Software upgrades – why do they rarely happen?

Today, customers and vendors cannot stay in technical and business alignment long enough for an upgrade to make sense

Companies look for seamless, cost effective software upgrades…but it can end up being more painful than original implementation. This puts the customer in a difficult position because they cannot cost justify making the change.

The primary reasons for upgrading to the latest software are:

  • to get new features
  • take advantage of technical advances
  • get fixes from previous version
  • Expand business capabilities

These are all great intentions, but the cost and risk usually (OK, always) outweigh the potential and perceived values of the upgrade.

The image below shows the reality of most software packages: they support way more than the customer needs (driving “software bloat”) and not enough to actually run their business (driving “too much customization”)

 Following are the most common challenges in the upgrade process.

Common-

  1. Typical complex applications have tightly coupled components.
  2. It is hard to document/track dependencies of these components with requirement/functionality, code, config over a period of time.
  3. Most of the applications config/calculations change run time so it is hard to tag/associate these changes to a version of the application over a period of time.
  4. These upgrades require fleet of experienced and expensive consultants.

Most vendors care mostly about their “next sale” and upgrading their existing clients isn’t a high priority

Few other challenges in terms of upgrade are either technical or business in nature.

Technical-

  1. Software applications rely on evolving new technologies to support the changes in business needs, also makes applications easy to use and more efficient. In the early days there were software applications which are entirely dependent on programming languages and on specific databases for example: Power Builder and Sybase. Later on as software applications moved on to new technologies it puts limitation on software upgrades from old system to the new ones.
  2. Integration complexity is far greater than expected.

Business-

  1. In order to be competitive in the current market, vendors have to support a breadth of functionality, products, geographies and technologies.
    1. Typically, any given customer only uses a fraction of what is in the software.
    2. In this case when the vendor is investing in their product, only a small amount of new stuff is applicable to the customer
    3. Taking these full upgrades can never be cost justified – there usually just isn’t as much an incentive.
    4. Company then wants to wait “until it is worth it” – by the time there is enough functionality customer actually want, too much time has gone by and the upgrade costs that much more and is that much more risky.
    5. Most of the complex applications are monolithic in nature and customer may need only a part of component of the application which makes it difficult to upgrade.
    6. So much customization goes into initial implementations to give the business people “exactly what they want” and an upgrade typically disrupts that.  So, the users definitely not the ones who are not calling for the upgrades.

While I think the next “silver bullet” is going to be that the “cloud will solve all of our problems”.  While I am a believer in the concepts that should make that statement true, I’m skeptical that the cloud alone will change the behavior of both the customers and the vendors that have gotten us into this mess in the first place.

All the above challenges make us question if we could ever upgrade software applications similar to upgrades on iPhone or Android applications. The answer to this is ‘yes’.  FAST covers all aspects of challenges in their approach.

FAST is leading the way in making upgrade process simple by giving user ability to click and choose component-features(new/modified since last revision) that are valuable to the client, and apply these components-features to their existing application seamlessly in an automated fashion. Sounds exciting? Tom Famularo presented a preview of the “FAST Auto-upgrade Process” at ACORD LOMA this year.  Stay tuned for more information about this.

 

Raj Koltur

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