Shutting the Windows (7)

By David R. Dremann Jr.

Jan. 14, 2020: While asserting that this date strikes fear into every financial institution is likely an overstatement, it’s certainly a deadline that is causing headaches for their IT departments. As of this writing, Microsoft continues to state that it will discontinue product support for Windows 7; after Jan. 14, Microsoft will offer to support Windows 7 users, but there will be a fee attached to providing patches and related maintenance.

The percentage of financial institutions that have already migrated to Windows 10, or are in the process of doing so, is difficult to ascertain, but a number of insiders have put it at just over 60 percent as of September 2019. That means there are still thousands of PCs in banks that will not have moved to Windows 10 by January 14. The ATM/ITM issue is even more precarious: There are close to 500,000 ATMs and around 50,000 interactive teller machines in the U.S.; the National ATM Council said as of July 2019 about 60 percent had been upgraded.

There’s a reason why a large percentage of financial institutions—particularly smaller banks—may be resistant to migrating to Windows 10: It’s expensive, particularly for banks in less populous areas that need to upgrade the software in their ATMs. It costs $5,000-$10,00 to upgrade an ATM, and low-usage ATMS that are 10 years old may need to be replaced at a cost of $40,000-$60,000 each, according to ATM Marketplace.

Given the confusion, concern and debate that has arisen from the Windows 10 migration issue, what’s the bottom line for financial institutions? It may appear dire, but all is not lost: there are several options available to banks that haven’t yet updated or don’t want to, and all with different price tags. For banks that haven’t yet migrated to Windows 10, there are some key questions to ask now—and the options to consider as the clock ticks down.

Does all your third-party software support the current WIN10 version?

To complicate Windows 10 matters further, bankers must first ensure that the third-party software they use—for example, accounting, appraisals, or core applications—are upgraded before they can undertake the migration to Windows 10. In addition, bankers should pay attention to the feature updates and improvements in Windows 10, such as versions 1809 and 1903 that act as mini upgrades, as well as long-term support build versions. This process can take from weeks to months, depending on how much third-party software a bank runs.

Importantly, bankers should view the vendors from whom they purchase third-party software as a trusted resource and lean on them to help make some of these decisions. It’s the vendors’ responsibility to validate their own applications and software support for each version of an operating system, know when each will be ready, how long each will be supported, and to offer workarounds if an operating system is not yet fully supported. They are obligated to provide their financial institution clients with not only excellent service, but advice that can help prevent a costly mistake.

Is your hardware under warranty?

If a bank’s IT department recommends migrating to Windows 10 and begins to undertake that process, they should also take a look at their hardware, including PCs, ATMs/ITMs and DVRs to determine if the hardware is under warranty and worth keeping, or if they should purchase new hardware. In some cases, hardware may still be under warranty, but there may be other reasons, including the hardware not being fully depreciated, and the knowledge that it’s sometimes faster to replace a PC than to upgrade its software. In these cases, it may make more sense to purchase newer hardware at the time of the Windows 10 migration.

Should you migrate to Windows 10 Enterprise?

Not all businesses, including financial institutions, are aware that WIN10 Professional includes built-in telemetry, which enables Microsoft to collect data from users. Microsoft, which certainly isn’t the only software maker to use telemetry, states it collects data in order to identify and fix software issues, and generally to improve the software. But data collection is a sensitive topic for banks, and IT administrators cannot simply turn it off. What banks can do is purchase Windows 10 Enterprise, which allows IT admins to turn off the telemetry function—but it’s an expensive workaround. Windows 10 Enterprise can run from $187 (MSRP) for Win10 Pro Open License to $335 (MSRP) for Win10 Enterprise Open License (which includes software assurance).

These statistics make considering paying for support for older operating systems like Windows 7 and even Windows XP appealing. For banks that have missed this deadline, Microsoft will be selling—directly and through third parties—post-Windows 7 support licenses, which are expected to cost approximately $25 to $50 for the first year (depending on which type of Windows 7 user they are), for each PC. The exception is Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) users; Microsoft will offer support for 3 years at no charge. Bankers can do the math to determine if it makes more sense financially and practically to pay for Windows 7 support—even if for a time—than to migrate immediately to Windows 10. The decisions banks face about upgrading to Windows 10 are thus more complicated than they seem—and the time to make them is running short.

David R. Dremann Jr. is director of information technology and custom IT services at BLM Technologies.