Unfortunately, we sometimes get a desperate call from a label software user. Something catastrophic occurred to their labeling system. Perhaps a license server is down or a PC has died. The client cannot print labels and they need to get things running ASAP! We are glad to assist so when we get that call, we go into action. The first question we ask is: 'What version are you running?' If the answer is a version not currently supported by the software company, the client might have a rough road ahead of them. We might have an "Emergency Upgrade" on our hands. The situation can be painful for the client and it is avoidable.
What is an Emergency Upgrade?
The Emergency Upgrade happens when a client's labeling system is down and the software developer won't help because the client is running an unsupported version. Thus the client MUST upgrade before they will get any help. It sounds like mean thing to do but here is a good reason for this.
Software developers are constantly updating their software coding. They must adapt it to changes in operating systems, new printing hardware, etc. They also often add new features. Additionally, with industrial labeling software, they must remain compliant with international standards such as those mandated by GS1 and other similar standards bodies. Once the coding is updated, it must then go through extensive testing before a formal release.
It is an expensive and time consuming process. Thus to keep costs low, they limit changes to ONLY supported versions. Once a new version is released, the software company will announce an 'end-of-life' date (usually about one year). After that date, no more changes to the software! Since it is likely the problem has been fixed in a later edition, the software company will often not even attempt to help fix the problem until the software has been updated to a current version.
Why is it so Painful?
If the client was not on a software maintenance agreement, the software developer will typically require the client to pay for an upgraded license. More and more, labeling software companies are not offering discounted upgrades and just requiring the user of the non-supported software to repurchase the license at FULL cost. Ouch!
Believe it or not, that is not the painful part.
The painful part is that once the client has purchased the new software license key, installed the new version, activated it with the purchased activation key, they must then open EACH label template and verify it survived the version upgrade. For an upgrade to the next version, the label file typically survives intact. However, when skipping versions, expect to see problems that must be corrected. This can include:
- Changes in the font type and size
- Shifting of label elements (text, images, barcodes, etc.)
- Database connection issues
- Formulas created by the user within the label fail
- Other stuff we cannot predict
- Complete failure to open it requiring the label be recreated from the ground up
When the client has hundreds or even thousands of labels, the process of updating the label, visually checking it, printing it, checking the printed label, and then saving can take days or even weeks. If we are talking about a validated system (often required for industries heavily regulated by the FDA), the new system may need to undergo validation as well.
What happens to sales while products, cases, and pallets start accumulating on the production floor? Without labels, they cannot be shipped. Even once the client has reinstalled, re-licensed, rechecked, and re-validated the labeling system, all that accumulated product must still be labeled before it can be shipped. If you can't ship the product, you typically cannot invoice the client. No invoicing means no sales. If the product is perishable, some of that product many need to be thrown away.
There is the pain! 🙁
How to Avoid an Emergency Upgrade
The solution to the Emergency Upgrade is simply not to let your software (or hardware) pass the end-of-life date and thus become unsupported. In companies where there is high volume of labels printed and the labels are critical to the operation, keeping the software up-to-date is an absolute must!
When the software company announces a new version release, you should IMMEDIATELY look for the end-of-life date on your current version. That is now your deadline. Start the planning process for the upgrade. Ask your integrator for assistance. Often this is an opportune time to upgrade the computer operating systems, computer hardware, and even possibly the printers too. Before you are under the gun, create your upgrade plan and then execute it.
The Emergency Upgrade Trap is avoidable. It takes some planning and you need to pay attention to the end-of-life dates. However, the time and effort is well worth it to avoid the cost and stress of doing the upgrade while your labeling system (and possibly production) is down.