Upgrading your ERP software is not a push-button affair. The process to complete an upgrade is pretty different depending on which software package you’re using. But knowing when and how to upgrade your ERP system makes the difference between a successful upgrade, or a failed upgrade.
There are two fundamental reasons to upgrade any software package. The first is to gain new functionality. For example, the introduction of a new form that keeps track of RFQs, or new emailing functionality that don’t exist in your current version of software, etc. Most ERP software providers will work hard to offer as many new functions as possible with each new version of software that you get. The primary driver behind this is to improve their offerings to capture a larger share of the market or perhaps expand into other markets. Keep an eye on these offerings from your ERP provider. The wider the customer base, the more likely it is that you’ll find a common need with one of your fellow customers that your software provider can fulfill.
The second reason is to fix bugs. Bug fixes make the product more stable and allow for fewer unexpected issues when running business critical applications. While fixing bugs is important to software providers, it does not help them capture new business as well as new functionality. So you may find that most patches include a balanced mixture of new functionality and bug fixes. Of course, new functionality also introduces a stronger opportunity for new bugs to arise.
Upgrading for bug fixes is an inevitable reality. As much time and effort as software developers put into their product, unexpected circumstances will surface. The more ambitious an ERP software solution is, the higher chance there is for bugs to come up. Although the developers may do some testing on their own, no-one can simulate your production business environment as well as you can. Even the most generic software systems will retain some level of customization whether it’s your unique business processes, or the data that resides underneath.
In order to best protect your up-time, invest the time and money in a stand-alone test environment. This will allow you the opportunity to test your core business processes and data on newer patch levels and upgrades without the risk of downtime or show-stopping errors.
Even if you find yourself in the enviable position of having a bug-free system, you may still want to plan an upgrade. Technology changes too rapidly to dig in. New versions of Windows are released every four years or less. This will lead to new compatibility requirements for hardware and software. If you’re looking for a new printer with Windows 95 compatibility, your options will be severely limited compared to a printer with Windows 7 compatibility.
Another good reason to plan for upgrades is to avoid the major upgrade. Typically upgrades done between short version jumps have a smaller footprint and problems can be more easily predicted. Imagine upgrading from a smart phone to a newer smart phone versus upgrading from a rotary telephone to a smart phone. Because the gap is smaller, there are fewer issues to work out and a gentler transition for you.
Upgrades don’t have to be difficult. Plan ahead, test thoroughly, and pick the right time to upgrade and you can keep your focus on your business where it belongs.