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Software Standardisation

By Paul Ticher

It makes good sense to standardise the software that is used within an organisation. This article explains why, and provides some pointers to help you decide.

Why standardise?

Standardising software use in your organisation means, for example, that you decide which version of a word processing application you will use, and have this software set up in an identical - or very similar way - on all machines.

The main benefits of standardising software use in your organisation include:

  • Knowledgeable staff can help each other more easily if they are working on the same packages. It becomes worthwhile to train in-house "experts" to a level where they can help others, without the expense of bringing in people from outside all the time.
  • Staff who move from one part of the organisation to another, permanently or temporarily, do not have to be retrained.
  • Training courses can be uniform across the organisation (and therefore cheaper and/or more frequent).
  • It is easier to support, maintain and upgrade software if it is limited to a set number of packages.
  • Information can more easily be exchanged between users of different computers.
  • Standard procedures can be adopted throughout the organisation.
  • Model documents, etc., can be developed for use throughout the organisation.
  • If you standardise on software which is widely used in the outside world, it will make sharing information easier and reduce training needs of new staff. Many organisations have standardised on Microsoft Office for this reason. However there are other options including the free Open Source OpenOffice.org Suite.

Making a decision

No standard will last for ever, given the pace of change in the IT world. New versions of software are frequently released, which may well offer significant advantages.

So do you continually chase change, buying a new version every time it comes out? Or do you dismiss it all as unnecessary novelty and continue to use your trusted old programs long after everyone else has moved on?

The answer obviously lies somewhere between the two. Apart from the cost and effort of continual upgrades, it isn't often sensible to be on the cutting edge. Better to let someone else find the faults in a new release of software.

A good policy is to wait until a version of software is well-established and widely used, with many of the bugs found and dealt with, before you standardise on it.

On the other hand, there are real problems in relying on very old software. It will be difficult to get support, training may be impossible to find, and the new software may offer genuine improvements which will be of benefit to you.

You should review your decision on standards about every two years. At this point do be open minded and find out what improvements are available, but only implement them if they bring real advantages.

Bear in mind all the costs - particularly staff training costs - involved in the upgrade.If you have a mixture of older and newer machines, complete standardisation is likely to be impossible. You may have very good reasons for wanting to use a new piece of software, but can't run it on all your machines.

You won't want to forgo the advantages of the new software, just because you can't run it on your slower, older equipment. So you may want to consider adopting the new software as your new standard, running alongside your existing standard for a while. This can be viable if you think it through carefully, and plan to phase out the older equipment before it starts to hold you back too much.

Example

Agency C is quite happily using Microsoft Word 97 as its word processor on machines which are over five years old and which run Windows 98. When they get a new worker, with funding for an additional computer, they have little choice but to buy one that comes with Windows XP.

This means that they can buy and run Word 2021 instead of Word 97 on the new machine. They decide that this will work, because Word 2021 can read files created in earlier versions of Word. Converting documents the other way can also be done, but is less convenient.

It is not worth upgrading the older machines to run Windows XP and Word 2021 at this stage. However, it now becomes an urgent priority to replace the one ancient computer which is still running Word 6.0, as the agency cannot manage to support three different word processing packages all in use at the same time.

Agency C will also need to consider upgrading the older machines or replacing them so they can run Windows XP, since Microsoft has withdrawn support for Windows 98, and in order to take advantage the benefits of new software that may not run on Windows 98.


About the author

Paul Ticher
Paul is an independent specialist. Drawing on 25 years' experience of Data Protection in the voluntary sector he can deliver training, carry out audits, help to write policies and procedures, or give guidance on specific problems or questions. He can be contacted via www.paulticher.com/ or 0116 273 8191.

Glossary

Processor, Software

Published: 1st April 2021 Reviewed: 28th May 2021

Copyright © 2021 Paul Ticher

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