We recently did a check in with a client that we hadn’t worked with in a while to see if they wanted to do any updates, enhancements, or maintenance.

We built a custom FileMaker solution for this commercial printing company to replace their paper job tickets and manual production lists for scheduling. In the past, the Production Manager had to go through at least 12 piles of tickets in various offices and production stations just to get a count of jobs. Now they know exactly how many jobs they have at any point in time, their status, and they can search for past jobs without manually digging through file cabinets.

The Production Manager told me that there were a few enhancements that he and the Customer Service Reps would like to see, however… the owner said, “Everything is working great, so I don’t see any reason to pour more money into this.” Sad trombone!

It’s great to hear that the solution was built so well that it has been running for over a year with zero maintenance. On the other hand, “no change” is a dangerous mindset when it comes to technology, and it is bound to cause headaches down the road. Here we’ll explore some reasons why you should have a plan for software and hardware updates and maintenance.

Keeping up with the Joneses…
There are several good reasons to stay current with your FileMaker solution, WordPress site, and Macintosh hardware/OS in a planned way. Updates are a fact of life and are very important to maintain security of your systems and avoid possible cybersecurity attacks that could interrupt or ruin your business.

In addition, if you don’t maintain both your hardware and software, there will come a point when software incompatibilities will render your system unusable. If several software versions are behind, one required upgrade can set off a domino effect of unexpected upgrade costs. Having a regular budget for hardware and software upgrades can even out your expenses and avoid big surprises.

A great analogy applicable here is with your car. You can choose to avoid doing regular maintenance like oil changes and checkups, but you can expect a breakdown and large cost at some point down the road. Your car may be running great today, but it’s likely to seize up and die if you don’t take care of it. Just like it’s smarter to make regular small and predictable investments in the health of your car, you should also do so with your technology. You also want an expert in the field with lots of experience doing the work, so it will be done right and efficiently. Taking your car into a beauty shop for an oil change won’t work because the stylist doesn’t know cars…and besides there’s no place to park it.

Here we show a chart that explains graphically the cost of your solution over time comparing regular planned maintenance vs. unplanned forced updates.Maintenance Costs Over Time Chart

Most operating systems and software are moving to faster upgrade cycles. Apple has gone to a pretty regular annual schedule for updates to macOS X. FileMaker and WordPress now have yearly or faster upgrade cycles as well. With most updates to an operating system, there is updated list of hardware requirements as well. That means that as your hardware gets older, the less likely it will be able to run the latest OS. Your hardware, OS, and software all have to stay compatible with each other, and with other computers and peripherals on your network. If one piece falls behind, it can hold up other upgrades.

Failure to upgrade and maintain your hardware and software regularly builds up “technical debt”.  Technical debt is a concept in software development that reflects the implied cost of additional rework caused by choosing an easy solution now instead of using a better approach that would take longer or require additional investment.

Not so fast…
The other end of the spectrum can be just as dangerous. Just because there is a new update available, doesn’t mean that you should install it right away. You need to make sure that your hardware/OS/software trifecta stays compatible. So when is the right time? It depends. As a general rule, minor “point” updates can be installed fairly quickly. Those are usually bug fixes and security updates.

You can watch the internet, our blog, or news from your software vendors and install point releases after a few days. For major version upgrades, unless there is a specific feature or reason to upgrade, give it more time. These are bigger changes and there is a bigger chance of breaking compatibility. Make sure that any hardware or software that is critical to your daily business operations is compatible before you click that install button. For major Apple OS upgrades, we will usually have a post about it. As a general rule, you don’t want your OS to be the newest piece of the hardware/OS/software trifecta, as that will have the biggest chance of incompatibility. When it doubt, drop us a line.

Need more speed!
Is it time for new hardware? A trusty server can sit in a rack or closet, dutifully doing its work, without complaining for many years. People often don’t realize than an existing system is slow because “that’s just how long it always takes.” You’ve probably heard of Moore’s Law that says computer processors get twice as fast every 2 years. How much of that speed is tangible can be debated, but progress marches on. If your server is 3-5+ years old, you will probably see a measurable improvement with an upgrade. Driving it until the wheels fall off means that you will be caught off-guard and forced to upgrade. And will that new hardware and accompanying OS be compatible with your existing software? Planned upgrades are always a better alternative.

And what about the software? That can provide some speed increases as well. The software can be written to take better advantage of the hardware, like tapping into the graphics card (GPU) for some extra processing power. FileMaker usually has a few tricks up its sleeve as well, like Perform Script on Server (PSoS) that was introduced with version 13. For some receptive tasks, having the server do them can increase the speed up to 300x! If you have a report that you run every day and it goes from taking half an hour to a handful of seconds, would that be worth a couple hours of development to implement? Our clients think so.

And you know what else? Your developer has gotten faster and better in the last couple of years as well. Our team is constantly learning. We attend conferences, read many blog articles with new techniques, and take tests to measure our knowledge. We are working on solutions in dozens of industries for many clients, so we constantly face new challenges and develop brilliant solutions.

General enhancements
There are also reasons that you may want to also seek additional enhancements to you system, beyond just getting up to the current version. With most systems, there is always an ongoing list of to-dos. Challenge those that use the solution every day to take note of tasks that could be improved or repetitive tasks that take some time. Some things are very easy fixes that can remove points of friction with your software and make processes more efficient. Anything that is “get a cup of coffee” worthy is a good candidate for optimization. They’ll just have to find another time to freshen their cup. Have you ever been told (or just assumed) that FileMaker can’t do a certain task? That may have been true with past versions or techniques, but there’s a good chance that it can now.

Just like everyone else in the software industry, when FileMaker or WordPress releases updates, they are adding or fixing features and also patching security holes. Even if your system is closed to the outside network behind your firewall, it is still a good idea to stay on top of these things. And if your system is accessed from outside your network, then staying up with security updates and best practices is a must.

Next steps
Here is a summary of some of the ongoing solution costs and maintenance that you should plan for in your annual technology budget:

  • Fixes due to the internet, software, and testing not being 100% reliable.
  • Required security patches and updates for servers and clients.
  • New versions and enhancements available with FileMaker and WordPress.
  • System software like Windows, MacOS, and network updates.
  • Plugins and integration application updates.
  • Enhancements to support new business processes and requirements.
  • Documentation and training…for new employees, etc.
  • Optimize the solution for speed and increased reliability as needs grow.

Interested in moving forward, but unsure of the next steps? If you are not an existing client, the first step is to get a contract and confidentiality agreement signed to protect your proprietary data and trade secrets (and ours). Depending on the project/client, we either charge hourly or can do a fixed bid for work. We provide a free 1-hour consultation to discuss your technology needs. Be ready with everything from basic requirements (minimum viable product to get you started) to wish list items. For small projects, we can give a ballpark estimate of what it will take. For larger projects, just like a new building or major remodel, we start by making a blueprint.

“You can use an eraser on the drafting table or a sledge hammer on the construction site.” — Frank Lloyd Wright

As part of the blueprint discovery process, we’ll interview all of the stakeholders, from the owner on down….everyone who will touch the system. We will ask for samples of documents used in current paper processes, spreadsheets, screen shots of current workflow, etc. The more we get to know your business, the better solution we can make. Let us know when you are ready.

Tim Cimbura – CEO and Software Engineer

Tim is an expert in creating custom business solutions that make businesses more effective, productive, and profitable. He specializes in rapid application development with FileMaker (certified in all versions) for macOS, Windows, iPad/iPhone and web app integration with WordPress. He also knows Apple technology inside and out.