Software installations can be relatively simple – or they can get complicated.
Complication occurs when a new software installation or release significantly changes the way the software interacts with the underlying IT infrastructure or coexisting applications; or when features and functions change noticeably for IT and end users. In other cases, suppliers force new changes on customers that are unforeseen.
What steps can IT take to ensure a smoother path for software installations and upgrades? Here are three suggestions:
1. Research and plan impact on IT and end users
Software vendors forward lists of changes and additions for each new release of software they provide. In some cases, features and functions that are heavily used by users are discontinued. These software upgrade lists should be carefully reviewed and assessed for impact on existing applications and IT infrastructure and end users.
Typically, IT assesses the impact of new software releases on IT applications and infrastructure, but not always on end users.
The impact on the end user should be included in impact assessments, especially if there is a significant change or update to an existing feature or feature that users are using.
A prime example of the past 10 years is the shift of vendors from green text-based data entry to populating user entry templates for web design. In many cases, users accustomed to fast data entry on a green screen were disappointed when they were forced to use newly designed web-like fill-in screens that slowed down the data entry process.
The bottom line for IT is to assess both end-user impact and IT impact. IT should communicate likely changes to workflows, features, and functionality to end users well in advance of any software upgrade or installation so that users can be mentally prepared for them. Significant changes in software features, functions and workflows may also indicate the need for user training or retraining before an upgrade.
2. Manage your suppliers
Most companies use cloud-based applications produced by third-party vendors.
One of the great features that cloud application vendors tout is that their customers no longer have to wait for the next major software release to start using a desired new feature or function. This is because many third-party cloud vendors now automatically upgrade their software 365/24/7 and install new features and features as they become available.
While this is a bonus for businesses as they no longer have to wait for the next software release to get the functionality they want, it can also be disruptive.
What if your company doesn’t want a particular new feature or feature that the vendor installs automatically? Or what if your business users (or IT) feel like other changes need to be made to your business workflows before you can use a new feature?
In many cases, vendors offer their customers the option to stay on a previous software version, or to disable a new feature or feature if the customer does not want to activate it.
In your negotiations with cloud software vendors, this is an important box to tick off your RFP list. Does the vendor give you the flexibility to accept or reject a new software change if it’s best for your business?
3. Provide a fail-safe strategy
Merriam-Webster defines fail-safe as the inclusion of a function to automatically counteract the effect of an expected potential source of interference.
Due to the impact on IT infrastructure and end-user operations, software installations and upgrades can all fail.
IT determines the degree of failure risk when it reviews the vendor’s installation or upgrade comments. It must plan a fail-safe strategy equal to the difficulty of the upgrade or installation.
In one case, a company made the decision to upgrade its company database to the latest version. The problem was that the company had a version of the database it modified that was over five years old. As a result, there was a high risk of disruptions that were likely to occur during installation – and they have occurred.
To counter the impact of the disruption on both IT and end users, IT assembled a “SWAT team” that was on standby 24/7 during and after the database release installation. Prior to the transition, business users have been communicated with and asked to prepare for possible disruptions to business operations.
There were several major business outages, but with users being alerted and IT having a SWAT team on hand to fix the issues, the company was able to navigate the new setup with minimal impact.
The keys to any new software installation or upgrade are preparation and communication.
It’s impossible to predict every possible upgrade or installation failure, but there are ways to train, mentally prepare, anticipate and fix them.
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