right for you?
There are three streams of thought on software shopping; you can either make sure the dealer shows you ALL the ins and outs of a brand, you can test drive it until the trial period runs out or you can take a quick try; then a leap of faith. All of these methods work in the car buying analogy. If we were all honest we would admit that we waffle less buying a vehicle than we do buying software. Trusting your dealer can work. Many a good buy is had on the back of a trusted advisor who knows you and your operation and can make a good recommendation. This works if they are experienced users of the software, not so great if they just sell it. For some, just buying the brand associated with their equipment is taken for granted, sometimes for good and sometimes at the user's peril. For those who wish to test drive software that runs in demo mode for a while often miss the benefits of this wide open trial because they don't yet have data, or the skills to put the software pedal to the metal. Blind jumpers can either suffer buyer's remorse or they land on their feet. So if this all sounds like a crap shoot, how can you make a good decision?
Regardless of the reason you chose (or are choosing) that software, you can make it work for you if you work at it. Yes, I just used the word 'work' twice in the same sentence. It is. Work. No software is going to pluck the thoughts out of your head, know exactly what information is most important to you or benefit your operation the most. You are as much a part of this Geographic Information System as the data and the software itself. What brand of software is less of an issue than having an idea about what you want to accomplish, a plan for learning the basic tasks for running the software and the diligence to pick up the mouse on a regular basis. Of course the software has to have the abilities and features to go where you want to go! That is where your dealer is important. Ask them directly "can it do this?" and have them show you what that looks like. Be sure to articulate what you need out of it, so both you and your dealer know where you hope to go with map based information. Next plan a season's worth of data collection and plan for ongoing learning.
My most successful clients have done the following:
I sell and support Farm Works and AgLeader software products because I feel one or the other offer my clients the range of capability that they have requested. I know the programs intimately as a user, not just a reseller, so I know the perfections and pitfalls of each, as well as the other choices on the market. This user based knowledge allows me to custom fit the program to the client and customize their training to get the most out of it as quickly as possible. No amount of planning or training, nor even wonderfulness of the software, is as important as practice as the rule for success.
So I repeat: the best software is the one you will actually use. What is next? In my next few posts I will be describing the best in breed programs for in-field mapping, in-office data management and full featured mapping.