You should not deploy a new computer with Outlook 2013 for a client running Exchange 2003 — the pairing doesn't work. Also, you cannot connect systems possessing older Microsoft Office versions to many leading hosted Exchange platforms. And, hopefully, clients will never ask you to load their old versions of Act!, QuickBooks, medical software, legal applications, and a variety of other third-party tools (which they have declined to update) onto new Windows 7 or Windows 8 workstations when their old computers finally fail.
IT consultants unfairly receive the blame when older applications prove incompatible with newer operating systems. If that happens to you, rather than pointing fingers at software vendors for introducing incompatibilities or scolding clients for refusing to update old applications, you should educate clients. By becoming a more proactive, educational partner, you can help clients understand why so many incompatibilities exist, better assist clients in identifying potential technology land mines before they become roadblocks, and lower technology costs while improving reliability.
You can adopt the following habits to assist clients in minimizing unwanted and unexpected incompatibilities, issues, and errors.
- Share this article with clients. Explain how the potential combination of hardware- and software-based incompatibilities is so vast even a wunderkind possessing computers capable of predicting the weather could not predict every potential incompatibility or problem that could arise on a client's network when deploying a new application, migrating hardware, or upgrading systems. Simply put, IT is an imperfect industry in which numerous vendors produce myriad operating systems, applications, programs, and equipment that often don't work well together.
- Develop a hardware lifecycle strategy. Perform an inventory of the client's servers, workstations, laptops, and network equipment and develop detailed recommendations for replacing hardware as different devices approach reasonable lifecycles.
- Develop a software lifecycle strategy. Determine which software platforms (office productivity, accounting, financial management, medical, manufacturing, contact management, etc.) are required to fulfill business operations. Then develop detailed recommendations for upgrading applications as the manufacturers introduce new versions, retire support for old editions, and introduce updates.
- Implement remote management and monitoring (RMM). Deploy a strong RMM tool so you can receive real-time instrumentation as to the health and status of the client's systems, and to help you better support clients. RMM tools also assist documentation, tracking, asset management, and logging — all of which are critical tasks in helping develop and maintain effective hardware lifecycle and larger IT strategy plans.
- Leverage checklists. When a client begins exploring upgrading an application, server, or other platform, use a checklist to list potential incompatibilities and dependencies. Contact the prospective software or system provider and have it review the client's current asset reports to confirm your office's recommendations. If an error or upstream incompatibility is discovered later, at least you can demonstrate to the client that you performed your homework and required the manufacturer to confirm your findings.
Surprises are fun as a kid, but they are typically undesirable as an adult, especially when they occur on a client site. Even when you implement the above steps, you can't eliminate every unforeseen issue, but you can assist clients in better and more safely navigating the troubled IT waters.
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.