A preflight checklist for installing apps

Installing a new application? Use this checklist to keep your pilot on track and maintain end-user productivity.

Deploying a new desktop application in an enterprise is more complicated than just inserting a DVD and running setup. Usually, a lot is at stake, and you have to be reasonably sure that the new product will work with the existing desktop hardware and software.

To prevent a support nightmare, take the following steps before installing a new application.

1. Shop around
In most cases, there are several products that perform the same task. Therefore, even if you are relatively sure which application you want, shop around. You may find a competing app with a lower price tag, a set of features that better meet your needs or an easier user interface.

2. Identify the hardware and software requirements
After deciding on a product, you need to review the publisher's stated hardware and software requirements. Compare these requirements against your organization's IT inventory to ensure that your desktops can support the new application. And remember that some software publishers are notorious for understating hardware requirements.

3. Look for any compatibility or stability issues
The next step is to search the Internet and see the types of problems that customers have with the application. But just because you find complaints from others doesn't necessarily mean the application is bad -- I have yet to see an application that pleases everyone.

With that said, there are certain red flags to watch out for. If there are widespread reports on a serious bug that doesn't have a fix, then you may want to consider another application. Likewise, if almost no one says anything positive about the product, you may be happier with a competing product.

In most cases, you'll find a few problems reported, but no critical flaws. Note these issues so that you can be on the lookout for them during the testing phase.

4. Take a test drive
Instead of immediately buying the licenses required for the new application, download a free trial version first. This lets you take the application for a test drive before you purchase it. Most publishers offer trial versions of their software on their websites. If a free trial isn't publicly offered, you may be able to negotiate for one over the phone with the publisher, especially if you convince it that you're considering purchasing multiple licenses. If the publisher refuses a free trial, it may be hiding something, and you may want to consider a competing product.

5. Identify users for a pilot deployment
Choosing users for the pilot project is something of an art form: You need to choose a representative sample of users with varying skill levels and with varying desktop hardware. This will give you a good idea of how well users will acclimate to the new application and how well the application will perform on existing hardware. However, don't pick someone with a critical job function because you never know when the application may have a compatibility issue that could become disruptive.

6. Deploy the application to the chosen desktops
Although pilot deployments are often small in scale, use your desktop management software to deploy the application rather than install it manually. After all, if you decide to purchase the application, you will eventually have to deploy it on a large scale. Therefore, it is important to find out if it will have issues with your automated deployment methods.

7. Assess the pilot deployment
After the pilot deployment, measure the program's success. Talk to end users to get a sense of how well the application met their needs. Also, ask them about any problems they had with the application.

8. Determine if the application meets your needs
Review user feedback and decide if you want to purchase the software. If you choose not to buy, then you must uninstall any remnants of the trial version. If you do decide to purchase the software, then you need to ask the publisher if to the trial version must be uninstalled or if the full version can be installed on top of the trial version.

9. Train the support staff
The next step is training the help desk staff on the new application. The scope of this training will depend on the complexity of the software. Training could consist of anything from a 15-minute briefing to a weeklong, off-site class. If you think formal training is required, then include training costs in your software budget.

10. Purchase the necessary licenses
When you buy the application licenses, be sure to update your license-metering software so that it keeps track of how many licenses are being used.

11. Deploy the application
Now you're ready to install the new application. Afterwards, you may want to proactively spot-check with some power users to find out if there are any lingering problems.

A lot is at stake anytime that you adopt a new app, so proper planning and testing are critical. These steps should help you get started.

Brien M. Posey, MCSE, has received Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional Award four times for his work with Windows Server, IIS and Exchange Server. He has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and health care facilities and was once a network administrator for Fort Knox. You can visit his personal website at www.brienposey.com.

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