Knowing when to upgrade your tech and when not to

Joel Svensson

Delaying tech updates can dangerously impair your security, while being too zealous may stretch your budget without netting appreciable rewards. Even free upgrades can be tricky – the current Windows 10 rollout, for example, is generally not recommended for mission-critical machines, at least not yet. So when do you upgrade?

According to project manager and change management consultant Owen Smith, it’s all a matter of balancing costs while searching for competitive advantage.

Will the upgrade enhance your core operations?

“I think the global statement for any business is ‘what are the benefits of upgrading?’” says Smith. “Will [an upgrade] produce competitive advantage, or will it produce a net loss in productivity? This is your number one consideration.”

Assess compatibility

In addition to ensuring upgrades are compatible with your own systems, Smith highlights the importance of keeping in-step with collaborators. “How do we play nicely with the people we work with? [The decision to upgrade] should be driven by who you work with, and what version they are on.”

Factor in retraining

“The most expensive part of any upgrade is your retraining and attendant productivity loss,” says Smith. “And the more people you have, the more that impact is multiplied… That cost alone will usually dwarf the initial cost of the upgrade.”

Follow the support

Retaining vendor support is necessary for a stable operating environment. For this reason, Smith says, upgrades may sometimes be necessary.

Using the example of operating systems, he maintains that keeping core applications current is vital. “If your key software needs Windows 7 or above to run, and you’re on Windows XP, you’re locked out of going to your next software update – and that software might be where you get a competitive advantage.”

Look to best practices

Smith maintains that one compelling reason to upgrade may be to keep up with established practices in your field. “It’s about reputation, but it’s also about quality,” he says.

Keeping up-to-date may also mean keeping abreast of industry standards.

“If you want to work with a bank or a government department, if you want to work in the health space – anything that’s a fairly regulated industry – you’re going to have quality standards.”

When assessing your tech environment, it’s important to step away from the cutting edge and look at added value. Support your critical operations, but remember that stability is always better than novelty.

Joel Svensson

Joel Svensson is a Melbourne-based freelance writer specialising in politics and business.