In April, 2014, Microsoft released this statement with the news that they would be discontinuing extended support for their 12-year-old landmark operating system, Windows XP:

 

“Of course Windows XP will not stop working on this date but it will effectively be rotting from the inside out. You won’t be getting security updates, service packs, patches and will most likely have more support issues by continuing to run an OS that is not supported.”

 

The ubiquitous system — which had sold more than a billion copies since its unveiling at the beginning of the century — would no longer receive monthly update releases, which had been the primary bulkhead against security breaches. Machines still running the system after April 8th would do so at their own peril, exposing themselves to massive security holes and leaving themselves vulnerable to perpetual attacks.

 

The April 8 deadline came and went, but a full fiscal quarter later, nearly 20 percent of small and mid-sized businesses still run their machines on Windows XP — an operating system that was abandoned by its own creator.

 

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But it’s not just small and medium-sized businesses — which may not be able to afford an upgrade — that are clinging to a dangerously outdated OS. A little enterprise called the United States Navy is dishing out millions to stick with XP for the next few years.

 

No matter how hard they try, Microsoft just can’t seem to shake XP users off of their beloved OS.

 

But XP has been outdated for a long time. Windows released Vista in 2007, Windows 7 in 2009 and Windows 8 and 8.1 in 2012 and 2013, respectively. So when they have the money, and the technology is there, why are businesses so painfully hesitant to upgrade and modernize their operating systems?

 

Likely for the same reasons that they’re hesitant to change any of the technologies that got them to where they are in the first place …

 

… Like Kodak did when they ignored the onslaught of digital cameras. Like Blockbuster did when they ignored the rise of streaming video — both until it was far too late.

 

Resistance to Change is a Natural Part of Business

It has been theorized that businesses stonewall technological evolution largely for five reasons:

  • Fear that a change in corporate culture, which unifies the entire business in a binding philosophy, could throw off the business’s equilibrium.
  • Business structure is rigid. The people and departments within any enterprise are used to doing things a certain way, and structure breeds a kind of tunnel vision that fosters the idea that the way they’ve been doing things is the only way to do things.
  • Businesses invest a great deal of money into technology, and decision makers feel that they may not be getting their money’s worth if they uproot a system in which money has already been invested.
  • Change may disrupt current contacts or relationships with current clients or customers.
  • Influential employees may have entrenched interests (IT pros who may be comfortable working only with XP, for example) and resist change — even at the expense of negative consequences for the business as a whole.

 

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There may, however, be one overriding concept behind resistance to change that trumps all of the five elements of the previously stated “established” logic: Change could make things worse. For the greatest example of this psychology playing out in modern history, we only have to go back — once again — to a Windows operating system.

 

The release of Vista in 2007 was an unmitigated disaster. The much-anticipated OS got off to a bad start by arriving dreadfully late. There were way too many versions and it cost too much. Right away it became clear that many hardware devices and software applications were not Vista compatible. There were licensing issues, security issues, driver support issues, privacy concerns and problems with data centers.

 

The reception was so bad that Microsoft decided to continue XP, which Vista was designed to replace.

 

For the businesses that ignored the “upgrade” and stuck with the familiar XP, the collective reaction was, “Whew!” In this case, the old way of doing things was the better way of doing things, and the neophobes took this as confirmation of the validity of their philosophy.

Business Technology

Nowhere is corporate resistance to new technology more dangerous than it is in the arena of unified communications (UC).

 

UC is totally reliant upon a business’s investment in new technologies — and a new way of communicating. There is credible speculation that UC is poised to replace the backbone of all corporate communication over the last 20 years — email.

 

This is a peculiar irony, considering the first attempt at UC in the 1980s was the incorporation of a primitive email reader into another device, but that’s not the point. Imagine walking into your job — or any workplace, for that matter — and announcing that starting tomorrow, the office would no longer be using email. The reaction would be like a bombing performer getting booed and heckled off stage by an angry audience at Amateur Night at the Apollo.

 

But that knee-jerk resistance would be the wrong reaction.

 

UC is revolutionizing business communications, and it makes sense that eventually, a new UC innovation will to email what voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) did to the landline or what Skype did to teleconferencing.

 

The era of UC is all but certain to contain its own Kodaks and Blockbusters — companies that had all the money, all the resources, all the connections and all the motivation to embrace the coming tidal wave of technology, but didn’t because that’s not the way they were doing things the day before. In the coming era of UC, only the companies with the capacity to change will be the companies with the capacity to survive and grow.