What Is IT Change Management and Why You Should Care?
Oxymorons are statements or descriptions that are self-contradicting. Jumbo shrimp, wicked good, and constant change are a few examples. That last one is notorious in the world of IT operations management (ITOM) because technology is constantly changing. And for those responsible for managing today’s modern enterprises, there is nothing more constant than change.
IT change management is a major challenge for IT operations teams. Moment to moment, systems and services spin up and down; devices connect and disconnect; applications are adopted and retired; hardware and software are added, upgraded, and modified. And every change to the IT estate has an effect on the overall operations of the enterprise. For that reason, IT change management is a process vital to IT operations management. Get it right and things will go (mostly) smoothly. Get it wrong and you court disaster.
What is IT change management?
According to the practices outlined by ITIL, IT change management is an essential element to the five key processes to infrastructure monitoring and management:
- Service Strategy
- Service Design
- Service Transition
- Service Operation
- Continuous Service Improvement
In this context, IT change management is defined as “how to manage the transition of a new or changed service with a focus on ensuring that all service management processes balance.” In other words, when something changes in the IT estate, it needs to be recorded in order that its effects on operations can be accounted for. IT change management includes planning for things you intend to change—new hardware integrations, software upgrades, added services, and the like. It also involves accounting for changes that happen outside the control of IT operations management—computing instances that spin up or down, application subscriptions that may happen ad hoc on a departmental level, the creation or decommissioning of cloud and business services, virtual machines, or mobile devices that connect to or move within the network.
In order to manage change, you have to be aware of change. That means the change has to be detected when it happens, and the data associated with that change has to be fed into the organization’s configuration management database (CMDB) as well as your modern operational management systems (ITOps, DevOps) in real time.
What is the IT change management process?
The IT change management process was established as a formal means of adding to or changing the configuration of an enterprise’s IT estate. The IT change management process begins whenever an authorized individual submits a request for the acquisition of a new piece of equipment, software product, or third-party service to be integrated within the enterprise OR an authorized system initiates a pre-approved change request. The type of technology requested, the source of the request, the reason for the request, and the priority of the request are all documented. If not pre-approved, the requested change is then evaluated by IT operations to determine if the requested change is justified. If the requested equipment is redundant, incompatible, too expensive, or otherwise deemed to be unnecessary, the change request is rejected.
Depending on the circumstances, an approved change is prioritized and categorized accordingly (more on this later). The type of change requested will have a directed influence on the IT change management process, which ITIL breaks down into seven steps:
- Request and review
- Assessment (and implementation in the case of emergencies)
- Assessment and planning by an advisory board
- Scheduling and building
- Review and closure
Planning, testing, and analysis are integral to each step, and each step must be documented extensively for the purpose of replicability should the same or similar change be required in the future, or to troubleshoot if something goes wrong.
What are IT change management types?
There are three primary types of changes in IT change management according to ITIL.
An emergency change is one that must be carried out immediately, perhaps to replace a piece of equipment that has suffered a catastrophic failure. The nature of an emergency change means that planning and assessment is expedited or even put off until after implementation to ensure minimal delay. There may already be documentation of the necessary planning and assessments, and so analysis and troubleshooting take place as the process unfolds, but the priority is to make a major repair or otherwise rectify a situation in IT that is detrimental to operations.
A normal change is a significant change to the IT estate, and one that requires planning and risk assessment. This may include major initiatives like digital transformation or the integration of an acquired entity’s IT enterprise. It could also include the contracting of third-party services, such as a cloud or managed services.
A standard change is a low-risk, routine change that is part of the normal lifecycle of the technology involved. Standard changes constitute the bulk of those affecting today’s enterprise.
Examples of IT Change Management
Technology is integral to carrying out an organizational mission, whether that organization is commercial, governmental, charitable, or educational. An organization may choose to engage the IT change management process for any number of reasons, but the most significant changes typically address the need to gain new capabilities, improve processes, increase reliability, or modernize existing systems.
One conundrum that has been made manifest in IT change management is that, as tech has evolved over the years, the changes that have been made to the IT estate now make it impossible to keep up with the speed and frequency of changes that occur within the estate.
The luxury of long evaluation and testing cycles is gone. Organizations must move quickly to keep pace with trends like cloud computing, mobility, virtualization, work-from-home, and more. Yes, there remains a need to make mindful decisions, articulate long-term visions, and craft strategies for the adoption and integration of new technologies, but often those transformations support capabilities that require a different layer of IT change management.
Instead of deliberative change management, today’s IT operations managers require the ability to recognize and respond to changes that happen outside of traditional processes. When a department adds a new application or service, or when a production team buys on-demand computing power to support a project, these changes must be recognized and accounted for on the fly, and in real time. This means that a new type of IT monitoring and management capability is needed, one that takes advantage of workflow automation, machine learning algorithms, and powerful analytics to handle the kind of day-to-day changes that characterize IT today.
What are IT change management best practices?
To handle the demands of IT change management requires a new approach that blends the established processes of traditional IT change management with capabilities that support the dynamic needs of today’s modern enterprise. There are a number of best practices to keep in mind to establish and maintain a rock-solid IT change management program that supports your organization’s long-term technology vision.
- Engage and Communicate: Your IT change will affect others in your organization. Approach all stakeholders to understand their needs and expectations, and to inform them of the process and what to expect. Cultivating advocates outside of IT can go a long way toward achieving goals.
- Set Goals: Once you have gathered stakeholder input, set measurable goals for implementation and success. Make sure all stakeholders agree on the goals, and use an incremental crawl, walk, run approach to build confidence and momentum.
- Test and Measure: At every step of the IT change management process, test your results and measure your effects and outcomes to make sure your implementation is on track, or to identify and fix issues as they arise.
- Automate: Wherever possible automate your IT processes and workflows, especially those with routinely recurring human-driven decisions and handoffs, to the maximum extent possible. By eliminating the routine work, you can better keep up with the escalating demands for change.
- Evaluate and Re-evaluate: Once your change is complete, monitor performance and re-engage stakeholders to make sure the results meet the expectations not only of IT operations, but of the user community. And keep evaluating to make sure your change keeps pace with your organization’s needs and to achieve continuous improvement.
- Document: Maintaining a record of your process will help in the future IT change implementation, and documenting data generated by the systems affected by the change will establish a baseline for normal operations that will help with future troubleshooting.
- Be Flexible: Plans often change, for reasons both good and bad. Your IT change management process needs to reflect the same level of flexibility you need from your technology.
IT Change Management needs a solid foundation.
To be successful, your IT change management program should start with a change of IT infrastructure monitoring platform. Modern enterprises require a modern IT monitoring platform engineered to support the technologies that comprise their IT estate, and that moves as fast as they do—in real time. The platform of choice provides artificial intelligence for IT operations—AIOps.
With an AIOps platform in place (The ScienceLogic SL1 platform is a great choice, by the way) you can automatically recognize changes that take place anywhere in your network—on premises or in the cloud—capture the relevant data, update your CMDB, recognize the relational context of every change, evaluate its impact on the health, availability, and reliability of other services, share that contextualized data with the rest of your ecosystem management tools (DevOps, CI/CD, Notification, and more), and most importantly, make the necessary adjustments to keep your IT services running smoothly.
Without AIOps as the foundation of IT operations, your IT change management process is likely to look like another oxymoron—pretty ugly. And so, if you’re struggling with IT change management and need to make a change, let us know. ScienceLogic has the experts and expertise to help you keep pace with the demands of modern IT change management.
Want to learn more about AIOps and IT change management? Read this eBook>