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As Halloween looms, Vicki O'neill looks at what you can do to stop business management software upgrades from becoming the stuff of nightmares

Missed deadlines, spiralling costs and excessive downtime are just some of the demons faced by businesses when it comes to software upgrades. With upgrades supposedly making life and processes easier for your business, in reality, many businesses delay necessary upgrades for fear of the disruption they will bring, taking up vital time, money and resources, which the organisation simply can’t afford to spare. For some, it can even lead to ‘upgrade burnout’, meaning organisations actually miss out on important upgrades just through fear of how the upgrade process itself will affect the business.

With all this in mind, I’ve come up with some suggestions as to how you can ensure the entire upgrade experience is more of a dream than a technological nightmare.

1. Is the upgrade right for your business?

It's important to question what value your business will derive from the upgrade in question. Some upgrades are obviously more impactful than others and it's necessary to look at the bigger picture before making a decision. With many businesses still operating with a network of legacy systems and technologies in place, it's sometimes more of a challenge to integrate software upgrades with older technology, meaning that it can be more cost effective to start with an entirely new platform. For some, the real decision involves weighing up the cost, effort and overall TCO of a software upgrade versus a complete solution overhaul.

2. Plan, plan, plan

As the saying goes, 'Fail to plan, plan to fail' and nowhere is this more relevant than when it comes to upgrading your business software. You need to have a clear plan in place, ensuring you have the right staff and resources available for optimum upgrade efficiency. And, if downtime is guaranteed, you need to work out when would be the best time for the upgrade to happen. Right in the middle of your busiest time is clearly not ideal. Also, think about how time-critical the upgrade is. Will it be the end of the world if you don't upgrade immediately? A well-planned, well-timed upgrade is far more likely to succeed than an ill-thought-out, rushed attempt.

3. Communicate

Once you've got your plan in place, share it with the rest of the organisation. Users need to understand not only what's involved in the upgrade but what benefits the upgrade will bring for them and the business. Personal attachment to tools and long-standing familiarity with procedures and processes are often the most challenging problems to overcome when you try to get the team on board with software upgrades. User buy-in from the outset is vital for upgrade success but this communication needs to continue not only throughout the upgrade itself, but through into go-live and beyond.

4. Evaluate your customisations

For many organisations, a raft of customisations makes their solution their own. When it comes to upgrades, replicating these numerous customisations can lead to timely and costly delays and problems. In reality, some long standing customisations merely serve to facilitate business processes that no longer reflect best practice. Indeed, these customisations may no longer be required thanks to new functionality that the software upgrade in question can provide. With this in mind, it's important to look at why customisations exist and if they are actually still needed.

5. Training is key

A series of handouts and power-point presentations simply aren't enough to furnish users with acceptable levels of training. Classroom training will not do and it's vital for users to get hands-on with any new software well before go-live, identifying any further training requirements and ensuring they can hit the ground running when it comes to day-to-day working with the system. And, training shouldn't start and end with upgrades but be a permanent and regular feature to guarantee optimum, long term value from the software.

6. Test, test, and test again

In a similar vein to the previous point, comprehensive testing prior to go-live will minimise problems and ensure a smooth roll-out of new functionality. Too often, businesses test software to handle 'typical' workloads in 'average' environments. As we know all too well, there is rarely such a thing as a typical workload and none of us operate in average environments, making it all the more important that businesses carry out testing to ensure that software can handle your workloads, workflow and business environment. Ideally, carry out a mock go-live, allowing you to identify and resolve any issues before the real D-Day.

7. Don’t neglect your data

So preoccupied are some businesses with the process of upgrading that they forget to address the issue of archiving and securing their data. Archiving old data is not only best practice but it helps to speed-up the entire upgrade process and should be carried out on a regular basis and especially before embarking on an upgrade. The same can be said for security. Not only should security arrangements be re-evaluated during upgrades but on an ongoing basis too, protecting business data and giving you peace of mind.

8. Can you do it alone?

The best software partners won't leave you to go it alone. By helping you to devise the right upgrade plan for your business, giving you the tools and expertise to see the process through from start to finish, the right partner will ensure that your upgrade is smooth and hassle-free, while guaranteeing that your business derives optimum value from the upgrade itself. If you feel you’re completely out of your depth, look for a tried-and-tested partner who can help.

Vicki joined Sapphire in 2008, and has 19 years’ experience working with clients from a variety of industries. With a background in Project Management, Vicki has managed multiple global rollouts, and is responsible for overseeing Sapphire’s projects internationally. She currently manages the global projects team and is well placed to offer best practice advice to ensure upgrades and implementations run smoothly. Vicki is a member of a local running club, and also a keen netball player.

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