The hidden dangers of technology upgrades

Consider this scenario: your IT department spends the weekend upgrading all of the desktops to a new version of MS Office. The past few weeks were spent training all of your staff on the changes and new features that come with the new version. Monday morning the staff arrives ready to face the challenges of the new week. Suddenly your help desk is swamped with calls from employees in the finance and operations departments because none of the business-critical documents and spreadsheets so vital to the company are working properly. What went wrong?Upgrading to a new version of MS Office can be a complicated and daunting process for large companies. Identifying all of the potential risks and creating proper plans and procedures to address each of those risks is vital to making the upgrade a success for both your employees and your business.The documents and spreadsheets that are most important to your business are seldom simple, standalone files. Excel files, and Word documents to a lesser extent, often contain complex macros making them more like an application than a simple file.For example, suppose you have an Excel spreadsheet containing a single macro that creates a chart using a custom chart type from data entered on the spreadsheet. Using an earlier version of Excel, this function has worked fine for years and the spreadsheet has been shared with many users and departments in your company.After Office 2007 or 2010 is deployed, the macro instead gives an error message.Now you may face many questions. How many people in your company are using a copy of this spreadsheet? How many users are now unable to do their jobs? Can your IT staff handle all of the calls this one simple line of code will generate? How much will it cost, between lost productivity and developer time, to fix this one line of code in each of these files?Potential risksAnother significant risk is the files that contain links to other MS Office files.When upgrading from Office 2003, for example, to Office 2007 or 2010, the format and naming convention used for files has changed. The extension used for Office 2007 and 2010 files is now used to identify whether or not a file contains macros. An Excel 2003 file with an extension of “.xls” will be changed to “.xlsx” if the file does not contain a macro and to “.xlsm” if it does.This subtle change can have a major impact on files that contain links. Each link (and files often contain many links) will no longer work because the name of the target file has effectively been changed by changing the file extension. Users may have to spend time updating each link in all of their documents or may be working with older versions of data, which is a real cost to an organization that probably wasn’t budgeted.In addition to interacting with other MS Office files, many external applications are integrated with MS Office.Your IT department should be aware of the major applications used in your company, but do they know about all of the custom add-ins that have been downloaded by various users? Who is responsible for verifying whether all of the add-ins are compatible with the new version of Office? What will be the impact if they’re not?Information that is timely and accurate is vital to every business. Upgrading the applications that create and maintain that information is a project that, if not properly planned and managed, can have a major impact on both employee performance and the overall cost of the upgrade.The first step in planning such an important project is taking the time to properly identify all of the aspects of your company that can be affected by a seemingly simple deployment of upgraded software that everyone uses every day.Chip Bates is director of product development at ConverterTechnology, a Nashua-based firm that assists enterprises in data migration, and a wholly-owned subsidiary of Powerlan Limited.