5 Best Practices for Updating Critical Software

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Posted by Waldo Nell - 17 October, 2016

Topic(s): Tech for Execs

Finance officers, accountants and auditors are expert in a very specific field of knowledge. Generally speaking that does not include great depth related to IT systems and best practices. Yet finance officers, accountants and auditors rely on software (and hardware) to allow them to complete their work, often under very tight deadlines. This article will layout the case for finance involvement in the process and provides 5 key steps for finance. 

Running with Scissors

Almost certainly all of your critical applications (ERP, budget, HR, financial reporting, payroll etc.) get updated from time to time. For many of our clients, finance leave this process entirely in the hands of IT. Often finance does not even know updates have occurred until they come in Monday morning and detect that something looks different.

This is a very dangerous approach. Updates are risky. Kind of like running with scissors. You may have done it a hundred times with no problems, but one little misstep and it can be disaster. 

You may appreciate this if you ever lived through a failed update. To give you a little more control and allow you to better mitigate this risk, we recommend our clients follow a 5 step process to manage their updates. 

1) Work with IT - Make sure IT knows that they need to include finance in all critical update processes. This does not mean sending an email to finance when the job is done. It does mean advising finance before anything happens (ideally when updates are first made available) so you can work collaboratively to ensure everything works well. 

2) Know the benefits - Ensure you have a clear idea of what the benefit to the organization of the upgrade will be. Amazing new features that you have been dying for? Major bug fixes that will prevent lots of errors? If not, the right answer may be to sit this upgrade out, unless the upgrade is required to improve upon network security for example.

3) Don't upgrade during critical periods - Now that IT is communicating with you when updates are pending, you can advise IT when a good time for finance to do the update is. For example, in the middle of year-end is NOT a good time for just about anything, let alone an update to your CAFR / financial statement software. Now some processes never stop (payroll for example). For systems that relate to these processes, look for the least-bad time periods to do upgrades.

4) Test first - Develop a testing plan to ensure that all features function acceptably in your environment with your data, before you roll them out to the live system. This will involve several steps:

  1. Install in a test environment first or take full backups of all data before installing the new versions, and plan for some downtime if you need to roll back in the latter approach.
  2. Get key system users to test all functions that they rely on to ensure they perform as expected. Note - if you used the backup live data option above you will need to notify users that the system will be unavailable while testing is occurring.
  3. If the new version passes all testing, take a backup of the live data and update the real / live server or environment. If you did not have a test environment and took backups of data before testing, you have no more work to do other than advising users they can use the application again.

5) Plan for failure - Develop a plan to deal with failed test results.  If you followed steps 3 & 4 above, even with failed tests you are safe, no harm done. If you took a backup and then installed over the previous version of the software, now is the time to recover from the backup. Next, communicate the problem with the vendor about the problem. If it takes the vendor a month to resolve your issue, day-to-day operations have not been effected and while not optimal it is survivable. When they give you a new update version, start at Step 1 above and repeat.

Following this simple 5 step approach is guaranteed to limit your stress, and avoid the vast majority of problems that haunt the dreams of finance officers everywhere. 

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