When to Upgrade Critical Software

If you enter the phrase “How often should we upgrade software?” into a search engine, the results are likely to come back in one of two ways:

  • Stay current, update often.
  • Update only when the newer version provides meaningful benefit.

The first response is typical of a software vendor. By staying current they argue that you’ll have the most fully featured version with an up-to-date set of bug fixes and performance enhancements. As a bonus, newer versions of the software are often included as part of your yearly maintenance fees.

The second response is usually associated with the user or organization who purchased the software. Constantly updating the software can be costly and distracting. Unless the benefits are great, the effort can seem unwarranted.

As a software vendor, we encourage customers to “stay current” with releases for our software and for platforms that our software utilizes. However, because the majority of our customer base is regulated either by the FDA or another regulatory body, we realize that software upgrades for companies in this type of environment require a process and often have a cost associated to them.

Most vendors include software updates in your yearly maintenance fees. However, there is a need for additional services including installation, configuration, re-validation, modifications to SOPs and re-training for personnel. These are only some of the costs your organization must bear but the point is clear: upgrading is not “free” and it requires planning and execution.

Here are some general guidelines for you to follow; upgrade if one or more of the following are true:

  • You wish to take advantage of newer features
  • You wish to adjust your existing configuration or business processes
  • Your IT staff is upgrading your operating system, platforms, or browsers
  • The operating system, platforms, or browsers you are using have reached End of Life
  • You are more than 2 releases behind the current version

We do not suggest that companies wait until the last possible moment to upgrade. The longer you wait, the more costly the process may become. If you wait too long, you approach the effort of deploying a new solution in today’s environment. Operating systems and platforms become obsolete in time and their lifespan seems to be decreasing. The newer operating systems and platforms are more secure and implement new standards and vendors must evolve to support them. The necessary software changes can be dramatic, causing the behavior of a newer release to vary greatly from older releases. The more versions of the software you skip, the more dramatic the result.

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