Jan 01 2006

Who Says You Have to Upgrade Now?

By keeping your head, you can turn panic about an overhaul into success.

Photo: Ken Frick
Wayne E. Smith, Information System Manager at Chester Willcox & Saxbe

The upgrade cycle is escalating like never before. Not only are there constant patches and service packs to install, there's also a dizzying assortment of cool new programs, services and gadgets to tempt you. Then there are the big software giants' sophisticated schemes for pushing you to adopt the latest versions of their software — on their schedule, not yours.


Don't let the onslaught of technology rush your company into making an IT decision too hastily. Here are four tips for taming the upgrade monster:


FIRST: Make sure there's a compelling reason for your company to upgrade an application or its hardware. There are bandwagons for almost every technology and platform out there. It's up to senior managers and CIOs to sit down together and prudently decide which ones to join and which ones to avoid. When making the decision to upgrade, poll potential stakeholders and ask two critical questions: Are there key features that they need that are available in the upgrade? Does the upgrade fix bugs and other annoying technical glitches?



SECOND: Do your homework. Extensively research available options, and understand how they will integrate with your existing systems. The best fit isn't always the cheapest or the one recommended by your boss or a group of end users. Get as much information as you can from objective sources, including other companies who have installed a system or application. Track what larger companies in your industry are doing because their approaches often become de facto standards for the entire industry. Plus, if you want to collaborate with the bigger companies, it might require an investment in certain applications or infrastructure tools that you might not ordinarily consider. I work for a law firm, for instance, and an example of this would be litigation support software that allows the electronic sharing of evidence.


THIRD: Always get the best tool for the project. By choosing industry leaders with proven products and services, you reduce the risk of being left with no future upgrade options if your technology partner goes out of business. This also applies to vendors and consultants who you will rely on throughout the upgrade process. Try to partner with companies that have a reputation for quality products and outstanding support, as well as a commitment to your industry. And remember, the best approach might not be to handle the upgrade yourself. You also need to consider outsourcing. So determine the cost of buying new hardware and software and the expense of implementing and running the service — then weigh it against hiring an applications service provider. You will need to calculate the costs of your IT staff's labor time as well.


FOURTH: Get more than you need. Once you have evaluated current and future needs, add some and then some more to what you will need — whether it's servers, storage arrays, or even software licenses.


Requirements tend to grow exponentially, so it's better to have more than you need up front than not enough later. Hardware prices have continued to drop over the last few years, so there is really no reason to skimp. The extent to which you accurately target end-user and tech support needs will directly impact the success of the upgrade.


So slow down and take a breath. Taking the time to make the right decisions before an upgrade will save you time on the back end by avoiding adjustments to your upgrade strategy because you acted too fast and made poor — or even wrong — choices in haste.

Wayne E. Smith is manager of information systems at the Chester Willcox & Saxbe law firm in Columbus, Ohio.