Miscellaneous

Change Management: A Necessary Step of IT Management

Written by Kevin Liew on 14 May 2018
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Raise your hand if you've been in this scenario before. It's the middle of the night and your phone rings. You're on call for emergencies only, so you know it's something serious. You answer the phone to the welcome sound of your boss having a complete meltdown in real time.

The (insert critical company process here) server has gone down and needs to be fixed immediately. You shrug on your clothes and start the trek into work, knowing the server was working fine yesterday and is somehow broken today.

It's a situation every long-time IT veteran has found themselves in, and one that can potentially be avoided if proper ITIL focused change management is paid attention to. In our above scenario let's assume the change management process was not followed and as a result, a previous software update wasn’t properly cross-checked. This then caused the server failure the following day when everything came online. Efficient monitoring of the dizzying number of interactions between seemingly unrelated systems is just one small advantage of using a good change management process. While change management software and a CMDB can help alleviate these concerns, a more concrete plan is needed for the long-term.

The goal of change management is to reduce the amount of downtime for critical IT services. This is especially relevant for services that are crucial to the day-to-day operations of the business. While change management can be implemented for just about any service, system, or software, it is particularly important that these high-value systems take advantage of it to prevent long outages in service.

What Goes Into Change Management?

There are several steps inchange management that categorize where each change fits into the existing infrastructure and how it should be addressed. When using ITIL guidelines for change management, the following types of changes are outlined:

  • Normal Change – Generated by an organization or individual that requested the change. These are infrequent changes that may be wider in scope than standard changes or may affect a crucial piece of hardware or software. Normal changes generally require a specific set of change management procedures be followed and will include the need for prior approval.
  • Standard Change – An already authorized change that includes an existing and accepted procedure to request said change. These should be the most frequent changes taking place on a regular basis and include simple things like updates and maintenance. These are low-risk changes that are unlikely to cause any problems while being implemented. Activities that fall into the standard change category should be well-documented procedures like server reboots to avoid unnecessary downtime.
  • Emergency Change - Any change that needs to happen immediately. These changes will usually skip an official approval process, but still need to be properly vetted prior to being executed or risk creating larger. It's also essential that any change procedures that take place during an emergency change are well-documented so that a report can be generated afterward.

Normal Changes – The Cornerstone of Change Management

Often, normal changes will have the biggest impact on resources and the business that they are attached to. In order to be successfully implemented, normal changes require special attention and approval to ensure they don't interfere with other critical systems within the business. It's hugely beneficial to utilize some kind of CMDB tracking to help facilitate normal changes, as the dependency focused CMDB will make reviewing normal changes much faster.

Normal changes will go through several steps when following ITIL guidelines:

  • Define and seek approval for the development of the required change.
  • Plan for the change. Depending on the exact change taking place, this could mean a variety of things from code changes to hardware troubleshooting. Do everything possible to ensure a smooth change by developing a plan in advance.
  • Test the above-mentioned plan to further reduce the chance of something going wrong.
  • Create a schedule for the change and begin seeking official approval for it to take place.
  • Full review of the change by a review board.
  • Document the changes themselves in the existing CMDB.
  • Perform the change and ensure that it has been implemented successfully.

This is just a rough outline laid out by ITIL guidelines. Each change management procedure should be tailored to fit your business or department for best results.

Implementing a New Change Management Procedure or Overhauling an Existing One

When attempting to introduce change management into your organization or department, it's important to have the approval and backing of other departments and management. Good change management will require a concerted effort from multiple branches of a business in order to function properly.

You can help this process along by outlining exactly what your own change management process will be, who will need to be involved in the process review, and how the changes themselves will be executed. It's crucial to make sure that at each step in the process, the procedure itself doesn't become overly complex, or it's unlikely it will gain traction.

Once the process itself has been implemented, be sure to continue tracking the effectiveness of the system and make changes as needed. Be flexible in your planning and design while also maintaining a set of guidelines to use when moving forward.

A Little Planning Goes a Long Way

Most businesses already have some form of change management procedure in place, whether they know it or not. Implementing a formal structured plan for change management will increase the likelihood that these procedures are followed carefully and reduce the chance of a catastrophic loss in service during a change. With a minimal amount of effort, you can take advantage of a dedicated change management procedure and avoid the pitfalls associated with not having one in place!

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