Why IT Life Cycle Planning Matters


Why IT Life Cycle Planning Matters

I was meeting with a group of business owners last week, and the topic of keeping business software up to date came up. One of the owners was specifically discussing a very static piece of software, that he thought did not need to be updated. His reasons were logical. The software worked great for what he needed to use it for. There were no updates to features or data sets or anything that were needed. It seemed unnecessary to ever update the software. Is that really the case?

This same logic sometimes gets applied to replacing servers, workstations, firewalls, and other hardware. After all, some machines are very low use, and the use stays the same for years. If nothing changes, why would we need to upgrade?

The discipline of IT cycle planning is just that, a discipline. But how often should we make exceptions?  How far is it safe to stretch the rules?  If we understand some of the logic behind the “why” of cycle planning, it becomes easier to know what is safe and what is not.

The 7 Whys of IT Cycle Planning

1. Minimize Downtime. Downtime increases with old equipment. Replacing it before the risk of failure goes up, has a significant impact on staying up and running. Case in point, before we started managing cycle planning for our clients, we had more server failures and worked many nights and weekends to get things up again. Now that we track and manage this with our clients, we have experienced at least a 90% reduction in these types of issues.  Being down is disruptive to work and expensive!

2. Eliminate Inefficiency. Software is constantly marching forward to a better, newer version, and that newer version is at least aimed at doing things more efficiently. To bypass a new version, in theory, means staying with the older less efficient version. And hardware, though it stays constant, the software around it does not. Operating system updates and patches and new software are applied to the old hardware.  These patches and new software are typically more resource intensive. So, in effect, the older hardware (or platform) slows down over time. This often presents itself as lost time from our employees, and sometimes the best employees are the last to complain, and they may not even notice they are waiting for their computer more and more frequently. 10 minutes a day adds up to over a week of lost time in a year.

3. Stay Secure. Old software is high risk. Windows 7 is out of support and insecure. Windows Server 2012 is end of life this fall and will become insecure. Older firmware-based hardware like your thin client or camera may be insecure, if they are not replaced. Embedded devices on your network are one of the primary targets of hackers. If they have aged, your risk is much higher of a hacker breaching them.

4. Keep Support. Being in a down situation and finding you can’t get vendor support is a terrible feeling. Sometimes you just need to be able to reach the experts, and if your equipment or software is too old to get support, it leaves your business operations in the lurch.

5. Avoid Getting Stuck. This is a real danger of letting things age too long, and I’ve seen it occur so many times. For instance, you let your ERP age to an unsupported version thinking it will be okay. Then several years later you want to upgrade, so you can get current or get a new feature. However, you find that the version you are on is so old that there either is no upgrade path to the new version, or there are several expensive jumps and upgrade steps that you must take to get there. The upgrade takes way too long and requires retraining everyone. It would have been so much better to take the upgrade in steps each year, rather than trying to catch up from something so old.

6. Ensure Compatibility. Compatibility is another sticking point when you let things get old. A simple example would be getting a new peripheral or piece of software to work with an old Windows 7 computer.  You might find yourself with something new, but must perform mass upgrades to be able to use it. I’ve also seen many instances where a new software version required a new computer OS, but the old version was so old that it only ran on the old computer OS. This forces a messy and abrupt conversion that could have been avoided by staying current.

7. Embrace Innovation. We naturally bristle at change. It interrupts our “normal”. However, the side benefit of being up to date is that we can keep moving forward. If our platforms are current, and our equipment is on a plan for replacement, it puts us in a position to do innovative things. We don’t have to upgrade first before we can do that new thing. We also don’t spend mental energy on things that should be planned and executed on a regular schedule. It is just part of our “normal” and our budget to replace and upgrade things. This leaves room to innovate.

You might be thinking, okay, I see the need to upgrade, but how often do I need to cycle equipment and upgrade software? The very broad rule of thumb in the IT industry is that hardware should be replaced at or before the 5-year mark.  Some users may need upgrades more frequently, specifically those running very intensive applications like engineers and architects. This also includes servers and other devices providing services to a broad base of users. They are particularly critical, because if they go down, everyone is down.

Software is perhaps a little harder to set a broad rule of thumb. Some software you want to be at the absolute latest version all the time. For instance, an accounting firm is constantly updating their software to provide the latest features, tax tables, etc. to their clients. One guideline for software is to never let the software age beyond two major version levels. For instance, the Laserfiche business process automation software we work with is currently at 11.x. If you are still on a 9.x version, or even the earliest 10.1 version, it is most certainly time to plan an upgrade.

IT cycle planning is a discipline. It is adhering to that discipline that saves lots of frustration and failure. If you don’t have a plan in place, or are consistently stretching that plan and pushing upgrades, it almost always ends up causing disruption and difficulty. Following a cycle plan is one of the best things you can do to create stability and reduce risk in your organization.

If you have questions about IT planning and management, please reach out.