5 Challenges to Keeping Your IT Systems Updated

May 21, 2013 at 5:47 am | Uncategorized | No comment

How important are your IT systems? Can you say "Mission Critical?"

The ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), MRP/CRP (Manufacturing and Capacity Resource Planning) and CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems make up the financial heart and operational nerve center of your organization.

These applications directly support your core business.

What challenges do you face when trying to make sure each one is up to date?

1. Multiple Applications - Your company may have chosen to pursue a “best-of-breed” policy, where the financials (General Ledger, Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable, Fixed Assets, etc) are from one vendor while the human resources / manufacturing / distribution / and other complex applications may be from multiple different vendors. Management may have “drunk the kool-aid” from one of the major vendors (SAP or Oracle for example) and opted for only one application vendor. This can still pose significant challenges due to the complexity and number of moving parts involved in those applications.

2. Resource Constraints - In the real world, what organization applies all of the patches and updates from all the significant vendors every month?

Answer: No one.

You apply items that are required for legal compliance and fixes for issues that actually have impact on your use of the software. The testing and certification processes just take too long. So you make a change when there is a new major release with significant added functionality, or when you need to transition from an old release that’s going off support.

3. Risk Exposure - What happens if you skip or delay applying a specific patch? In some cases, the risk may appear to be trivial. Financial statements or inventory reports going out a day late may cause embarrassment. But delayed parts replenishment to the shop floor could cause late deliveries and significant customer dissatisfaction. Incorrectly routed shipments that don’t account for new freight tariffs will have a serious financial impact. The consequences can be huge.

4. Upgrading Complexity - Even staying with the same vendor (Oracle/SAP/PeopleSoft/JDE/?) and just applying changes can be a daunting project. The task of applying all the updates to the primary vendor’s products, then potentially making changes to operating systems or third party products used in house, and updating inbound and outbound interfaces (real time and batch) can be overwhelming.

5. Testing Requirements - Even if there haven’t been major architectural changes, you will be testing, testing and testing again. You won’t be able to “go-live” until all the appropriate testing is completed. This in itself is a major undertaking. You need to set up the baseline environment, define the key variables, run the process, collect the results and repeat. All tests have to be done correctly, mirroring the actual production business cycle and documented to prove to auditors that the process was carried out properly. Then you have to make sure you can produce the testing results to close the loop on the entire process.

But don’t despair.

There are approaches and tools to help address these challenges.

-     Product or Application life cycle management

-     Application patch/upgrade management

-     Risk Assessment (Business project prioritization

-     Test management tools.

Which of these tools does your organization use? What else do you do to help reduce uncertainty and risk?

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