10 Best Practices for Managing Software Updates and Upgrades

When I was working on the ISO-19770-3 Entitlement Tag – we must have spent at least 8 months just discussing software updates, upgrades, patches, rights to upgrades, downgrades, the process of upgrading, tracking versions and all the issues with version compliance tracking.

These meetings were with software vendors, SAM tool practitioners, audit vendors, and SAM practitioners (in very large enterprises). In addition, I’ve participated in some of the largest software upgrade programs for Adobe, Autodesk and Microsoft.

From those experiences, I’ve identified some best practices for managing software updates and upgrades. In Part 1 I will share the first five best practices and will follow-up with Part 2 where I will share the five remaining best practices.

  1. Clearly differentiate update vs. upgrade processes
    Updates should be much easier for the user to receive – consider a PUSH software update process with central IT control for the enterprise.

    • Consider differentiating your updates:
      — Security updates should be free/available to all customers, regardless of whether they are on maintenance or not
      — Consider making bug fixes/small enhancements updates only available to customers that are on active maintenance—this practice is starting to become more and more common albeit not the norm yet
  2. Make the fulfillment process for paid upgrades and on-maintenance upgrades the same
    Vendors who provide both paid upgrades and maintenance upgrades should provide the same user experience for fulfillment regardless of method of purchase.  Typically this is:

    • User gets a notification that upgrade is available (either because they purchased it or because they are on maintenance)
    • User goes to a web site to download the newest release
    • User gets new licenses for the new releaseBy being consistent, the customers, the channels, and the support experience is enhanced. Vendors gain “easy to do business with” kudos.
  3. Make the software upgrade process a PULL process, not a PUSH process
    Customers should be able to get their upgrade when they are ready – not when the upgrade is made available.One of my favorite “upgrade no-no” stories is when Livermore Labs called up a certain vendor because they had just received 30 PALLETS of a new version of the software and they were running out of dock space.
  4. Make upgrades available electronically (default) with an optional physical delivery (for some countries with lack of connectivity)
    Most customers prefer electronic software delivery over waiting to receive DVDs, inventorying them, etc. If the upgrades are very large (>4 gigs) then vendors should consider:

    • Electronic delivery optimizations through Content Delivery Networks (CDNs)
    • Breaking the delivery into required and optional items (i.e.  documentation, example content, language packs could be separate downloads)
  5. Provide customers a website where customers can find their maintenance coverage for all their products
    Providing access to license entitlements is not enough anymore – customers must be able to view maintenance coverage for those licenses

Stay tuned for Part 2 where I will discuss the five remaining software update and upgrade best practices. In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about defining a world-class software update process, check out this White Paper: Software Updates and the Customer Relationship: Eight Issues That Impact Retention, Profit and Your Ability to Compete

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