The End of Upgrades: A Manifesto

Monday Dec 10th 2007 by Joshua Greenbaum
Share:

We’re angry and we’re not going to take it: Upgrades suck, and it’s time that they sucked a whole lot less. Way past time, if you ask me.

One of the biggest gotchas in the enterprise software market is the upgrade problem. You buy the software for a chunk of money, implement it for another big chunk, and then, as a reward for spending all that time and money, you get to do an upgrade a couple of years down the road.

And if you think that upgrade is free, paid for by the whopping maintenance fees, think again. Upgrades are free, as long as you don’t add new functionality, add new users, try to change the underlying technology platform or database, expand the software’s use into a new subsidiary or other entity, or otherwise make even the slightest change to original system and how it relates to your underlying business model.

In other words, upgrades are the gift that keep on giving, to the vendor, that is. For you, lucky enterprise software owner, upgrades are a black hole sucking millions out of your IT budget on a regular basis, while putting your company literally at risk in the process (more about that later).

Enterprise Advisor Columns
Oracle and IBM: The New Dynamic Duo?

Software as a Service and the End of the Systems Integrator

Undercutting Salesforce.com: Microsoft Prices CRM On-Demand to Move

Vista and Office in the Enterprise: The Big Tent Looks Tattered

FREE Tech Newsletters

So, in the interest of restoring a little sanity to the market with a catchy slogan, I’m proposing that its time to declare the end of upgrades. Now, to be frank, much like Salesforce.com’s “end of software,” we’re not really going to end upgrades anytime soon. But I think it’s time to serve notice on the industry that upgrades suck, to use a technical term, as in sucking budget, time, effort, good will, and a few unmentionables, and that we’re not going to take it any more.

How do upgrades suck? Let me count the ways. Upgrades can cause massive system shut-downs, preferably at peak periods of commercial activity, that can cripple a business. If you don’t know of a company that this has happened to, you’re not paying attention. And upgrades can destroy reputations and take down governments, or at least their key agencies (ask the IRS about this one). And upgrades are a massive waste of time (ask anyone).

Upgrades for bug fixes are a special case, one that my colleague Vinnie Mirchandani of Deal Architect especially loves for their irony. Here’s Vinnie’s perspective: you buy the software, and pay a maintenance fee so that the vendor can make a profit fixing the software they already sold you, whereupon you get to incur an upgrade “suck” in order to fix the problem that you’ve now paid for three times over (including the cost of the upgrade, of course). Oh my aching…

Continued: Hidden dangers of upgrades

Then there are the hidden dangers of upgrades. My favorite comes from a conversation I had with a client of IntelliCorp., which sells software to help minimizing the hassle and maximize the success of this charming upgrade process. This company, which will remain nameless, found out that in the course of its upgrades it was potentially exposing valuable partner trade secrets buried inside the ERP system it was upgrading. Nothing in the standard upgrade kit from its vendor allowed it to safeguard these trade secrets, which if they leaked out to the outside world or were re-implemented incorrectly during the upgrade process would have basically ended a lucrative business relationship for the upgradee.

Luckily IntelliCorp actually has tools that can keep this kind of upgrade on the up and up, and by the way, in regulatory compliance as well, which is another “at risk” problem inside more upgrades than most of us would like to imagine.

Of course, this “end of upgrades” manifesto needs to end with a little reality check: upgrades aren’t going to end soon. If you’re an Oracle customer, Oracle has promised that you don’t have to upgrade anything, but chances are you will anyway. There are some compelling reasons to upgrade your technology stack, particularly to make good use of the new “edge” applications that will provide competitive advantage to your otherwise competitively dying core ERP system. And someday, off in the distant future, a Fusion Applications upgrade looms for every Oracle customer.

If you’re an SAP customer, SAP is actually trying to fix this problem with its Enhancement Packs, which are basically mini-upgrades that are intended to provide a major-upgrade’s worth of new functionality. The EP’s are just starting to hit the market, and early conversations with users have been very positive, so this may be one way in which the problem gets solved. While it’s still an upgrade, the EP’s go a long way towards making the upgrade a relatively trivial event.

Enterprise Advisor Columns
Oracle and IBM: The New Dynamic Duo?

Software as a Service and the End of the Systems Integrator

Undercutting Salesforce.com: Microsoft Prices CRM On-Demand to Move

Vista and Office in the Enterprise: The Big Tent Looks Tattered

FREE Tech Newsletters

The other way to end upgrades, of course, comes from deploying on-demand solutions, which of course still need lots of upgrades, all of which, at least theoretically, are transparent to the users. But don’t think you don’t pay for upgrades in the on-demand or SaaS model: you do, it’s just built into the per user per month price you pay. Which is why some calculations show that after five years of paying per user per month, your total cost of ownership for a SaaS/on demand solution starts to resemble the TCO of an on-premise system.

So, the end of upgrades? Not in our lifetime. But I do believe an end to the sycophantic acceptance of the burden of upgrades is long overdue. The disruptive nature of the upgrade process, combined with the disruptive cost and the generally disruptive risks therein, should be seen as a problem in desperate need of relief, if not resolution. It’s a sad day when we neglect the need to question the obvious and fail to demand that something truly egregious be made to be significantly less so. Upgrades suck, and it’s time that they sucked a whole lot less. Way past time, if you ask me.

Share:
Home
Mobile Site | Full Site
Copyright 2017 © QuinStreet Inc. All Rights Reserved