INTERVIEW

Telling data's story

Gemma Church talks to data visualisation company Golden Software about three decades in business, Microsoft bugs and working in the geoscience arena

Golden Software’s focus is data visualisation. The company develops the tools that transform raw, complex data into an easy-to-understand visual format. Blakelee Mills, CEO of Golden Software, said: ‘Our software allows people to tell their data’s story.’

Based in the city of Golden in Colorado, the company’s clients primarily work in the geoscience sector, including geologists, geophysicists, archaeologists and environmental scientists. These users need to process a huge amount of raw geological data into modelled results, whether that is a 3D borehole visualisation, or a thematic map of a landscape.

Data can be analysed within the company’s suite of software products using a number of different analysis and statistical tools. Practically every component of the project is also customisable to ensure the data is represented in the most understandable format for the end user.

From its contouring and 3D surface mapping software, Surfer, to 3D visualisation tool, Voxler, and a host of other geological modelling and visualisation tools, the company clearly understands its market with 33 years in the business and more than 250,000 licences sold in 185 countries.

This longevity is, in part, achieved by matching the demands of the wider modelling industry, which has experienced huge advancements in data collection techniques, resulting in exponential dataset growth. Mills said: ‘Hardware systems have kept pace with these growing datasets, but it’s just as important for software systems to utilise the available computing power of hardware.’

‘Programmatically, this can be achieved through multi-threading, properly organising and allocating memory, and selecting the right algorithm for the job. No longer must customers choose between fast or accurate modelling abilities. They want both, regardless of dataset size. It’s our responsibility as modelling software providers to ensure our software is developed to achieve both speed and accuracy,’ she added.

It’s not just the breadth of data that has increased -- modelling that used to be performed solely by a dedicated individual or group within an organisation can now be done by anyone. Mills said: ‘Now that software modelling is a regular part of their workflows, we’re hearing more about the need to have intuitive visualisation software. It doesn’t matter how many bells and whistles a program boasts. Those features are useless if a user is unable to access the tools effortlessly.’

It’s a clear requirement, but a difficult one to achieve as Mills added: ‘Ensuring the user interface is intuitive can be challenging. Developing the backend component of features is pretty straightforward; however, the difficulty lies in how a user interacts with these features.’

Intuitive modelling software that provides fast and accurate results is a clear demand for any data visualisation vendor. Golden Software is also keen to promote affordable software, with a licence for the latest version of its Surfer tool starting at $849. Free technical support is also offered by the company for all versions of its software, even down to early DOS systems.

Bug blow

That’s not to say the company hasn’t had the odd hiccup. When Microsoft released a system update containing an inadvertent bug, Golden Software’s users were greeted with an error message and their maps and graphs were gone. The company was able to pinpoint the specific update that caused the problem, but rolling back a system security update was not a long-term solution. 

Mills said: ‘This was a very difficult time for everyone in the company. All focus was on addressing this issue, but we were in quite a predicament as we had no clue when, or if, Microsoft would fix the problem.’

The bug affected thousands of users, and to make matters worse, the company was in the midst of releasing the latest version of its Surfer software. An interim solution was developed that enabled the software to open error-free with the Microsoft security patch installed. A few weeks later, Microsoft released a hotfix that addressed the bug. 

‘In all of our years, we have never experienced an issue such as this, but I will say the Golden Software team did a phenomenal job tackling the issue. I was proud to see such teamwork and collaboration during this stressful period. Tempers didn’t flair, people were calm and collected, and all were focused on getting customers back up and running. I truly hope we never encounter another issue such as this, but if we do, I’m confident in our ability to solve it,’ Mills added. 

Moving forward

Golden Software expects the software modelling and engineering space to experience significant growth over the coming years, with demand for intuitive software and seamless collaboration tools continuing to grow. 

Collaboration is a key trend that is occurring within the industry and reduces duplication of data and information for both the micro and macro levels of organisations. Mills said: ‘Between advances in cloud technologies and database tools, multiple people can now access the same data without stepping one another’s toes.’

The company is all too aware that is must meet the demands of the software modelling and engineering space. Mills said: ‘Users will be quick to discard software tools that don’t fit their needs. And they won’t settle for subpar visualisation tools. Over the next 10 years, we will see which software modelling providers either step up to the challenge or throw in the towel.’

Golden Software intends to step up to any future challenges by working closely with its customer base and to address their needs. Mills added: ‘We are, and will remain, a customer-centric company dedicated to providing easy-to-use visualisation tools that are fast, accurate, affordable, and that are well supported. We will continue listening closely to users in order to provide the most useful and beneficial features possible.’ 

‘Today, we are here for the customer. Tomorrow will be the same.’

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