Microsoft has updated its Office product again. New functionality, new features and a new look are all part of the “XP” package. No doubt it is going to be installed on new PCs across the market and the salesman will come knocking on your door, telling you to upgrade now and reap the benefits.

But are these benefits really worth the disruption to your business? And could a couple of computers with the new software damage your business in any way? What are the issues involved in planning to upgrade any software that you use?

When new software comes out, it usually adds features that customer feedback has suggested ought to be there and fixes any bugs that were present in the previous version. In theory, a new version should be bug-free and more productive. In reality, it often is a hit-and-miss affair. Yet we blindly follow the salesman's call and start loading new software on to our computers.

We start to use software that creates documents in a way that older versions cannot read. Open an older document created by someone else and it might save it in the new format, rendering it effectively unusable for anyone without the latest version. This is fine until someone comes to deal with an irate customer and they can't access the letters they wrote.

This might lead you down the train of thought that says you have to update every other computer as well. All it will cost you is a few copies of the software loaded on to the machines. What you may find, though, is that your existing machines are not powerful enough. You may have to upgrade their operating system or even the hardware. It could be that some of your older machines, although they still work perfectly, are obsolete and need to be replaced. What started as a few hundred pounds to buy some software can become a major project with significant cost implications.

There are hidden costs as well. You should test the upgrades before you put them in the office, and that takes time and money. It can also reveal small incompatibilities (such as needing to find a new driver for your printer), which again add to cost. You'll also find that productivity dips for a while as staff get used to the new software. During a quiet spell this shouldn't be a problem, but it can create considerable stress for both staff and customers during busy periods.

The bottom line is: upgrading software can have a significant impact on your business. Rather than blindly listening to the patter of the salesman, consider very carefully whether an upgrade is right for your business, and if it is, when it is most appropriate to implement it.

  • Ross Hall is founder of strategic consultancy Garol. A free fact sheet on the issues in Windows computing for brokers can be obtained by emailing