Change Management for Cloud Services – Why release notes are more important than ever

One of the biggest benefits that companies receive from utilizing cloud services in their technology portfolio is the relative ease by which they can accept updates from vendors and install them into the company’s environment.  The change management process no longer requires robust analysis, testing and implementation planning – most changes can be enabled with a simple click of a button (and sometimes even that isn’t required). Without the rigorous change management reviews, it is easy for IT staff to forget that they are still the ones accountable for the benefits and risks that these updates present and due-diligence is still required.  In modern change management for cloud services, release notes are more important than ever.

Understand what you’re getting

The release notes that accompany cloud service updates should provide a clear outline of the changes included in the release version, the problems that are being resolved and the new features being introduced.  Many of these changes will be benign ‘hygiene’ fixes but others may require changes to technical configurations, re-testing of customizations and/or training communication to end users. As cloud services become more integrated with other components within your IT environment, the understanding what you are getting and whether you need to take action becomes more important

Learn about new tips and tricks

Major service releases are often accompanied by a lot of fanfare from cloud service vendors, highlighting big shiny new capabilities.  Smaller releases and patches on the other hand frequently come and go with little if any mention other than the release notes provided to technical staff.  Ironically, some of the most useful and valuable features that end-users could benefit from arrive silently in small patch releases. Release notes are the key to uncovering these hidden gems and mining the productivity-enhancing features so your users can get the maximum benefit from the company’s cloud service investments.

Identify potential risks elsewhere

Some IT professionals believe that cloud services (particularly SaaS offerings operated by suppliers) have already been tested prior to release and they don’t need to worry about patches breaking something in their environment.  This perspective is somewhat true but has a couple of glaring flaws. Cloud services should be thought of as ‘black box’ software. Suppliers are responsible for testing and ensuring the things inside the box are working correctly.  Your IT staff are responsible for the interfaces between the cloud services and other components in your environment (things coming in and out of the box) but more importantly… they are responsible for ALL of the boxes/components that make up your company’s IT environment.  

The most important thing that your technical staff should be learning from reading release notes is: “what are the risks that suppliers have fixed in one place that I may need to address in others?”  Release notes often include mention of security risks, infrastructure configuration issues, architecture problems that could impact performance and regulatory changes required for compliance. Because each of your cloud service vendors will have analyzed risk situations differently and addressed them in their own unique way, comparing release notes can be an effective and inexpensive way to assemble an overall technology risk profile for your company.

Don’t just “Click to Accept”

It may be tempting the next time you encounter an update from a cloud provider to ignore the release notes and click the button to start the installation, but by doing so you will be missing out on some critical insights about environmental risk, new features, and unanticipated impacts.  Instead, take a moment to read through the notes, understand them, and record them in your CMDB for future reference. Release notes are the key to modern change management for cloud services and more important than ever.

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