Preparing for an Upgrade

Written By: Mike Bodine

from April 9, 2013

Preparing for an upgrade can be a challenging time for anyone or any organization.  Upgrades and installations bring change to an organization – which can be disruptive and cause issues if not handled properly. There are two primary factors that can help insure the change goes as smoothly as possible: Preparation and Communication. These may sound like common sense parts of any system upgrade, but many times these are neglected in favor of expediting the upgrade process. That can be a very costly mistake in terms of time and money.

In general, every upgrade and installation has the potential to impact an organization both positively and negatively. Think of something as simple as a RAM upgrade for a single user’s workstation. Adding the RAM may take five minutes to install, make that user’s system more responsive, and enable more productivity. However, if something goes wrong during the installation and causes the computer to malfunction, the user could experience extended downtime. This delay could impact not only the specific user, but also that user’s co-workers, customers, and vendors. For this reason, it is important to prepare properly for any upgrade or installation – no matter how small – and to be aware of the people or processes potentially impacted by that change.

In preparing for an upgrade or installation, most people think about the system requirements first and start by reviewing any documentation supplied by the vendor. It is very important to realize that every company is different and most documentation is only a guideline for what will be needed. In order to fully understand the true requirements, communicate with:

1)  End Users: To identify what portions of the system are currently used and possible new features to add.

2)  Software/Hardware Vendors: To help with scaling the environment based on actual usage and to identify required licensing and products.

3) Networking/Infrastructure Team:  To identify the products and services internal and external to the environment that need to be upgraded in order to accommodate the system requirements.

4) Decision-Making/Management Team: To approve any scheduled downtime and additional purchases.

For any upgrade, it is critical to identify the potential for downtime and work disruption.  Communicating that to end users and vendors is very important before, during, and after the upgrade.

The upgrade schedule may have to take into account high system utilization times and time-sensitive business processes – like month-end or payroll.  So ensure awareness of the total time that will be available for the upgrade, including time for troubleshooting. If the upgrade of systems is planned for off-hours, ensure hardware and software vendors are aware of the timing and are available to assist with support since even the best planned processes can have issues. Be sure to plan for an efficient way of communicating delays in the timing and know who those delays will impact. And, of course, always have a backup plan in case everything needs to be rolled back.

User Impact
Another critical item is identifying which users will have changes to daily processes after the upgrade or installation is complete. The changes may require additional training for new features in the software or maybe even a new operating system. Training can take significant time, so make sure to prepare for it by allocating enough time in the upgrade schedule.

After the upgrade or installation is done, it is important to communicate to the end users what the next steps are. If the upgrade or installation is conducted during off-hours and end users need to test the system before it goes into production, plan to have the appropriate people available and to clearly communicate to those users when the system is available to test.

Finally, be sure to get feedback from end users and vendors to make sure that the upgrade met expectations and identify what improvements can be made for future upgrades. Armed with this feedback, the team can work to make the next upgrade or installation even smoother.