To upgrade or not to upgrade? That is the conundrum. You hate seeing those pop up notifications saying “A Software Updates is Available” and want them to go away. Then again, you don’t feel like taking the time to run and update and reboot. Many businesses struggle to stay up-to-date on their operating systems, apps, and hardware usually out of lethargy, lack of compliance, or personal preference. Sometimes it’s out of fear (“I heard there’s a bug in the new update!”).
Worst of all might be the almighty mental sin of “If ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
This is where businesses and business owners get themselves into trouble. Often times, companies that started decades ago are using a particular database or application that works just as they need it to. The database or app works as intended for the business, the business expands and grows, and things become very routine and rigid. The problem arises when that database or app is so archaic that it does not work with new operating systems or hardware.
For example, your shipping company founded in the 1990s uses a database we’ll call “A+ Shipping.” Your business grows, you’ve got hundreds of trucks and employees, but the company that made A+ Shipping went out of business or got bought out by a competitor who stopped providing support for A+ Shipping. Because it was developed in the 90s, A+ Shipping doesn’t work on any OS beyond Microsoft Windows XP (or the dreaded Windows Me). Microsoft has stopped offering extended support for XP seven years ago — and that includes security patches and updates. It’s now 2021 and your entire company has hit a wall: the software won’t run on anything available today, the computers employees are using are so outdated they can’t send emails or use web browsers anymore.
And you’re system is wide open for attack. The mentality of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” has now had serious consequences.
Sometimes it’s not that dire; it can just be annoying. We’ve seen businesses use a computer for so long that it’s not even compatible with new printers meaning that even simple protocols for sending jobs to a printer on the network is impossible. A printer breaks, you replace it and suddenly find yourself unable to use workstations in your business.
Upgrading is a simple thing, as long as you do it consistently and regularly. The cliche moaning and groaning from business owners about upgrading computers and equipment comes from past experiences where they waited too long and it became a nightmare. Imagine upgrading from A+ Shipping and Windows XP to a new database software and Windows 10 (or macOS or Linux). One day everything looks different! Not to mention the dangers of upgrading a 25 year old database to something new, risking data loss or corruption.
And if the risk of serious pain or disruption of business isn’t enough to convince you to upgrade regularly, consider the following reasons below.
In May 2017, sixteen hospitals across the UK were hit with a massive ransomware attack. If you’re unfamiliar, a ransomware attack consists of breaking into a network, accessing computers and locking users out. Usually, the attacker leaves a message on screen stating the contents of the hard drive have been encrypted and if you want to ever see your data again, you have to pay up. One could imagine the chaos caused by hospitals unable to access computers for client information, schedules, test results, etc. Being the victim of a ransom attack is such a mess, the FBI advises to just pay the ransom if attacked. But back to the UK: the ransomware attack was a Windows security exploit publicly published by a group called TheShadowBrokers in April 2017. The real rub? Microsoft issued security patch before the exploit was published and it’s believed the computers ransomed in UK hospitals didn’t install the update.
If you’re in any kind of business, it’s likely you’re handling sensitive data. At the very least your employees personal information is stored somewhere in HR files. There’s also banking credentials and tax information. Plus client data. The point is, there’s a lot at stake. This makes running security updates and patches crucial to protect your business. Software manufactures continue to monitor for security flaws and zero day exploits in their code. When they find one or are made aware of one, they write a string of code to patch the hole. This patch is issued to all owners. So if you don’t install the new patch, you’ve still got the hole in the code.
It also goes beyond just latest security patches. Hackers and computer thieves seek out old operating systems on the internet to attack. Why? Because companies have finite resources. As new operating systems are written and released, there isn’t enough bandwidth to support antiquated ones. Moreover, an operating system that’s six versions back is being used by very few people to where the costs to the company to continue to support just isn’t worth it (and these few users will likely be reminded to upgrade). That means that old operating systems aren’t getting security patches any more. And no one from the company is monitoring threats to the OS.
A house is only as secure as the weakest door or window locks.
And if you’re running Microsoft Windows, remember to keep your antivirus software up to date!
Increased Employee Productivity and Satisfaction
First and foremost, employees just want to be able to do their job without headaches; and nothing creates bigger headaches than technology not working. As userlane.com puts it: “The one thing that all bad software has in common, though, is that it has a negative impact on employee productivity and makes your employees’ job harder than it needs to be.”
Remember the PC Load Letter gag from Office Space?
According to a 2019 survey by G2, more than half of surveyed employees are unhappy at work because of the software tools they are using. Worse still, a quarter of all surveyed employees claimed the software they have to use at work has made them “consider leaving their jobs.” The same G2 survey also showed that 95% surveyed either agreed or strongly agreed that software “makes them more productive at work.”
So what software you are using directly plays into both the productivity and happiness of your employees. It should also be mentioned here there is a distinction between updates and upgrades. Both are equally important in the context of this article and employee satisfaction. An update is a newer version available of existing software (or firmware). If you’re running macOS, for example, the software update is usually a higher number after the second dot as in macOS 10.15.7. If you have macOS 10.15.1, you update to 10.15.7, incorporating the associated security patches, bug fixes, and improvements of all versions between .1 and .7. An upgrade is the process of replacing an older version of software or hardware with something newer. Going from macOS 10.15.7 to macOS 11.0 is an upgrade; you’re replacing your entire operating system. Replacing your Gateway PC running Windows XP for a Chromebook is an upgrade. Ditching your check reader for an iPad and Square card reader is an upgrade.
Software updates can protect your business by providing security patches and bug fixes. Upgrades can keep your equipment compatible and employees happy.
Improved Network Performance
What’s one piece of technology in your home or office that should be updated the most frequently and almost never is?
Here’s a hint: It’s not your computer or iPhone.
You may be good at keeping your Chromebook up to date, or getting rid of all the annoying software update badges on your iPhone gone, but when is the last time you updated your wireless router?
In 2018, a sophisticated botnet broke into half a million routers. Your wireless router is a single gateway to all networked devices in your home or office. NETGEAR regularly issues firmware updates for their routers to keep protection up to date. In addition to security, network performance and speed can also be tied to updates. Firmware updates can fix bugs or even update the router for faster network speed.
Not only could you be leaving the door open to hackers, but you could be costing yourself precious network speed. Don’t worry though, it’s not just you: a 2014 Tripwire research study found that fewer than half of IT professionals bothered to install firmware updates to wireless routers in their own homes.
Router updates are simple to do and can be done just before going to bed so you don’t suffer the agonizing wait time for your network to come back up. Visit the website of your router’s brand to find out how check for firmware updates.
Prevent Future Complications and Compatibility Issues
Compatibility is the name of the game when it comes to technology for your business. For years, Mac and PC compatibility was an issue when sharing files, installing software, and Microsoft Office sat right in the middle of it. Now, with the widescale adaptation of cloud computing and hosting, operating system compatibility is pretty much a thing of the past. Microsoft Office 365, for example, works on everything under the sun including mobile devices.
But that doesn’t mean you should neglect to do your homework on your company’s technology. Mobile apps, for example, aren’t always available on both Android and iOS platforms. Android app development and submission for Google Play is pretty much wide open while Apple maintains a rigid obstacle course to approving apps for the App Store. You don’t want to upgrade your business software to an app that only works on one platform, alienating your employees who use the alternative.
Updating the software you have also maintains compatibility with the surrounding world. The internet continues to evolve and update at warp speed. If you attempt to keep an old computer on the internet you’ll eventually find the web browser can’t open some, then any, webpages. The first problem outdated browsers encounter is with web codecs, and video or multimedia no longer play or load on sites. As the internet continues to pull away from your archaic browser, less and less of the page loads then finally the dreaded “unable to load webpage” error occurs.
Peripheral accessories almost always require the latest updates on your computer or mobile device. Bluetooth and iOS updates are hyper common when trying to utilize wireless devices with your iPhone or iPad. If you’re using Windows, there’s usually driver updates that need to be installed to use (or continue using) accessories with your computer. Most importantly, these little updates keep you futureproofed as best as possible, allowing you to incorporate the ever-growing Internet of Things (IoT) more into your business down the road.
Update and upgrades are usually nuisances during busy business times. The best approach is to schedule regular update times — most businesses do overnight or weekend updates. A good IT professional will never attempt to do updates during business hours AND leave time for troubleshooting or problems to pop up following updates. This is why Friday evenings are popular update windows for large companies; it gives the entire weekend to fix problems that occur.
The same goes for your home or home office. Run software updates before leaving the house or going to bed. Keep current backups using Google Drive, OneDrive, or iCloud so if a software update erases something you can recover it. Get in the habit of staying up to date with software versions or upgrading when the time comes. If the company that makes your business software no longer offers support, that’s a sign it’s time to upgrade or switch software. Keeping with the old analogy of technology is like a car: the brakes and tires need to be replaced from time to time. Because if you don’t do it, it’s not going to end well.