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TL v63n3: David Ratledge
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David Ratledge 


Knowing When to Upgrade

David Ratledge

There always comes a time when hardware and software must be upgraded. At first glance knowing when to upgrade seems like it would be an easy decision, but that is often not the case. For example, consider a couple of common but wrong reasons for upgrading. One is based on the idea that newer means better. In reality “newer” only means “different.” It could be better, it could be about the same but different, or it could be worse. The other common but wrong reason for upgrading is for the sake of “keeping up with the Joneses.” While it is natural to want to do that, knowing when to upgrade software and hardware should be as pragmatic a decision as possible.

An important and right reason to upgrade is to ensure needed functionality and compatibility. Software and hardware need to be able to perform certain functions in certain (and consistent) ways for all members of an organization and beyond. This is the primary justification for upgrading software and hardware, and after the fact the easiest to tell if the upgrade accomplished its goals or not.

Another very good reason to upgrade is financial. As hardware gets older it wears out and begins to fail. Repair costs and the disruption and costs of down time can become a significant burden. Warranties only last for so long and if after-warranty service plans are available they still cost money just like repairs, although they can make costs more predictable.

Upgrades can also bring efficiencies to how an organization operates. A software or hardware upgrade can help work get done faster, more accurately, and perhaps even more creatively.

The following questions, if answered as honestly and in as much detail as possible, will practically ensure always knowing when to upgrade:

  • Does the upgrade add needed functionality or significantly improve how current functions are performed?
  • Will it cost or save money in the long-term and how much?
  • Do the benefits derived from upgrading justify the time, cost, and disruption caused by the process of performing the upgrade?

Essentially it comes down to whether or not a piece of software or hardware is still doing the job required of it in the best possible way. Replace it too soon and miss out on fully realizing the benefits of the investment. Replace it too late and miss out on enjoying the benefits an upgrade would have already been providing. Timing is everything.




David Ratledge is Associate Professor and Head of Systems at The University of Tennessee Libraries, Knoxville. He can be reached at 




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