Managing It: The upgrade you never want to do

Managing It: The upgrade you never want to do

Forrester Research will not stop until it has found a satisfied corporate Vista customer.

The analyst firm has published an informal follow up to an earlier study it conducted in May that showed limited adoption of Microsoft's latest operating system among big businesses. It's not that everyone was saying no, but 31 per cent were putting it off for a few months and another 53 per cent scheduling it sometime within the next two years. After checking in with 45 of those IT managers this month, however, most of them are now waiting for Service Pack 1, which won't come out until early 2008.

None of this is any surprise, even to Forrester analyst, Ben Gray, who wrote the report: "What we found is mostly in line with previous generations of the Windows OS: initial upgrade apathy, followed by acceptance, and eventually, action," he wrote. Given the number of patches it issued for products this month, in fact, it's a wonder anyone is planning a Vista upgrade at all.

The pattern Gray describes is the one established following the release of XP, and barring a killer application that depends upon a new platform or Y2K-level change management crisis, it's probably the kind of thing companies such as Microsoft should get used to. Oracle will soon be going through the same thing with its recently launched 11g database. Intel is already feeling it with its multi-core processors. There is an inevitability to these releases, and getting around to an upgrade is a necessity but one you only get around to reluctantly. And yet, one thing has changed since Windows XP, something that could have a significant impact on the deployment of Vista and a host of other technologies. This, of course, is the rise of the departmental manager in the IT decision-making process.

Although a few Microsoft ads have been aimed directly at line-of-business (LOB) professionals, these were mostly application marketing campaigns. It may take another generation of products before vendors realise how much those outside the IT department will be influencing (and maybe even getting in the way of) platform upgrades.

The Forrester report cited, for example, issues around interoperability between Vista and other enterprise applications. That's an irritation for IT managers, but especially so if you're the LOB user - let's say in marketing or sales - whose projects depend on those applications. An upgrade could not only derail their day-to-day productivity but a client relationship. Gray also cited a demand for better configuration management capabilities. Five years ago, desktop images would have seemed pretty arcane for anyone far beyond the CIO's office, but if a new OS causes any inconsistencies in the controls around how data is managed, stored or governed, that could get in the way of a compliance directive. In other words, the CFO may want to put the brakes on Vista, too.

IT managers may find themselves having to answer a whole new set of challenges to proposed upgrades (even once they want to go ahead with them) that have little to do with budgetary issues. Forrester suggests IT managers start planning for Vista now, but other enterprise departments might want to put it on their radar, too. As slow as the product's adoption may have been so far, the decision to move forward will mean dragging a lot of other stakeholders along for the ride.

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