IT change management describes the practices designed to ensure successful prioritising, approval, scheduling and execution of changes to IT systems.
As technologies advance, markets adapt, and businesses grow, organisations’ IT infrastructures need to be able to evolve to address new needs. However, rolling out change requests to a company’s internal systems can be difficult, risky and time consuming.
Perhaps even more importantly, IT changes can directly affect the productivity and engagement of employees who depend on company technology. And whether the change is limited to adding a new office printer, or involves a new technology being implemented across an entire organisation, necessary documentation, approval and implementation practices are vital.
IT change management classifies all changes as either standard, emergency, or normal, and relies heavily on automation wherever possible. This helps ensure a smooth transition, establishing a standardised set of processes to guide IT changes from conceptualisation to closure. IT change management is different from organisational change management, which typically refers to managing changes to employee roles and processes within an organisation.
Consider something as routine as applying a scheduled antivirus update. This necessary maintenance task is usually very straightforward and relatively painless. However, while security patches are being applied, inward- and outward-facing systems may experience downtime or other issues. As such, the organisation is presented with a difficult choice: experience regular interruptions while updating systems, or risk potentially devastating consequences from not updating their security tools.
For organisations to remain competitive, their IT teams need to be able to provide stable, reliable, consistent service. At the same time, they must help the organisation adapt to changing needs through regular service updates. Unfortunately, these two directives are often at odds with one another—stability and reliability demand consistency, while service updates, by their very nature, introduce change.
IT change management takes a best-of-both-worlds approach, providing a defined path for businesses to implement vital changes, while minimising the resulting disruptions of service. It does this by helping organisations do the following:
IT change management incorporates a few terms and acronyms, including the following:
ITIL is a framework for standardising the lifecycle of IT services within an organisation. ITIL improves the efficiency and predictability of IT-service selection, delivery, management, maintenance etc.
ITIL is one of the most popular frameworks for IT service management (ITSM), and is used throughout nearly every industry. In terms of IT change management, ITIL categorises change into three groups:
Learn more about change management and request types supported by ServiceNow.
RFC is a formal request for implementing a specific change. The RFC should contain all information necessary for evaluating and approving or rejecting the change, with the level of detail depending upon the size of the change and its potential impact and risk.
The RFC is a detailed request for change but is not the change itself. This request is sent to the CAB and must provide them with all the information they need to accurately assess the change.
CAB describes the team of individuals tasked with evaluating proposed changes to the IT environment. The formality and complexity of a CAB will vary from organisation to organisation and may be as simple as an email list or forum, or something as formal as an actual board led by a designated chairman. In all cases, the CAB must be composed of IT decision makers and technical experts, who can apply their own knowledge and experience in reviewing changes.
When a change is suggested, the CAB receives the relevant RFC and uses that information to inform their evaluation. However, the CAB is not responsible for making the final decision. Final approval instead falls to the change manager.
The CAB workbench assists you in managing CAB meetings in the following ways:
IT change management has an impact on essentially every part of an organisation. As such, the roles and responsibilities associated with change management can be difficult to clearly define. Likewise, different businesses may assign different tasks to different roles, making a universally standardised list impossible. That said, many companies include the following (or similar) roles in their change management initiatives:
Oversees and takes responsibility for the entire change management process.
Manages the CAB, coordinates teams and stakeholders, makes final decisions to approve or reject proposed changes, and directs the implementation of approved changes.
Proposes changes, collects and organises relevant details, and creates plans for change implementation.
Analyses and evaluates proposed changes and provides recommendations that the change manager may use in making approvals.
Often takes on the role of ‘change initiator;’ software developers are directly involved in most IT changes and are worth considering in conjunction with most other IT change management roles.
While IT change management relates to the processes of requesting, evaluating, authorising, implementing and reviewing IT changes, release management is more involved in the details of planning and rolling out changes.
The primary purpose of release management is to ensure that everyone involved is fully aware of available resources, how these resources are being deployed, what changes are being made by which teams and departments, and the sequence of tasks being followed.
While there is some overlap, release management is a different—but related—function from change management. Release management often incorporates advanced automation to facilitate seamless review, tracking and oversight.
IT change management is an essential aspect of business growth and adaptation. The key objectives of IT change management include the following:
Without the right processes, changes can quickly get out of hand. IT change management gives organisations more control over the changes they implement, allowing for effective administration every step of the way, including planning, risk assessment, and tracking. This helps minimise risk and ensures that changes are implemented quickly and accurately.
IT change management tracks all change requests. This not only allows for a more organised and manageable approach to IT changes, but it also helps eliminate unauthorised changes. By creating a single set of processes and establishing clear responsibilities, organisations can optimise change implementation throughout their business.
Huge, sweeping changes tend to entail significant risk, and often throw everything into disarray. On the other hand, ongoing changes that take small, on-going steps to refine and enhance IT infrastructure are much more manageable. Proper IT change management allows businesses to maintain continuous improvement, keeping up with industry trends and rolling out important changes without significantly interrupting their day-to-day operations.
Possibly the most important goal of IT change management should be to unite teams across ITSM, ITOM and DevOps. As DevOps and related approaches demand increased rates of change, change managers may find themselves feeling increased pressure. Top change management solutions not only incorporate advanced automation and governance capabilities to ensure that changes are being effectively and timely implemented, but they also need to be able to facilitate improved communication and coordination between departments.
By bringing together each of these key players and providing a single centralised source of truth throughout the entire organisation, the ServiceNow Now Platform makes optimal change management collaboration possible.
Effective IT change management demands clear processes for submitting, assessing, approving and implementing changes. As such, most organisations follow a sequence of prescribed steps:
When the need for change becomes apparent, the first step is to collect basic change information, including notes on possible risks, rewards and systems that are likely to be affected. This information is then organised into an RFC.
Before being sent off, the RFC is reviewed to ensure accuracy, and to validate that the requested change is necessary and feasible.
With the request finalised, the change must now be fully planned out. The planning stage should incorporate and document details such as impact, rollout plans, backout plans, change roles and any associated downtime the change might necessitate.
The RFC is sent to the CAB, as well as any other authorities or internal groups that might have a stake in the change. The CAB reviews the available information, makes an educated assessment of the risk and rewards, and provides a recommendation to the change manager responsible for giving final approval. The change manager then accepts or rejects the change.
With approvals in place, the organisation can begin implementing the change. Implementation includes scheduling, assigning and delegating related tasks. Also, by leveraging IT project management, organisations can more effectively handle large-scale changes, more easily directing increased numbers of people and tasks.
Once the change has been implemented, organisations must then review and assess to determine whether the change was successful and if there are any unacceptable deviations from the plan. If any issues are present, they must be resolved before the change can be closed.
As a final step, the implemented and reviewed change is recorded as either successful, failed, or incomplete. Proper closure documentation helps reduce the risk of duplicate work and prevents essential changes from falling off the company’s radar.
By providing a set or clear processes to follow in planning, approving and implementing IT changes, change management provides several significant advantages.
While the benefits of IT change management are widely recognised, there are also several challenges that can easily stand in the way and hinder effective deployment.
Depending on the scope of the proposed changes, IT change management processes may be prohibitively expensive to deploy.
Occasionally, incorporating a detailed, step-by-step change process may slow down the overall time to delivery, particularly in the case of standard changes that could otherwise be handled without having to include them in the IT change management process.
A high number of failed changes may be indicative of a poor change management process and can eat up resources and time without producing viable results.
Unauthorised changes occur when IT change management adoption is not widespread, approval mechanisms are not effective or not in place, or relevant stakeholders are not included in the approval process. Unauthorised changes incur expenses without being properly documented and are thus difficult to track. They can also create unanticipated problems that could otherwise be avoided by following established procedures.
Poor communication and ineffective planning may lead to multiple changes being scheduled for implementation at the same time. This can cause interruptions in the changes themselves and result in further complications within the IT infrastructure.
Because emergency changes must be addressed as quickly as possible, they tend to circumvent certain parts of the IT change management process. When too many changes are flagged as emergency changes, it can easily lead to delays, confusion and failure to handle actual emergencies with the earnestness they require.
To ensure the best possible results, organisations should approach change management using the following best practices:
Different kinds of changes may demand different sets of processes. Creating specific categories for proposed changes, and establishing processes for each that are most effective, depending on priority and other requirements empower organisations to approach each change in the most efficient way possible.
Organisations have their own levels of risk tolerance and regulatory restrictions. Understanding these considerations and incorporating them into planning and evaluation phases will help ensure that proposed changes don’t create unnecessary problems.
Where possible and appropriate, change managers and other change leaders should be willing to delegate responsibilities to other reliable individuals. This will allow them to focus on the bigger picture without getting too bogged down in the day-to-day tasks.
Change documentation should begin during the change-request stage. Managing and proposed changes in a single digital location allows organisations to prioritise changes more effectively, and to revisit lower-priority changes when bandwidth allows.
Every proposed change brings with it certain risks and resource requirements. Applying risk and impact analysis to each change gives decision makers clearer insight to use in making final approval.
The change management process often includes many different steps incorporating a range of roles and can easily get bogged down waiting for approvals or other information. Effective automation helps streamline the entire process and should be employed liberally to ensure that the change is proceeding on schedule.
Change-process templates are essentially forms that can be customised to the needs of individual organisations. Creating and using these templates can help standardise change requests and the assigning of relevant tasks.
IT change management is as much a cultural shift as it is a procedural one. Organisations should work to make ongoing change the new normal and strive for full adoption among all relevant departments and stakeholders.
A range of frameworks exist for facilitating effective change management. Businesses should take the time to fully review the advantages of each and select the framework that best fits their needs.
When stakeholders are not informed of planned change schedules, it can lead to incidents and confusion, and can also negatively impact other services. Including stakeholders in scheduling not only helps eliminate possible problems, but also encourages continued support from management.
To determine how effective a change process is, businesses must first identify relevant metrics and KPIs. Quantifying and measuring change management success provides concrete data that can be used to improve processes going forwards.
Not every change is going to produce the desired outcome. When changes fail, having a backout plan can help organisations cut their losses, and may be the only thing standing in the way of damaging the existing IT infrastructure.
ServiceNow Change Management provides the tools and support to streamline and accelerate complex IT change processes. Built on the award-winning Now Platform, Change Management delivers advanced automation and AI functionality, allowing for easier, more effective change management solutions. And this is only the beginning.
ServiceNow Change Management provides the tools and resources necessary for optimising, monitoring and streamlining change in any organisation. ServiceNow Change Management capabilities include:
With built-in functionality—including guides, scheduling, documentation, timelines and analytics—ServiceNow Change Management ensures that more changes can be implemented more effectively, and more frequently.
Put the power of ServiceNow into your organisation’s IT change management and give your businesses the resources it needs to grow.