Every year, the Briggs Corp., a healthcare product and service provider based in West Des Moines, Iowa, undergoes a couple of dozen significant technology upgrades.
It can be a chore for an IT staff of 13. Some transitions, however, are easier than others. When Briggs upgraded its hosted CRM system from RightNow 7.0 to 7.5, it became the 3,000th upgrade under the Bozeman, Mont., vendor's Upgrade-On-Demand feature. Upgrade-On-Demand allows users to test out key functionalities, and switch on the upgrade on their own schedule.
"From my standpoint this is one of the main reasons we're going hosted," said Doug Dostal, vice president of IT and eProduct development at Briggs.
Easy upgrading is one way RightNow is trying to differentiate itself from hosted CRM competitor Salesforce.com.
Similarly, Boston-based Salesnet Inc. this month unveiled its Salesnet25.com Web site. Each week, the site provides a preview of several new features that will be made available in its 25th anniversary edition, scheduled for a winter release. The release will include more than 250 features extending Salesnet's campaign management, lead management, product catalogs and order management.
Yet upgrades, particularly with hosted systems, shouldn't require too much hand holding, according to Denis Pombriant, managing principal with Stoughton, Mass.-based Beagle Research Group.
"If it's done right, there really shouldn't be any difficulty," Pombriant said. "There are a number of companies out there that give customers the flexibility to upgrade more or less at their convenience. That focus has more to do with accepting and using new functionality than just scheduling an upgrade."
For example, some businesses closing in on the end of a quarter might want to hold off on adding any new functionality because it could confuse the salesforce, Pombriant noted.
According to Dostal, RightNow alerts staff at Briggs when an upgrade will take place and what systems are available. The Briggs team then notifies the relevant business managers that they need to test out key functionality areas and RightNow also provides a document identifying some of the areas that should be tested. The method has helped to shift the IT group's focus from the technical issues to the processes needed for a smooth transition. As a result, the business users understand that the IT group isn't necessarily to blame if things go wrong and they are mentally prepared for an impending upgrade.
"It's much less effort for us," Dostal said. "Now, it got a lot more attention when we said someone else is throwing the switch."