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What is Change Management and Why is it so Important?

IT Change Management

Let’s begin with the formal definition of Information Technology Change Management.

“IT change management describes the practices designed to ensure successful prioritizing, approval, scheduling, and execution of changes to IT systems.”

This is a pretty broad topic. Volumes have been written on Change Management and there are many firms whose sole focus is Change Management.

I want to narrow the focus a little and concentrate on IT Change Management specifically for small and medium businesses; specifically for the daily operation of equipment and software focused on running the organization. The concept of Change Management related to software development is a topic for another day.

What’s the Point of Having Change Management?

By way of example, prior to our relationship with a new client, they told us about their former IT department performing random and unannounced system upgrades during business hours. Their IT department did the work when they had gaps in their schedule and based on their own convenience. One unintended consequence led to the unanticipated crash of their e-commerce site. The lack of planning and the absence of a roll-back contingency lead to nearly two days offline – 4 weeks prior to Christmas! The unfortunate truth is that this costly crash could have been avoided—or at least resolved much sooner—with clear systems for change in place.

Think about a scheduled anti-virus update. If we’re doing it for our home system, it’s pretty easy and doesn’t take much time. But, if we’re looking at security patching within an organization, it will get a little complicated. Security patches will likely create downtime and other issues. So what’s the process? You can either perform random updates that almost ensure platforms will be missed, versions will be out of sync, and vulnerabilities will be created. Or you can have regularly scheduled, comprehensive, tested, and validated updates. The latter is immensely logical, but it takes discipline and planning.

What are the Goals of Change Management?

Change management is meant to make the process of updating or changing your IT environment more efficient and less interruptive. With that being said, there are four primary goals of Change Management:

Control: Even within a smaller organization, if the right processes are missing changes can get overwhelming. A well-structured Change Management process provides control over the “What”, “When”, “Where” and “How” of any changes. This includes providing structured planning, risk assessment, and historical accountability.

Implementation: There’s consistency in the tracking process. Better organization and management minimizes unauthorized changes and optimizes the time spent implementing changes.

Continuous Quality Improvement: The purpose of implementing changes is to reduce risk and increase functionality. Having a systematic change management process infuses continuous improvement. If this is a cultural element of the organization, this will align with the overall mission.

Alignment and Integration: Larger organizations may have different teams for software management, operational management, networking, telecommunications, and development. Having a common change management framework not only drives consistency, but also promotes tighter integration across technical teams.

What are the Benefits of Change Management?

There are a lot of reasons to have formal change management. Mission critical systems, uptime continuity, productivity, and customer satisfaction can be heavily affected. Some of the primary benefits for change management include:

  • Providing uniformity to enhance security
  • Establishing change priority and the resources required
  • Ensuring that changes are tested and confirmed
  • Creating a uniformity and framework for managing changes
  • Building lines of communication between stakeholders and the organization
  • Creating a known approval process
  • Streamlining change with known timelines, impacts, and approved downtime
  • Creating a request and control process for stakeholders

What is a Change Management Process?

Constructing a Change Management process can be daunting. There’s lot of good content explaining how to do it, and there are numerous organizations that specialize in Change Management systems. If you’re working with a service provider like PEI, we have a system already in place that eliminates the need to develop your own. PEI’s Managed Services Team addresses changes daily and has a practiced and refined change management process.

At a minimum, any Change Management system will address best practices for how change requirements are assessed, approved, implemented, reviewed, and documented. The basic process steps are:

  1. A Formal Request for Change (RFC)
  2. Change request review
  3. Change request approval
  4. Development of a change project plan
  5. Project Plan review and refinement by key stakeholders
  6. Schedule and communications to affected parties
  7. Change testing and verification
  8. Results reporting and documentation

Why Does Change Management Matter?

If you are reading this and realize that your current approach to change and updates matches our client who previously experienced random and unannounced system upgrades which ultimately caused downtime, it may be time to conder the benefits of IT Change Management.

Set systems and procedures for enacting change in your organization can create integration among departments and prevent any feelings of resentment against your IT team by ensuring everyone is aware of how and when changes will occur. If you have any questions or need help getting started with Change Management, contact us today!

Tim Krueger, PEI

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