Industry Best Practice?

Recently I was asked to review a database migration from one vendor’s database to another’s. The conversion involved geospatial data and database internal representations. I am not going to talk about who the client was, or what actually transpired, but the final report I submitted was edited by the client and the phrase “to industry-best practice” was inserted to describe the migration.

It was understandable why the customer did this, but I refused to put my name to a document where such a phrase was used. The phrase was edited out before submission.

Why did I object?

In this article, I will try to tell you.

I will come back to edit this article many times so the blog will remain a “work in progress” for quite a while.

Industry Best Practice – Obfuscated and thus Meaningless Terminology?

What does “industry-best practice” means within both the IT and geospatial industries:

1. People confuse the “agreed best or standard practices” associated with a specific GIS vendor as “industry best practice”;
2. How one compares “to industry-best practice” for the IT industry and its “bit player”, the subservient GIS industry’s dependent technologies.
3. Can we come up with any sort of agreement as to what “industry-best practice” means within the GIS industry. And can we do so independently of the IT industry?


Defining “industry best practice” is actually difficult. One definition of best practice is:

“An industry accepted way of doing something that works.”
bq. Aidan Lawes, CEO itSMF

Or, another from good old Wikipedia is :

A best practice is a method or technique that has consistently shown results superior to those achieved with other means, and that is used as a benchmark. In addition, a “best” practice can evolve to become better as improvements are discovered.1 Best practice is considered by some as a business buzzword, used to describe the process of developing and following a standard way of doing things that multiple organizations can use.

A question of relativity

Best practice can be self-defining such that no external input may be sought, desired or required to validate something that is entirely self-referential. This can be quite valid.

For example, a valid thing might be a process associated with executing a version upgrade of a vendor’s software. Constant experience within a single business of upgrades can lead to a valid internal “best practice”. Is it “industry best practice”? Probably not, but is, I guess, as a form of localised “proven practice”.

If many other companies find out about your upgrade process, copied it and found it worked (promoting it to others), then it could become a “best practice” for that group of companies.

Am I nit picking?

OK, let’s widen this example, and say that the software company in question produces a “best practice” guide to software upgrade. Validated by many, many of it customers, it can be proven to be, indeed, a software vendor’s “best practice”. But can we add the adjective “industry” to it?

Well, in my view if the software is only one of many software products be sold by competing vendors to a defined pool of customers, then the answer has to be no.

IMHO a single company operating in the “geospatial industry” (however that is defined) cannot claim a software “best practice” as an “industry best practice”.

Widening the focus

What if a conversion or upgrade gave you the opportunity for using different technology that was clearly superior to what you had (and implemented the latest computing science or future technology)?

What if your particular software vendor knew about that technology but deliberately stopped you from taking advantage in it? Could that even given the adjective “best” because herein lies the issue: by deliberately not letting external evidence be examined in the process, one forfeits the right to call any process “best practice” and definitely not “industry best practice” as the outside industry never got a look in!

Herein lay my complaint with the customer over the report.

Industry Standards and Best Practice

Ok, how does one resolve such situations?

Do we resort to:

  • “He says, She says” (The consult said, the Vendor disagrees.)
  • “Argument by Authority” (Software X is Rolls Royce, why would you use otherwise.)
  • “Ad Hominem” (The other technology is rubbish, put out by fools.)

Supposedly, standards are a method for defining “common practice” which could then be used as a starting point for defining “industry best practice”.

… to be continued.