When a new OS version is available for your phone, do you upgrade immediately or coast on the old version as long as you can? I’m a bit of a tech geek so I upgrade without hesitation to improve security and protect me from attacks and help me gain access to the newest features and capabilities. On the flip side, things have sometimes gone haywire on my phone when I upgraded, leaving me stuck between reverting to the old version, or waiting for a new version release to fix what broke.  

While a mobile phone is an important part of my ability to do business, the upgrade scenario is exponentially simpler than what we see with software in large, complex networksIt’s more standalone than network and easier to work my way out of a bind if the upgrade causes issues. In short, the potential risks and impacts of mobile phone operating system upgrades are low, so it’s easier to decide whether to upgrade or not.  

However, network software is a different ball game.  Should organizations make it a practice to remain current to ensure they are always on the latest supported software versions that are right for them? After 20+ years at Cisco  leading teams that support customers, I argue that the answer is a resounding yes. 

Why Not Sit on My Assets? 

If you’re hesitant to perform network software upgrades, you likely have solid reasons behind your decision to delay. Cisco’s customer listening channels surface common customer themes about why they don’t consistently perform software upgrades: 

  • Network metrics showing positive results, systems are running smooth with nothing failing, and auditors are not causing a stir.
  • It takes time to upgrade network components and there are limited maintenance windows to perform upgrades.
  • Introducing network downtime is painful and disruptive.
  • Sometimes upgrades introduce issues into the network.
  • Sometimes new features require learning curves, staff training, or more operational overhead.
  • Sometimes software doesn’t perform as expected, or there appear to be quality issues.

Sound familiar? It’s clear that the levels of risk customers are willing to take with software upgrades is directly proportional to the number of users that will be impacted—whether positively or negatively 

These are all valid points, but all things considered, I believe it’s best to stay as current as you can with network software. That being said, CIO’s, IT leaders are responsible for balancing the new features, productivity, and performance with cost, risk, and ensuring business continuity. They must be protectors and oracles for the business, managing both sides of the benefit and risk scale. 

Assessing Organizational Risk Needs to Factor in Software  

There are many factors when it comes to network software upgrades, and no “one-size-fits-all” plan for every organizationBut, after working with hundreds of customers on planned and unplanned software upgrades and seeing first-hand the negative outcomes of riding on code that is end-of-life and end-of-support, I strongly believe organizations should maintain a continuous process to assess and understand continued risk.  Part of dealing with that risk is to deploy software that is right for them; code that is supported and up to date with the latest features and fixesHere’s why: 

  • Security I can’t stress this one enough. Upgrading network software introduces fixes to bugs and vulnerabilities. It helps a network protect against the latest threats. The longer a network goes without upgrades and attention, the longer the list of accumulated security exploits and the more vulnerable the network becomesUltimately, you’re at tremendous risk for a business-impacting cybersecurity attack if you don’t upgrade consistently. 
  • Better service. Cisco evolves its Customer Experience (CX) services support, tools, and processes to align to the latest software code to optimize customer networks.  We also consistently improve software serviceability elements—features and functionality to more efficiently monitor, troubleshoot, and fix issues. 
  • Increased functionality. This comes with new software so you can do standard things in more efficient ways and get faster time to value from your Cisco gear as a result. For example, new features are often designed to help customers reduce operational expenses by simplifying and automating network operations.  
  • Improved monitoring. Running the latest software enables Cisco to more readily help customers monitor licensing cycles and renewals, troubleshoot issues, and even proactively spot and fix potential issues.  
  • PreventionIt’s better to be proactive and upgrade on your terms, in a planned way. Customers that sit on assets and unsupported software versions too long are often forced to reactively upgrade network software as things age and break due to incompatibility. This often causes bigger overall disruption than proactively planning and upgrading software in the first place—and it ends up costing more money. 

For me, the benefits of maintaining current software outweigh the potential landmines, especially when you have trusted business partners like Cisco to help you through it.

We’re Working to Upgrade Your Entire Experience  

Cisco listens intently to what our customers tell us about their software experiences. We use your feedback to improve how we can help you plan, execute, install, and use our software so you achieve   business outcomes faster. Here are few examples where Cisco is making changes based on customer input:  

  • Improving our products to enable in-service software upgrades, or reduce time required to upgrade.
  • Making it easier to find software lifecycle management information and help you make the right choices about new software versions.
  • Introducing new upgrade documentation and providing automated scripts that evaluate upgrade readiness, perform upgrades for you, and even automate the “roll back” if there are any issues. Furthermore, we’re improving post-upgrade checks as needed to make sure software functions as expected.
  • Introducing new tools and apps to make it easier to get answers to upgrade questions and new services to minimize the operational impact of software upgrades.
  • Continuously improving our services to assist you with upgrades every step of the way.

Upgrades are a Team Sport – the CX Team is Here to Help 

Cisco’s CX team has a host of services to lower your upgrade risks, and more importantly, ensure you receive the full benefit of everything you introduce into your network. Cisco’s services can support you at any point along the software upgrade cycle, from planning, to assessing your readiness, all the way through to execution.  We’re here to help you learn so reach out to your account team or email us at customer-listening@cisco.com and we can help guide you to the right folks who can advise, guide, or even manage your network for you.  

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Curt Hill

Senior Vice President

Customer Assurance