The risks of using outdated software

It’s not unusual for software companies to reduce or even remove support for their legacy ERP systems or other outdated software.

For each older version of IFS, for example, the support only lasts for a certain period. (Standard support ran out for IFS Apps 7.5 in July 2014 and that version is now in restricted support.)

We talked to our Head of Service Delivery, David Caldicott, about the issues you might encounter if you stay on a legacy system, and we ask him: is now the right time to upgrade to IFS Cloud?

Why does support often run out for older versions of software?

“It depends on the software company,” says David. “But it’s often the case that if you get more than two versions behind, the provider will say you’re out of support.

“But ‘out of support’ isn’t an all-encompassing term. It can mean different things for different software, and there might be different levels.

“For example, out of support might mean the software company supports a product with faults, but it won’t apply any more bug fixes to that software, because it’s focused on the newer versions. Or it could mean the company won’t provide any break or bug fixes because it’s uneconomical for them, but that might be for versions that are three or four behind the latest one.”

Does software become less reliable as it ages?

“There’s a lovely term called ‘software rot’,” says David. “That means the older a version is, the less reliable it becomes.”

One cause of this are the log files that sit in the background of a system and keep growing and growing.

“These files might go unaddressed for months and years,” explains David. “They continue to grow because you’re not upgrading your version, so you’re not being prompted to look at them. And if they grow too big, they can slow your entire system down.

“Think of it as a book without an index. You’re basically looking through every page to try to get the information you want, instead of looking at the index.”

One way to tackle software rot is to upgrade your software.

“We use the term housekeeping in IT because that’s exactly what it is,” says David. “It’s about keeping your files, tables and applications tidy. By upgrading, you’ll be addressing some of the issues. Plus, you’ll be encouraged to look at the stuff in the background, too.”

What are the potential security issues for legacy systems?

“Security is probably the number one risk,” says David. “It’s an issue that is becoming more and more critical for every business because of the consequences if something goes wrong.”

Ideally, a software version’s security should be consistently improved through its lifecycle and potential vulnerabilities kept under constant review.

“This is especially the case for a cloud solution like IFS Cloud,” says David. “Because IFS is an ERP, it will touch so many different parts of your business, including critical areas like finance and HR. So, it’s crucial those vulnerability patches are updated.

“You’ve got almost two levels. Firstly, your upgrade versions, which are your big upgrades. And secondly, your updates, which might happen more frequently, such as once a month.

“With smartphones, for example, you might have a big new Android release like ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’, while a big update release for iOS might be update 15. But between 15 and 16, you might have little releases like 15.1, and these smaller updates are equally critical because they could contain security patches.”

Every big company “worth its salt” had probably experienced a major security issue at some point, says David.

“Facebook, banks, ISPs, the massive tech companies like Google – everyone has had them,” he continues. “That’s why upgrades and updates – and keeping the latest version of software – are so important, because they patch a lot of the vulnerabilities. You could do that through the small updates over time, but the version upgrades are all-encompassing; they’ll patch everything.”

What about IFS functionality, customisations, and bug fixes?

There are two separate parts to IFS: functionality and customisations.

“The functionality comes ‘out of the box’,” says David, “while the customisations (known as CRIMs, or customisations, reports, integrations and modifications) are the adaptations to the basic software.”

A CRIM, for example, could be applied to the purchase order functionality in IFS to give you the format you need. But if the basic function of the purchase ledger/purchase order part of the IFS system doesn’t work because it has a glitch, the bug fix in the upgrade version would solve that.

“That’s why you’d want to apply bug fixes in upgrades,” says David, “to fix the base functionality that comes out of the box.”

What is software obsolescence?

If your existing functionality isn’t in line with the latest regulations, it’s obsolete.

“Think about ERP software dealing with an HR tool and a finance tool,” explains David. “The functionality is designed around certain regulations, such as government or financial. But if those regulations change, the basic out-of-the-box functionality within IFS would need to be adapted to reflect those changes.”

Is incompatibility an issue for older versions of IFS and other software?

David says: “There’s no such thing as completely stand-alone software. All software is reliant on interfacing with something, whether a database or the servers it sits on. Or it could be you have different pieces of software that need to talk to each other.

“Over time, if you’re on an older version, anything that communicates with it could potentially stop doing so because of concerns about security vulnerabilities on the older system.

“If, for instance, you’ve upgraded your Microsoft Power BI reporting tool to the latest version, it might not accept IFS if you’re still on an older version of IFS that has security vulnerabilities.”

“Or it could simply be that the software you want to connect to was developed against a more recent version of IFS than the one you’re on, so they can’t talk to each other.”

Is now the right time to upgrade to IFS Cloud?

Released in March 2021, IFS Cloud is a single platform that delivers solutions across service management, enterprise resource planning and enterprise asset management.

David says: “It’s better to upgrade to Cloud now than a year ago. You very rarely want to be the first person through the breach. Because with any new version of software, you’ll end up with a series of bugs and things you weren’t expecting.

“IFS Cloud has been around for about 18 months, and a lot of those bugs and kinks have been worked out, so it’s a good time to move. Having that slightly later version of Cloud is beneficial because you’re not an early adopter.”

How can Change8 help businesses upgrade to IFS Cloud?

Change8 already has experience of IFS Cloud thanks to the team completing the UK’s first IFS Cloud implementation. The project was delivered for a leading manufacturer and supplier of industrial parts that went live with the new software in early June 2022.

“We learned a lot through that,” says David, “such as how you package the software up and develop it, and what the constraints are.

“When we work with our clients, we don’t just think about support and fixing something when it’s broken, or deploying a change or developing a new CRIM. We also think about the other support that’s needed.

“So, as well as the programme delivery and service transition, we offer continuous improvement, ongoing support, maximising of the benefits, and ‘shift left’. Shift left is about passing on our knowledge to our clients to make them more self-sufficient. We think of ourselves as a partner, not a service provider.”

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