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IT departments have the unique responsibility of evolving with ever-changing technologies and ever-evolving cyber threats. But when it comes to rolling out internal changes in IT systems, there are many difficulties and risks to consider.

No matter how large or small the task, it’s crucial to have standardized practices in place to document, approve, and implement IT changes. That’s where change management in IT comes in. When IT changes are rolled out in an organized, predictable way, IT departments and managed service providers (MSPs) alike will be able to do their jobs better.  In this article, we aim to help you understand the IT change management process so that you can better prepare your organization to deal with IT changes in the future. By the end of this short read, you’ll be empowered to make informed decisions about change management in IT.

What is IT change management?

Change management is the process of preparing for, planning for, and implementing changes to IT systems and infrastructure. It refers to the process of establishing a standard set of processes that help guide IT changes from the first conceptualization to the final closure and adoption of the change. These changes can be as small as adding a new office printer, or as far-reaching as implementing new technology across an entire organization.

Understanding IT change management

Many IT professionals, whether they’re early in their careers or have been at it for decades, have wondered the question we aim to answer here: what is change management in IT?

Strong IT change management has a standardized classification that delineates all changes as either standard, emergency, or normal. Additionally, IT change management these days relies heavily on automation whenever possible.  IT change management helps balance the constant struggle between consistency and change in the IT world. IT teams are responsible for helping their organizations provide stable, consistent, and reliable service. But at the same time, they need to help their companies adapt to changing needs and evolving technologies. Change management in IT allows organizations to do both, as it helps the change implementation process run more smoothly, reducing downtime, and other issues while still facilitating positive changes and helping organizations remain up to date.

Best practices for IT change management

IT change management allows businesses to implement vital changes while at the same time minimizing the service disruptions that otherwise might occur while these changes are taking place. In order to accomplish this two-pronged task, the IT change management process adheres to a few basic principles.

In order to effectively exercise IT change management, organizations must:

  • Develop a comprehensive change management strategy
  • Set clear goals and objectives
  • Identify key stakeholders and their roles
  • Create a structured approach for change implementation
  • Prioritize changes and allocate resources accordingly
  • Create communications channels between necessary stakeholders
  • Establish effective approval processes
  • Streamline the entire change process

When organizations follow these best practices for change management in IT, changes are likely to roll out more smoothly and create fewer issues along the way.

Conducting a thorough impact analysis

Conducting a thorough analysis of the potential effects of changes to IT systems is an important piece of IT change management. This analysis is part of what helps teams classify changes as standard, emergency, or normal changes — and each of these designations will be handled differently.

For any given change, stakeholders involved in the IT change management process will need to evaluate the risks and dependencies associated with change. They will also need to develop contingency plans to mitigate potential disruptions in case any part of the planned change goes off course.

Communication and stakeholder engagement

Because IT change management impacts nearly every part of an organization, it involves many different roles and responsibilities. Here are some of the most common roles involved in the IT change management process:

  • Change owner
  • Change manager
  • Change initiator
  • CAB (change advisory board)
  • Software developer

Every organization will have slightly different definitions and responsibilities associated with each role, but no matter what specific tasks each of these individuals take on, it’s crucial to facilitate effective communication between them during IT transitions. Establishing transparent channels for feedback and updates is an important piece of IT change management.

Change documentation and tracking

Documentation and tracking are part of the communication process in IT change management. Certain individuals involved in change management will be tasked with given responsibilities, but there needs to be a centralized repository to track and monitor changes throughout the transition process.

It’s important when taking on IT change management projects to keep track of change requests and document change details, approvals, and implementation plans. This will not only make the process clearer and more transparent, but also make it easier to replicate in the future and learn from mistakes or successes.

Testing and validation

IT change management works best when accompanied by thorough testing and validation procedures. Thorough testing can help minimize disruptions, and those involved in the IT change management process can establish test environments in which to conduct controlled experiments. Working in these settings first can help predict any issues associated with an upcoming change.

While performing testing and validation duties, it’s crucial to document or address any issues or discrepancies. If this important step is not completed, the team will not be able to learn from its mistakes or do better the next time around.

Training and support

When IT changes occur, many people can feel overwhelmed — and we’re not just talking about the IT team itself. Users may need additional training in new systems, and IT staff may need the same in order to support network users adequately. Putting training plans in place is an important part of effective IT change management. It can also help your organization promote a culture that values continuous learning and improvement.

You’ll need support mechanisms in place for post-implementation issues, too. For instance, a robust AI ticketing system can be the difference between an effective change rollout and an ineffective one.

Change management processes in IT

The process of change management is tied closely to the principles of risk assessment and mitigation. It begins with change request submission and evaluation — this involves learning more about the proposed change and conducting a thorough risk evaluation to determine what other programs or systems may be affected during or after the change.

Once change requests have been evaluated and processed, the change management team will need to prioritize and categorize change requests based on urgency and impact. It’s important to respond to emergency changes first, for example, so that they don’t create further damage if left untreated.

Change approval and authorization

Once a request for change (RFC) is finalized, the change must be fully planned out. This plan should include details such as the impact of the change, plans for rolling it out, blackout plans, change roles, and any necessitated downtime. This should all be documented and sent on to the CAB, otherwise known as a change advisory board.

The CAB will review the available information, make an educated assessment of the risks and rewards, and provide a recommendation to the change manager regarding whether or not they should give final approval. Then, the change manager will be the one who officially accepts or rejects the change.

Each organization will have different criteria for approving or rejecting change requests, but these standards should be based on risk evaluation and issues that might be incurred should the change take place. Establishing change advisory boards is a helpful way to gain diverse opinions on these questions before passing the task off to the change manager to make the final decision.

Change implementation and monitoring

Once a change has been approved, the organization can start implementing that change. Implementation involves scheduling, assigning, and delegating tasks related to the change. This is an excellent place to leverage IT project management in order to handle large-scale changes with a lot of moving parts.

Once a change has been implemented, the IT department should monitor it for potential disruptions or issues. There should also be a rollback plan in place, and corrective actions can be taken if necessary.

Post-implementation review and documentation

The final steps of the IT change management process involve conducting post-implementation reviews in order to evaluate the success of the changes. Organizations can increase efficiency in the long run by documenting lessons learned and best practices for future changes.

Additionally, this is a good time to collect improvement suggestions from stakeholders and incorporate their feedback. Overall, the change should be recorded as either successful, failed, or incomplete. Then, the change can be closed.

ITIL change management

The abbreviation “ITIL” stands for “IT infrastructure library, which is a framework for standardizing the lifecycle of IT services within a given organization. ITIL improves both the efficiency and predictability of IT service selection, management, delivery, maintenance, and more.

It is one of the most popular frameworks for ITSM (IT service management) and is used throughout nearly every industry. As relates to IT change management, ITIL is the system that categorizes changes into three groups: standard changes, emergency changes, and normal changes.

Standard changes are low-risk changes that are typically pre-authorized and follow an established procedure. These can be easily automated. Some examples of standard changes might include software patching, routine updates, or replacing outdated hardware.

Emergency changes are unexpected, and they generally require immediate implementation to minimize any negative effects. For example, an emergency change might involve isolating a network from a large-scale cyberattack or applying an emergency patch to mitigate a zero-day exploit. For emergency changes, acting quickly is key.

Normal changes encompass anything that is not part of the first two categories. Normal changes take on three subcategories: minor, significant, or major. These categories refer to how much risk is involved. While these changes are not pre-authorized or scheduled, they are not as urgent as emergency changes.

ITSM change management

ITSM, or IT service management, is closely tied to IT change management. The concept behind an ITSM framework is that all information technologies should be delivered as services. In order to provide these services, IT professionals need to harness the best practices of IT change management.

IT change management best practices

IT change management is crucial when it comes to managing changes in an organization’s network and deployment of IT-related services. With a robust IT change management strategy, organizations and IT departments can minimize disruptions to service while keeping the organization current and up-to-date in terms of both hardware and software.

These days, effective IT change management is often fully automated, which can significantly streamline the whole process. It also requires clear communication channels between key stakeholders, transparent goals and objectives, and a standardized process of change prioritization.

Minimizing the effects of IT change is extremely important, as organizations are aiming to be more efficient than ever. An avoidable downtime is never an attractive option, and an effective IT change management system like Atera’s can help you avoid this.

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