Information technology: the keys to successful upgrading.
To upgrade or not to upgrade. That is the dilemma for the average SME in this, the year that Microsoft (US Justice Department permitting) will be launching their latest version of the PC operating system, Windows 98. This new system will perform best on the latest, fastest and most memory-laden PCs and will - to get the most out of it - require new 'office' and 'business' software. The decision is not so much whether to adopt the new system but whether to upgrade your whole PC infrastructure. In terms of potential hassle and cost, it all seems like a bit of a conspiracy when you've only just got used to and still carry the scars from your last upgrade.
There is good news, however. You don't have to upgrade when the industry hype says you have to. In fact, experience shows that you'll probably be best waiting a few months at least to ensure that one or two 'bug-fixing' releases can be issued before you submit your staff to the changes. Modern software is so complex, with its base code often running into millions of lines of code, that it is inevitable, no matter how much 'beta testing' is done by the software company, that it won't work perfectly under all the incredible number of system permutations that it will find upon release. Best clearly to allow others to do that testing for you.
It is in your interest though to keep tabs on what the reviews say. While some cynics say that the IT industry is a fashion business with the new stuff being released purely to keep you spending, you can construct a sound business case for upgrading if you analyse what it offers. Some of the new features may be like the new paint jobs available on a car - designed to make it look better without any substantive change in performance or utility.
What you've really got to look out for is something more substantial and, in particular, 'twofers' (two for the price of one, or what used to take two or more products, now take one) and 'linkages' (integrating functions from one package with another). If you find something that can really help you out and improve your productivity, then perhaps you can make a case for an early upgrade. It all comes down to being in control of your IT destiny. Understanding what you want to achieve, keeping track of what can now be done, and having the nous to make the most of it, are the keys to successful upgrading.
Don't expect the IT industry to help you if you adopt the 'hairshirt' strategy, however. If you only upgrade when your computers feature on Antiques Roadshow, few IT companies will provide support on products over two generations old. This, in human years, represents about three years.
There is little benefit to be gained from such penny-pinching. You will find yourself equivalent to the bloke in the Miami Vice jacket, expecting a date at the 1998 technology disco.
Rob Wirszcyz is director of communications and alliances at EDS UK.