Mitigate the challenges faced by your lack of control in release management in Office 365

May 23, 2017 | Blog, Digital Insights, Office 365 |

If you are one of many organisations moving from a largely on-premises infrastructure to Microsoft Office 365 there are a number of hidden impacts that need to be mitigated before the switch. The most significant aspect to consider is the fact that the service under-pinning your business is no longer fully under your control. You are now subscribed to a platform wholly managed by someone else, and therefore need to start thinking about Office 365 release management.


The good old days


Taking SharePoint as an example, in days gone by, you would stand up your servers, install and configure your SharePoint Server, run your business applications and not expect that configuration to change with maybe minor exceptions, general maintenance and patching.

In addition, these would be carefully tracked and approved via change management and release deployment processes.


It’s a brave new world with the cloud


In the new world of Software as a Service you aren’t afforded that same control over change and release management. In recent months there have been a number of changes rolled out to the Microsoft Office 365 platform with some changes came well notified and expected. Others less so.

These changes ranged from changes to templates, service descriptions, code based API’s, deprecation of features and tools and rollout of new features and tools (sometimes turned on by default) to more subtle changes such as tweaks to licensing packages, migration or modification of admin settings and change of protocol for connectivity.

Many of these changes are necessary and part of the growing pains of Microsoft looking to provide a superior productivity platform in a competitive market. To meet those demands, the pace of releases and evolution to the platform have to be fast.

In order to keep up to date with the latest releases, the Microsoft FastTrack public roadmap tracks hundreds of confirmed roadmap items from product teams across the Office 365 spectrum.

For service owners tasked with overseeing the Office 365 platform as the underpinning communication and productivity platform to their end users, the question is; how do you go about mitigating that pace of change without having full control of it?


There is no silver bullet


Microsoft do provide some enhanced channels for notifications and a few information sources which can be used help understand and track the upcoming nature and scope of future changes above and beyond regular administrator email alerts and Microsoft delivery manager briefings.


Message center

Microsoft have been working to improve communications on changes that impact the Office 365 environment and one of those developments has been the enhancement of the Message Center.

Housed in the Office 365 administration portal, the Message Center can be access by administrators, delegated administrators, and users granted the service admin role.

The Message Center helps inform administrators about new features and actions they need to take to keep Office 365 running smoothly as well timely communications to keep users aware of changes and updates. The links provided often include a link to a relevant blog or TechNet article for deeper or background information, and often a link to the related public roadmap item if the message is a task related to the rollout of a specific roadmap element.



Microsoft Fast Track Public Roadmap

The Microsoft FastTrack public roadmap lists updates that are currently planned. Updates are in various stages from being “in development” to “rolling out” to being generally available or “launched” to customers world wide.

Roadmap items have an associated roadmap ID, a link to more information such as a blog or technet article and tags to identify relevant services in the search and filter features.


The problems


As a service owner how do you keep track of every element of change or update for every tool in the ever expanding Office 365 portfolio? How can you reliably know what the future plans and updates are for that tool in Q1 to Q4? It’s a daunting prospect and most service owners just don’t have the time filter, store and process all the emails, messages, and updates.

To make things worse, although some targeting of messaging occurs in the Office 365 Message Center, a lot of this messaging is not specific to your individual business application or flavour of Office 365.

For example, if you happen to be running Skype for Business through Office 365 you’ll be glad to know about the hundreds of updates in that space. But if you aren’t, that is noise that needs to be filtered.

Likewise with the standard alert emails and service emails from Microsoft, these are generally “wide band” aimed for all markets and not specific to your solution architecture or particular interests in change to the platform. It’s at this point, as an organisation you must start to account for and deliver a process of Office 365 release management.

The solution


Content and Code’s experience of providing a managed service wrap around for Office 365 has led to the development of some key services that have alleviated these pressures for many of our clients.

Our Office 365 Change and Release management service takes our knowledge of your solution architecture and our experience of understanding change in Office 365 and pulls these factors together to deliver a compelling service that will keep your service owner and business users informed, aware, and ready for the changes that are likely to impact your Office 365 solution.

By leveraging the channels Microsoft provide we can help with:


  • Filtering the messaging noise and provide a breakdown of communications that are specific to your environment and break these down by component/tool
  • Provide an update summary on the change in status of Microsoft public roadmap items relating specifically to your environment and break these down by component/tool
  • Report delivery via Skype or face to face with an Office 365 consultant
  • Option to deliver or attend relevant CAB meetings
  • High level advice on the nature of change and the likely impact
  • Assistance with planning for change and associated tasks with options to extend that advice to our Prosci © change management and adoption consultants


The deliverables of which include a regular written report, delivery of those reports via Office 365 consultants which can be optionally via attendance to your monthly change board meetings. Options to carry forward advice via our certified change and adoption teams to work with your business owners.

Glossary of terms:

Change Management:

Change Management helps organisations understand and work to minimise risks to the IT environment. It is essentially a process for managing the people side of change.

The objective of change management in this context is to ensure that standardised methods and procedures are used for efficient and prompt handling of all changes to control IT infrastructure, in order to minimise the number and impact of any related incidents upon service.

Release deployment:

Deployment and Release Management aims to plan, schedule and control the movement of releases to test and live environments. The primary goal of this ITIL process is to ensure that the integrity of the live Office 365 environment is protected and that the correct components are released.


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About our author

David Tyler

David Tyler

Technical Account Manager| Content and Code

With a 10 year background in SharePoint, and being an Office 365 IT Pro since inception, David has been working with Content and Code’s Managed Services customers for the past 5 years helping them to realise the benefits of SharePoint or Office 365. David does this by developing and delivering key services that help our clients solve problems, meet key objectives or maximise their return from the Office 365 platform.


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