Upgrade now or upgrade later, that is the question May 6, 2007Posted by Matsu in Business, Information Technology, Management, Microsoft, Software, Technology, Uncategorized, Windows/Microsoft.
A good friend of mine has a favorite phrase, “Timing is everything.” While they may not be a technology professional, they certainly know the secret to upgrading systems — timing. Performing upgrades at the right time makes all the difference. So, when is the right time? When should you switch to new versions of applications or operating systems?
I am presently faced with that question where I work. Like the rest of the world, we must decide when it is best for our organization to upgrade to Microsoft Office 2007 and Windows Vista. Of course, they are two separate decisions as you can install Office 2007 on Windows XP and, as far as I know, you can also run Office 2003 on Windows Vista (though I don’t know why one would choose to do that).
While I talk about Office 2007 and Windows Vista upgrade in this post, these questions and decisions apply to all types of software, even open source software. The concerns and problems (or opportunities) are just as real with Apple’s Mac OS X and any flavor of Linux. So, you may want to continue reading even if you don’t use Microsoft Office or Windows.
To answer the upgrade question for your organization, you must consider both business and technology factors. But, beware! The one reason that should never be used when deciding if to upgrade is because it’s “new and shiny.” As in, “it’s new, it’s cool, so it’s got to be better.” Some technology professionals may fall prey to that siren call, but you shouldn’t. And, if your top management gives you that argument, be sure to give them a dose of reality by providing a list of pros and cons for the upgrade. That will let them know you are seriously considering it and looking at it from all of the angles.
First, let’s consider the business opportunities. Business reasons include performance improvements, which may mean higher productivity, and greater security, which may mean less risk (and in the case of viruses, it can mean less down time). Of course, there may be business reasons to upgrade because of new functions or features that provide an advantage over the current (older) version of the software. And, in today’s highly regulated business environment, it’s possible that the new version of software is necessary to be compliant with some new government regulation. Those are just a few reasons that an upgrade would be needed or advantageous.
There are also business reasons not to upgrade. For one, it may require the users to learn a new way of doing the same old things. What I’m talking about is a change in the software’s user interface. That is certainly something that applies when considering upgrading to Office 2007. The user interface is radically different from previous releases of Microsoft Office. Microsoft argues that while there is a learning curve to their new version of Office, once learned it is more intuitive and users will do things easier or faster. Hmmmm. It’s too early to say how true that may be. And, if you don’t have time for your users to relearn how to use a word processor or spreadsheet, then maybe you should wait for a time that would allow people to learn the new software without impacting (dramatically) their productivity. (There can be a whole blog post about training, so I won’t go into the many options and best practices here.)
Another reason not to upgrade is the cost. You not only must consider the upgrade license costs, but also any hardware costs (if better, newer, faster, hardware is required). That may not apply to Office 2007, but it certainly does apply to Microsoft’s new version of Windows (Vista). Probably the greatest reason that businesses are holding off on rolling our Windows Vista is the fact that newer hardware is a requirement.
According to this story by Cnet News, Dell and Intel are holding off on upgrading to Windows Vista. The reason for their decision is largely based on the stability and security concerns of a “1.0” release of software. Therefore, they are waiting for the first Vista update or service pack (SP1) before conducting a large rollout of Vista to employees. I think that it shows both a level of understanding of technology and the business impact to make that decision. And, I believe it’s the right decision for them.
While I have not highlighted technical reasons to upgrade or not to upgrade, they do exist. In my discussion of the business reasons they had foundations in technical reasons. After all, you can’t totally separate the technical from the business impact or potential opportunities. Just to cover all of my bases, you should consider the following technical issues when determining the best time to upgrade: license management (Vista is different and significantly increases administrative overhead just for taking care of licensing), impact on infrastructure (servers, network, directory services), and compatibility with existing systems (legacy applications, mission critical functions, etc.).
Of course, you should not make the decision to upgrade any application or operating system without thorough research. That means testing the applications on your systems (test systems, not live/production systems). After determining all of the upgrade implications then you must address any compatibility or performance issues that you discover. After all, you do not want to find out halfway through your deployment that some mission critical application or process won’t run. Only after a complete discovery of all problems should you consider the best time to upgrade your organization’s computers.
I have already stated that the timing must be determined by each organization because they all have different needs and issues. But, for my organization we have established some best practices when it comes to the timing of an upgrade. We have established a policy that we don’t install new application software on end-user’s computers until at least three months from the release (ship) date. And, for operating system upgrades, we extend that timeline to approximately six months. Again, this is a guideline or ‘rule of thumb’ but we tend to stick fairly close to it. By the time an application is three months old or an operating system is six months old the marketplace has found and possibly fixed any problems like compatibility issues, security flaws, and performance shortfalls.
One final piece you should consider relates to technical support. Waiting three or six months gives the technology support staff sufficient time to ‘play’ with the technology and become more comfortable using the new software. More experience and comfort with the new software translates into better support.
So, when do you plan to upgrade all of the computers in your organization to Office 2007 or Windows Vista?