How Often Should You Upgrade Your PC Software at Work?

Running outdated software can lead to security breaches. That fact alone is a strong argument for keeping your software up-to-date but there are other benefits to doing so as well.

It’s not a completely one-sided debate, however. Upgrading your must-have business software can present some challenges as well.

How often should you upgrade your PC software? Let’s look at what you need to consider.

Not All Software is Created Equal

Small business computer software comes covers a lot of categories, including:

  • Operating systems
  • Office applications
  • Specialized industry-related software
  • Cloud-based applications

Different types of software get upgraded on different schedules. Your operating system, for example, should be up-to-date to be sure you have the latest security patches in place. At least, you need to stay current with the latest patches for the version you’re using.

When a completely new version of the operating system (OS) gets released, such as the move from Windows 8 to Windows 10, it’s not a good idea to upgrade immediately. New versions of the OS sometimes have bugs that get missed during testing and other software your business uses may need upgrades to be compatible with the new version. Those upgrades aren’t always available immediately.

Cloud-based applications that you access through the internet get upgraded on a regular basis so your software is up to date every time you use it. Occasionally a completely new version is offered alongside the existing one for a while until all users are able to move to the newer one. This allows for testing and training while you continue using what you’re familiar with.

The Cost of Upgrading (and Not Upgrading)

You’ll have to pay for the new version when you upgrade your business software but that’s not the only cost. There are other less obvious costs associated with upgrading.

Getting your staff trained on the new version will have a cost, whether it’s formal training or a loss of productivity while they learn the new version on their own.

Not upgrading your software can lead to costs as well, mind you. If you are running an older version of an application that your employees also use in their personal lives, they may be less efficient on the old version because it doesn’t work the same as the one they use at home.

Once software reaches a certain age, the manufacturer likely won’t support it any longer. They may not update it to patch any security flaws or you might have to pay for continued legacy support. From the manufacturer’s perspective, software maintainability becomes more and more impractical as the software ages so the cost of supporting old software can often be higher than the cost to upgrade to a current version.

Portability of Your Company’s Data

You may be tempted to skip some new versions of the software you use in your business, upgrading every second or third release instead. This may be a cost-effective way to manage your software but be careful that you don’t run into data portability problems.

When you decide it’s time to update, you don’t want to have any problems moving your existing data into the new version. When new versions of the software get released, they often change the file formats to add new features. The new version will usually let you open the previous version’s files but if the versions are too far removed, this may not be the case.

You could find that you have to pay for more than one upgrade at once – one to the newest version and another to an interim version that can bridge your data from your old version to the new one.

Industry Standards May Be a Factor

If your business is in a highly-regulated industry, such as finance or healthcare, you may find yourself having to upgrade to stay compliant with the latest regulations. When there are new rules and regulations put in place, older versions of the software may not get updated to reflect them.

Running older versions in that situation could expose you to fines or other repercussions that may wind up costing more than the cost of new software.

Planning Ahead for Software Upgrades

Building the need for software upgrades into your business planning strategy is the best way to look at this issue. Don’t wait until you’re forced to upgrade, look at it on a regular basis so you can make the decision when it’s most manageable.

Some software, such as web-based software as a service (SaaS) products or even office suites like Microsoft Office have subscription plans. These plans give you a fixed monthly cost so it’s easier to budget around and as new versions get released, you’ll be able to upgrade without a high one-time cost.

If you have a large number of employees, a rolling upgrade cycle may seem like a more manageable way to budget the costs. For example, a three-year cycle with a third of the PCs getting upgraded each year avoids a large one-time cost. But keep in mind this means you’ll have some employees using different versions of the software than others.

Most software manufacturers publish their support plans for older versions when new ones get released. For example, Microsoft publishes a Windows lifecycle fact sheet that provides support end dates for the most recent several versions of Windows. You can use this information to make decisions about when you should upgrade to newer versions.

How Often Should You Upgrade Your PC Software?

As you can see, there’s no single answer to the question “How often should you upgrade your PC software?” The right time for your business may not be the same as another.

The important thing is to be aware of the need for upgrades, what benefits the upgrade will provide your business, and the costs involved in upgrading. Review your needs on a regular basis and have a strategic upgrade plan in place. Upgrading because you’re forced to will often lead to bad choices.

Check back regularly for more articles about running a small business.

Adam Hansen

Adam is a part time journalist, entrepreneur, investor and father.