When should you upgrade business software or replace it?

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IT Matters

Soni Lampert is principal and CEO of KLH Consulting Inc. and Vintegrate Winery Software in Santa Rosa. Read past editions of IT Matters at nbbj.news/itmatters.

In a world where "the only constant is change," we often delay making any change related to our business software.

It is easy to make the case that by delaying upgrades, or new software implementation, we can avoid retraining staff, organizational angst, potential upgrade costs and, possibly, the need to change processes. With that avoidance, however, we can miss out on new features that can increase productivity and business insights, and we can also increase security risk by foregoing patches released to address vulnerabilities.

Upgrade?

If the following situations fit, it might be time to upgrade your software.

1. The software you are running is not a current version

A good software vendor will continue to develop new features and functions to meet the evolving needs of the marketplace.

In fact, assuring that the vendor has a product roadmap (scheduled product updates) for future releases is an important software selection criterion, as you will want to make sure your tools meet your business needs in the future.

In addition to launching new feature updates, vendors release patches to address user issues and bugs. Depending upon your application and vendor, there may be numerous patch releases between feature upgrades. These may address security vulnerabilities or enable the application to work properly with new browser and operating system versions.

A good rule of thumb for determining when you need to upgrade is to follow the plan to remain in the “current support path,” usually within two versions of the vendor’s current software release. Security patches and those that enable applications to work with new browser versions, should be applied as soon as practical to protect business data and assure the correct operation of applications interacting with browsers.

2. New features have been released that address business challenges

Assuming you are within the “current support path,” the upgrade to your application may be included in an annual support agreement.

These agreements usually do not include implementation services but do entitle you to the current software with all the new bells and whistles.

If the new features are a “no brainer” in terms of business value, then it is important to understand the product roadmap and the release schedule. You will want to make sure you time the upgrade such that you get the features you want and the greatest return from the investment you will make in terms of implementation services and staff training.

Don’t forget to factor in training for staff so they can get up to speed quickly and you can begin to realize the benefits of your technology investment. You will also want to factor in the seasonality of your business when timing the upgrade.

3. New releases permit integration between the software applications in use in your business

I can’t say enough about the importance of integrated applications. Applications that share data eliminate redundant work and reduce human errors. The time you will save, and the improved quality of the information in your system will offset upgrade costs.

Change?

So when is it better to consider changing your software than upgrading it?

1. Your business has grown or changed in such a way that you are manipulating or overextending software to meet current needs

The most common instance of this is businesses that find themselves running their entire operation and much of their accounting from a series of spreadsheets. Spreadsheets are a wonderful business tool, but as they become increasingly elaborate their complexity increases. With this complexity, fewer and fewer people have the ability to update and manage them.

IT Matters

Soni Lampert is principal and CEO of KLH Consulting Inc. and Vintegrate Winery Software in Santa Rosa. Read past editions of IT Matters at nbbj.news/itmatters.

Another example of overextending software is when a “simple database” created to track a few things metamorphoses into the tool used for everything, by everyone.

When applications are overextended, they often require someone to provide constant care and feeding to keep them working. It can also become difficult to extract information from systems that were not designed with reporting and decision support in mind.

2. Your current software does not have a go-forward product roadmap

Ongoing product development is a given for modern software. Even in mature industries, businesses requirements evolve—customer expectations change, regulatory, and compliance laws are updated, employee expectations shift. These types of changes will require new features and workflows to meet current business demands. Vendors who do not provide software updates will soon be unable to deliver a solution to meet tomorrow’s business challenges.

Absent ongoing development, aging software becomes incompatible with current operating systems and browsers. These incompatibilities surface in various ways, including poor performance, security vulnerabilities, instability, or inability to operate when using certain browsers.

3. Your current solution is not an integrated one

Multiple applications that do not seamlessly exchange information introduce cost and error. Application licenses and annual fees can be substantive but are overshadowed by the cost of staff time spent inputting information into multiple systems.

In a non-integrated environment, costs multiply as you attempt to extract business intelligence from the information silos of each application. Complex analysis of data requires gyrations to extract it from multiple applications and painstaking work to validate data accuracy from multiple applications.

Integrated applications have been engineered to exchange data and have industry-standard protocols for so doing.

By working with an application that has been designed in an integrated manner, future data-sharing needs will be addressed more easily.

4. Your vendor does not meet your needs, either in the form of features or product support.

Sometimes a vendor does not meet your needs simply because they are unaware of a business requirement. If this is the case, a friendly and direct communication can help the vendor to provide what you need; thereby allowing you to avoid a new software implementation. Where this approach does not work, however, identifying a new solution and vendor partner may be your best option.

Whether you upgrade or replace the software you rely upon, take the opportunity to look at the new software functionality, modify business processes where needed, and train your team on the benefits of the new technology. Doing so will improve internal efficiencies and employee satisfaction. Both pay big dividends.

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