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Some organizations stay nimble by receiving frequent software enhancements via continuous updates. But others require a more traditional release cycle that allows them to adapt to the changes.
One of the choices IT decision makers must make is when to update the commercial software they use. This decision is especially significant now that we are in the era of cloud-based software that is being updated continuously. Such software is updated on an everyday basis—and distributed and accessed by your business that same day.
A continuous software release cycle gives companies new functionality as soon as it becomes available, as well as enabling greater agility with the features and functions of the software because they're continuously being improved.
But if you are running a business and trying to insert new software intelligence and capability into the organization as quickly as you can, continuously updated software isn't enough. You also need business processes and people in the organization who are wiling to work with software that is constantly changing, even if it means revisions to a business process that has functioned without issue for years—or it requires changes in how people think about the business.
Most software project managers in organizations will tell you that one of the most difficult things about implementing a new software release is that it introduces change into the organization that people have to be trained for. In other cases, new software releases come with errors that slow down business until the errors can be found and fixed.
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Commercial software vendors understand this, too. It is exactly why some of them, even though they're cloud-based, promote their products to would-be users by saying that while the software is always being updated, the user can choose when to accept an update. In other cases, vendors stick with older model software release cycles, where new enhancements to the software occur twice or three times per year and users have advance notice and training for each new release.
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Making the call
So which is better—the nimble and continuous software release or the planned and trained release? It likely depends upon your organization, which is why many commercial software vendors don't necessarily have only one way of releasing their software updates.
Younger employees are accustomed to being surprised with new app twists and functions on their mobile devices daily. They have grown up with technology disruption, so continuously updating software is no big deal. Many think it is a fair tradeoff to get the latest and greatest software.
Conversely, there are employees (and even business functions) that benefit from a more staged software update release methodology that enables them to become familiar with new software changes before they install them. In this way, they ensure ongoing compatibility between the new software release and their existing business processes, and they can identify and train for new business process revisions that might need to take place before the software update can be installed.
Corporate risk managers are also happy with this more staged approach, as the last thing they want is risk that is introduced into the organization because a new software release that's hot off the press has a fatal error in it somewhere that takes the company down.
So as an IT manager, where do you go with this and what kinds of choices do you make?
- If your corporate culture is fast paced, innovative, agile, and malleable, adopting a continuous update software strategy can work well—although you must also continuously update your business processes in some formal way to meet the requirements of your auditors.
- If you are in a more staid business, like finance, healthcare, or insurance, the traditional software release approach—which allows you to plan and train first—is more sensible.
Whatever software release methodology you choose, it is a conscious decision that every IT leader should make. Introducing software into your organization at too slow a pace can have damaging consequences, but so can bringing it in too soon.