Event Listing: BCS CMSG Conference 2016

The BCS Configuration Management Special Interest Group are holding their annual conference in London on the 7th of June.

BCS

The theme of the conference is transitioning the future and the event will have three streams:

  • DevOps
  • Change Configuration & Release Management
  • SAM  Licensing & Strategy

This is the 11th conference run by the BCS CMG. The main conference objectives are to share experiences in how Configuration Management supports and enables Change Management in software development and ITIL Service Management. Software Asset Management (SAM) and licensing are critical to today’s organizations and the conference will detail new approaches and strategies to aid today’s practitioners. Best practices in adopting an integrated approach, and communicating and selling this to the rest of the organisation are essential elements.

The Conference will bring together managers and practitioners working across the service lifecycle (which incorporates the application lifecycle) together in an open forum.

 

Event Breakdown

What: The BCS CMSG Conference; Transitioning The Future

When: 7th June 2016 08:30 – 20:00

Where:  BCS, 1st Floor, The Davidson Building, 5 Southampton Street, London, WC2E 7HA.

How To Book: Click Here

 

I’ll be one of the speakers at the conference (check out my session overview here) so if you’re attending the conference, come and say hi!

Release Management How To (Part 3)

Following on from our previous posts; here is our final article in the series of how to do Release Management in real life.

Distribution & Installation

Unfortunately actually deploying a Release is not as easy as this:

Releases should be deployed to the live environment in accordance with the existing Release Management policy. For software releases it’s a good idea to use automation where possible as it will lessen the impact on support teams, decrease the time of the release and reduce the likelihood of human error.

If the Release has to be deployed without automation, then the release implementation plan should contain detailed instructions for deployment, resources, timings, escalations and contact details. An example release plan could include the following details:

Example Release Timeline: Commercial Website Deployment

Pre-requisites that must be carried out the day before the release:

(1)   Development must provide the release notes to the Release Manager and all resources on the timeline by 17:00 the day before the release.

(2)   Development must provide the Release Manager with business sign off by 17:00 the day before the release.

(3)   Release Manager must raise a corresponding change record for the release and ensure that it has been approved at the CAB.

Reference Number 1234 – Commercial Website Release – Date
Time Action Resource
10:00 Divert all website traffic to the DR web servers.

**Communication checkpoint to Windows Team ***

Joe Bloggs – Network Team
10:30 Commercial Web amendments for Production web servers Jane Doe -Windows Team
11:30 Testing & Validation

 

**Communication checkpoint to Network resource**

A. N. Other -Web Team
12:00 Divert all traffic to the Production web servers & Stop DR web server traffic.

**Communication checkpoint to Windows Team.

Joe Bloggs – Network Team
12:30 Commercial Web amendments for DR web servers Jane Doe -Windows Team
13:30 Testing & Validation

 

**Communication checkpoint to Network resource**

A. N. Other -Web Team
14:00 Normalise network traffic to all web servers Joe Bloggs – Network Team
14:15 **Communication to Release & Change Management about the release status ** A. N. Other -Web Team

Escalation Point: IT Services Manager, IT Services Senior Manager

Contact details:

Name Desk Number Mobile Number Email Address

Early Life Support

16844834832_5c463af0f5_z

It’s really important to make sure all Releases have the appropriate support in place immediately after implementation. In the words of Rob England at #PINK16 “we need to avoid dead cat syndrome; aka as the Dev guys chucking something over the fence into production and expecting the Ops guys to make it work seamlessly”.

It may be useful to introduce an “intensive care period” whereby extra support resources are available for a period after the Release to ensure that resources are in place to troubleshoot any issues immediately. Floor walkers made up of Service Desk and Support Staff could be used to support users on the morning of the Release. This intensive care period could be tracked via a short daily meeting or conference call and attendees should include:

  • Release Management
  • Change Management
  • Service Desk Management
  • Problem Management
  • Support Representatives
  • Business Representatives

Again, this isn’t about red tape, it’s about making sure everything is as it should be and that any issues are caught early and zapped rather than be allowed to spiral out of control.

A Warranty period could be built into the Release whereby the new functionality is supported by the development team until 2 weeks after the Release has been deployed, providing there are no outstanding Major Incidents or Problems associated with the Release. The Release Management policy should include provision for warranty periods and guidelines for transition into BAU activities.

Review & Close

7175133946_26ef268d47_z

A post implementation review  should be held after each release to track any outstanding actions and to document any lessons learned. Inputs to a post implementation review could include:

  • Incidents associated with the release
  • Problems and Known Errors associated with the release
  • Issues log (if using PRINCE2 as a project methodology to manage the release)
  • Change and Release Management feedback
  • Customer Satisfaction Ratings
  • Customer complaints and compliments

Outputs from the post implementation review will include:

  • Lessons learned log
  • Known Errors and workarounds
  • Confirmation that the CMDB / CMS / ancient spreadsheet that everyone acknowledges as the single source of the truth has been updated appropriately
  • Service improvement suggestions
  • Breaches to SLAs / OLAs / Underpinning Contracts
  • Required amendments to SLAs / OLAs / Underpinning Contracts
  • Updated work instructions

Keeping a lessons learned log to build on previous Releases and to keep a documented audit trail of all learnings, good and bad. The lessons learned log should be reviewed regularly; at least on a quarterly basis and before the implementation of major Releases to ensure past mistakes do not recur (because let’s face it, if we don’t learn from our mistakes thats just embarrassing). A sample lessons learned log could look like the following:

Example of a Lessons Learned Log

Change Number Date Title Issue Lesson Learned
RFC – 1234 Windows Patching – Office X Critical servers unavailable in Office X due to patching failure. Though testing of all Windows server patches prior to deployment into the production environment.

Revise the process as any issues arise or build any more significant improvements into a Service Improvement Plan (SIP).

 

That’s our take on Release Management; what do you think? Let us know in the comments!

 

Disk Image Credit

Early Life Support Image Credit

Review & Close Image Credit

Release Management – How To (Part 2)   

Following on from Part 1 of our article on how to do Release Management – here are some tips on Release acceptance, rollout planning and communication & training.

Acceptance

11123714805_361af35191_m

Any development code that results in a change to the live environment should be under the control of Change Management and be managed by the Release Management process. If you are finding that a high number of Release RFC’s are being rejected at CAB meetings then you need to investigate the reason for this. All rejected Release RFC’s should be tracked and reported on by Change Management.

The Release should be tested in a controlled test environment with known hardware and software configurations. The current list of release acceptance criteria should be reviewed and updated if appropriate. Release acceptance criteria will differ widely for different organisations as different companies will have different requirements. Your list of release acceptance criteria could include the following:

  • Has the release performed as expected across all development and test environments?
  • Has the back out plan been tested successfully
  • Are the release deployment instructions correct?
  • Has all appropriate support documentation been updated?
  • Has a training schedule been created / have all relevant teams received adequate training?
  • Has the release undergone extensive User Acceptance Testing (UAT) with involvement from all impacted customer / user groups?
  • Is the release performing as expected in test environments and free from defects?
  • If testing has identified any defects with the release is it possible to deploy with a workaround or should the release be postponed?
  • Have all impacted support teams received training in any new support functionality resulting from the release?

I like to borrow the Quality Gate concept from Six Sigma to make Release acceptance as effective as possible.Put simply, quality gates are a way of enabling your Release to move through the process quickly and safely making sure that all the quality criteria have been met. Quality Gates are not, I repeat NOT, road blocks or red tape; if anything they speed up the process (some checks can be automated) and cycle time is reduced because we’re getting it right the first time. Quality Gates are a set of predefined quality criteria that a software development project must meet in order to proceed from one stage of its lifecycle to the next and ensure. Quality Gates ensure that  formal checklists are used throughout the life of a project so nothing can be lost, missed or ignored and that formal sign-off and acceptance occurs at each gate ie no nasty surprises.

Some examples of quality gates include:

  • Code review: The senior developer will look at acceptable coding techniques and adherence to IT standards and best practices. The software design will be verified against the coding to identify any coding errors. Upon successful completion of the code review, the reviewing party will highlight required changes and corrections to the Release Manager so the appropriate action can be taken..
  • Environment review; the test manager will look at the environments used for testing the Release to ensure they are fit for purpose, managed effectively and are being refreshed at pre agreed intervals.
  • Ops review: The project manager will work with the support teams to review all support tasks needed to support the development environment and ensure all appropriate work instructions are in place..
  • Sponsor review: The project manager will review the overall project performance with the project / release sponsor. This review will determine the status of project costs and schedule.
  • Test review: The test lead and representatives from the Quality team will attend the test review to see if all builds were tested correctly and make sure the appropriate test scripts and procedures were followed.
  • Deployment review: The Release Manager sits down with the relevant dev and support teams to run through the implementation plan and to ensure everyone is comfortable.
  • Defect review; The Release Manager meets with business representatives, the Service Desk and the Project Sponsor to make a decision on if in the event of any defects; the Release is delayed or installed with Known Errors and workarounds.

Rollout

2910399885_b542569a76_m

There are lots of ways to deploy a Release safely into your environment. There is no one size fits all, it depends on the size and complexity of your organisation as well as appetite for risk. In the immortal words of Optimus Prime: “Autobots roll out!”

  • Big Bang
  • Phased / Pilot approach
  • Parallel
  • Push
  • Pull

Review the Release plan to include the exact details of the Release and how it will be executed. The release approach should also be considered to ensure it is appropriate of the type of release; different approaches such as “Big Bang”, phased / pilot, or parallel approaches can all be useful for different types of releases. A big bang release is whereby the release is deployed to all recipients at the same time. Advantages and disadvantages of the big bang approach are summarised in the following table:

 

Advantages and disadvantages of the Big Bang deployment method:

Advantages Disadvantages
Release is deployed to all users at the same time More risky than other deployment methods because if the Release fails or causes a Major Incident the Release must be backed out for all users
Training is only required for the new system and not for running both the old and new systems in parallel Training must be scheduled for all stakeholders prior to the release adding additional pressure to key release personnel
There is one deployment date which has been communicated to all stakeholders preventing any confusion around release scheduling As there is only one deployment date, any delay to the release may cause adverse impact to certain departments

 

Phased or pilot releases can be used to introduce new functionality to the end user base in a scheduled approach ensuring that the release has been successful at each stage before moving on to the next. Advantages and disadvantages of the phased / pilot approach are summarised in the following:

 

Advantages and disadvantages of the Phased / Pilot deployment method:

Advantages Disadvantages
Less risky than “big bang” deployment as the release is deployed to a set group of users at a time, thereby if the release fails it is backed out from one or a small number of user groups rather than the whole organisation. Release implementation will take longer as it will be deployed in a staged manner rather all at once.
May enhance the relationship between IT and the selected pilot groups as the two will work very close together if a pilot approach is used. Support for the release could be more expensive due to longer implementation windows eg needing contractors / consultants for longer

A parallel approach can be used to reduce risk for business critical releases. A parallel release works by having both the old and new system run simultaneously for some period of time after which, if the criteria for the new system are met, the old system is disabled.  Advantages and disadvantages of the parallel approach are summarised in the following table:

 

Advantages and disadvantages of the Parallel deployment method:

Advantages Disadvantages
Less risky than “big bang” deployment as the release as the original configuration is still available to users Expensive as it involves running two versions of a system in parallel for a length of time requiring appropriate support personnel, licensing costs and system capacity.
Less risky than phased / pilot releases as you have an instant roll back in that your original service is still available Risk of confusion to the user base as both systems are available at the same time
Additional training may be required for running both the old and new systems in parallel

Push deployments are used where the service component is deployed from the centre and pushed out to target locations.

 

Advantages and disadvantages of the Push deployment method:

Advantages Disadvantages
IT are in control of when the Release is deployed and to which user groups End users could be inconvenienced if the update is pushed during an important task
Can be automated or built into a Microsoft group policy The network could experience performance issues if too big an update is pushed out
Ideal for critical security patches or antivirus updates

A Pull deployment approach is used for software releases where the software is made available in a central location but users are free to pull the software down to their own location at a time of their choosing. As some users will never pull a release it may be appropriate to allow a pull within a specified time limit and if this is exceeded a push will be forced, e.g. for an antivirus update.

 

Advantages and disadvantages of the Pull deployment method:

Advantages Disadvantages
Users can schedule updates at a time that best suits them Some users will never “get round” to installing the software so a combined Push / Pull approach should be considered eg users can pull at their convenience but If this hasn’t been done in x number of days the software is push out to the CI
IT doesn’t become a bottleneck; clients contact the server independently of each other, so the system as a whole is more scalable than a ‘push’ system Scalability can become a bottleneck; unless you deploy several master servers and keep them in sync, that one master will start getting swamped as you add more and more clients and thus will become your bottleneck
Follows the self service model – end users feel empowered


 

Communication & Training

Part of the By A Wall series.

It’s important to ensure that an appropriate level of governance is in place to support your Release Management is the introduction of governance. Setting up governance around a Release Management process will ensure the releases are implemented to a higher quality; it’s not just a case of channeling your inner Mr Burns (although that would be pretty cool).

A Release Board should be set up to control the formulation and implementation of Release strategy and in this way ensure the fusion of business and IT. The Release Board will also be responsible for managing risk, testing and formal senior management sign off in addition to the CAB approval discussed in the previous section. The Release Board will often make the final Go / No Go decision on whether or not the release can go ahead if a last minute defect is found.

The Release Board should meet frequently and should be made up of some of the following:

  • Release Manager
  • Change Manager
  • Configuration Manager
  • Project Office / Manager
  • IT Senior Management
  • Business Senior Management

Governance paths should be set up to underpin the Release Management process and establish guidelines, an example of which could be no first of type releases can be deployed by a big bang deployment and all impacted department should have additional floor walker support.

Regular release check point meetings should be held so that all stakeholders of the release are aware of the implementation details. Examples of meetings include:

  • Pre release implementation checkpoint meeting
  • Post implementation meeting
  • Monthly process review meetings with stakeholders in the Release process to review the Release schedule, any issues, SIP, etc.

A release / service readiness review should be carried out to ensure the production environment is ready for the release. Such a review could be carried out in conjunction with Capacity Management to ensure that all capacity issues are tracked and addressed in the Capacity Plan.

The release implementation plan, back out plan and any associated technical documentation should be distributed to all stakeholders well in advance of the go live date to prevent any confusion. A communication to end users / customers should be issued via the Service Desk if a Release will have a noticeable effect on end users; it is useful to build up a bank of template Release e-mails so Releases are communicated in a standardised way.

Regular meetings should be held with Problem Management so that any Known Errors can be distributed to impacted stakeholders prior to the Release going live. There should also be a documented procedure for providing the Service Desk with a list of Known Errors before go live so that they are able to log incidents appropriately and relate them to the correct Known Error. Before any release is implemented, the Service Desk should receive training on any key changes to existing functionality and should be provided with “quick fixes” from the support teams to ensure that simple issues can be fixed by at the first point of contact where possible. New codes and templates for the release should also be set up in the Service Desk tool.

Join us for our second live ITSM webinar on Release Management on Thursday 25th February at 2:00PM GMT. You can watch live, or on demand by registering here.

That’s all for now, come back soon for our final article in the series where we’ll look at go live, early life support and review & close.

 

 

Quality Gate Image Credit

Rollout Image Credit

Communication & Training Image Credit

Main Image Credit

 

Two Speed Transition – Agile vs. Traditional

The service transition SIG presented an interactive session at the itSMF conference in November to discuss modern innovative and traditional approaches to Service Transition.

The conference session covered Release Management, Service Catalogue and Early Life Support and arguments were made for both traditional and more modern innovative approaches in quick fire 5 minutes presentations.

After each round, the audience discussed and voted which approach they preferred.

Presenters were as follows:

Release Management

  • Agile – Matt Hoey
  • Traditional – Sue Cater

Service Catalogue

  •  Agile – Patrick Bolger
  • Traditional – Vawns Murphy

Early Life Support

  • Agile – Jon Morley
  • Traditional – Peter Mills

The final scores were as follows:

Two speed transition

As you can see in the table above, the audience favoured Matt’s approach to release management but were on the fence for both Service Catalogue and Early Life Support.

My key takeaway from the session was that most folks were keen to explore new innovative approaches as long as the key benefits were adopted from traditional methods.

Two Speed Transition – 5 minute Video Summary

For further information on the Service Transition SIG please visit www.itsmf.co.uk

Release Management – How To (Part 1)

One of the questions I used to get asked all the time as a consultant was how to get started with Release Management. Most organisations start with Change Management and then as they mature; look to add additional governance and control with Release Management.

7382239368_ba418d5b73_m (1)

Here are some areas to focus on when looking at ways to formalise  your Release Management process:

  • Policy
  • Release Planning
  • Design & Build
  • Acceptance
  • Rollout
  • Communication and training
  • Distribution & installation
  • Early life support
  • Review & close

Release Management Policy

A solid policy is one of the most aspects of a good Release Management process. Put simply, your policy is a list of “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” regarding the Release process. No matter who the customer is; whenever I create a Release Management policy, I ensure the following three things are addressed:

  1. Definition of a Release
  2. Release schedule
  3. Governance

Let’s start with the basics. ITIL terms a Release as “One or more changes to an IT service that are built, tested and deployed together. A single release may include changes to hardware, software, documentation, processes and other components.” In practice, every organisation will have a slightly different criteria for selecting the Release route. Some organisations have very defined release criteria, conversely, I’ve worked with organisations where anything touching the code of a transactional website was classed as a Release, everything else was a Change. Whatever your setup, I’d recommend a simple matrix that guides people as to which cycle to follow.

Scheduling needs to be addressed as part of the policy. How many releases do you need to have? Some organisations go for monthly or quarterly Release cycles; at the other end of the scale you have Amazon who deploy a new software release every 11.6 seconds. Make sure  timescales are set in your policy and that it ties in with the related Change Management policy.

Appropriate levels of governance must be in place to support the Release Management process. The policy should set out what Releases can simply be approved at CAB and what Releases need a higher level of approval eg from a Project or a Release Board.

Release Planning

Make sure that the content and scheduling of each release is agreed early on; so regular meetings with both development teams and business representatives is a must. Make sure the Release schedule (documented in your policy) is combined with the Change Schedule. The easiest way to do this is to raise a Change for each Release and then link the information; that way it shows up on the schedule, CAB are aware of the timings and because the Change record contains a link to the Release documentation there’s no duplication of effort.

Effective Release planning means that downtime and  inconvenience to the business is minimised as multiple Changes are packaged into one Release. This approach also saves money as avoiding multiple downtime windows means less overtime, external support call outs and paying out for service credits.

Design & Build

Carry out a review of your supporting players. Work with Configuration Management to ensure that the software in your Definitive Media Library (DML – or DSL; Definitive Software Library if you’re old school) and Hardware Store (HS) are consistent with the Configuration Management System (CMS). Wow – just reading back that sentence; that’s a lot of ITIL terminology – here’s a quick beginners guide if you’ve just read this and wanted to panic and / or cry:

15827471370_fbfedf8785_m

DML: Definitive Media Library – one or more locations in which the definitive, authorised and licenced versions of all software Configuration Items (CIs) are stored. In practice; The DML is your application library or server; it’s there to make sure only authorised and safe software is installed across your company.

HS: Hardware Store – secure storage of definitive hardware spare components and assemblies. In practice this is your store of spare PCs and laptops for spares and “hot swaps”.

CMDB / CMS:  A database used to store configuration records throughout their lifecycle. The configuration management system maintains one or more configuration management databases, and each database stores attributes of configuration items, and relationships with other configuration items. If that’s still making your head hurt, here’s a quick diagram to help explain:

Diagram 1: Scary Terminology Explained

CMS

HS DML

Now that we’ve got the technology squared away; by checking that software from DML and hardware from DHS are consistent with CMS you may find unused, “spare” software licences and you may find hardware that can be used in production.

Look at the environments (if any) you have for testing Release content. If more are needed but money is tight could the cost be shared with other departments initially? A training environment could also double as a pre production environment. Tight management can reduce the need for multiple environments; someone (usually the Release or Test Manager) looks after who is using the environments using a “booking out” process and ensures that the environment is refreshed on a pre agreed regular basis.

Come back soon for Part 2 of this article; where I’ll give further tips on building a Release Management process.

Image Credit

Image Credit 2

 

 

Change vs Release Management

One of the things that I got asked about most as a consultant was about what the difference was between Change and Release Management. It should be simple right? We’ve had 3.5 versions of ITIL, the itSMF, even special interest groups dedicated to Service Transition yet there is near universal confusion at the sharp end about WHAT the difference is between Change and Release Management so let’s sort this out once and for all!

For my money; Change Management are guardians – they protect the live environment.

262795160_8a0a99c477_m

The primary objective of Change Management is to enable beneficial Changes to be made, with minimum disruption to IT Services.

Release Management are like air traffic controllers; they package together bundles of Change into a single Release to reduce periods of downtime and inconvenience to the rest of the business.

3662955841_a630913f42_m

The primary objective of Release Management is to ensure that the integrity of the live environment is protected and that the correct components are released.

Bringing out the big guns

Let’s get back to basics and talk ITIL for a second. Both Change and Release Management sit in the Service Transition stage of the ITIL lifecycle so are part of the value stream that delivers effective business change;

Change; The addition, modification or removal of anything that could have an impact on IT services.

Release; Collection of hardware, software, documentation, processes or other components required to implement one or more approved changes to IT Services. The contents of each release are managed, tested and deployed as a single entity.

In other words, Change is about installing, modifying or retiring things safely without setting anything on fire. Release Management is a holistic process that bundles together multiple Changes into a single deployment. So now that we’ve got that sorted; let’s talk about how to make sure Change and Release Management play nicely together.

Have a way of highlighting Releases in your Change Management tool

This ensures that Releases should up in the Change Schedule (CS) and that everyone is aware of any major deployments. This will make sure there are no conflicts or scheduling clashes. Take it from someone who knows there is nothing more uncomfortable than being on site in central London explaining to several different technical teams why a site power down and a major code deployment at the same site can’t go ahead at the same time. #awkward

Separate the roles of Change Manager and Release Manager

Change Management is a governance process, the role of the Change Manager is to review, authorise and schedule the Change. Release Management is an installation process. It works with the support of Change Management to builds, tests and deploy new or updated services into the live environment. Both are equally important so you need subject matter experts for both.

Agree the level of documentation required

A Change is a single record containing:

  • Dates
  • Change description
  • Approval details & audit trail

Release documentation is much more involved and as a starter for ten will contain:

  • Scope
  • Release details
  • Implementation plan
  • Back out plan
  • Contact details
  • Release note

Ensure the Release Manager is present at CAB

If your Release Manager isn’t attending CAB invite them immediately! It’s really important that the Release Manager is there to explain the Release content and any dependencies, communicate business approval and advise the Service Desk and Problem Management of any defects; working with them to ensure any known errors with any workaround details are raised where appropriate.

By having Change and Release Management working closely together, your effectiveness rates should improve and unforeseen incidents, problems and defects should be reduced. How do you manage Change and Release Management? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credit 1

Image Credit 2

*Yes; that’s an Aer Lingus plane; they are the best airline in the world because when the flight attendants  clock that you’re a single mum with three over excited kids that are about to go feral at any moment and stress levels that are about to hit DEFCON1 they give you free vodka and cokes throughout the flight.

Webinar Module 2: Release Management – 25th February 2016

release managementThis is the 2nd module in the series of the Enterprise Service Management training course covering an introduction to Release Management.

This webinar will be presented live by Vawns Murphy at 2pm GMT on 25th February 2016. If you missed the live session or enrolled late… No problem, all sessions are recorded for future playback.

Learning Objectives

1. Types of Release, governance, quality gates and implementation planning

2. Release Management process; a practitioner’s guide

Register below to view the live session or recording of this session.

Agenda:

  • Introduction to ITIL
  • Introduction to Release Management
  • Quality Gates
  • Release process

Who should attend?

  • Release Managers
  • Project Managers
  • Service Delivery Managers
  • Developers
  • Software testers

Why you should attend

  • Cost – The Webinar is FREE.
  • Convenience – You can participate in the webinar from a location of your choosing. No travelling/ travel costs involved.
  • Interaction – You have the opportunity to communicate and ask questions with the presenter and peers.

 

REGISTER HERE to view the live session or recording of this session.

 

For details of the full Enterprise Service Management Training Programme, click here.

Change, Configuration and Release Review – The results (2014)

CCRThis is a competitive review of software vendors who offer Change, Configuration and Release capabilities as part of their IT service management (ITSM) solution.

Products reviewed:

Change, Configuration and Release 2014 Best in Class

ITinvolve has taken huge strides in the ITSM arena with Service Manager by embracing the adage “knowledge is power”.  We feel that the developments that ITinvolve Service Manager has made with the fundamentals of knowledge and collaboration, ensuring that all relevant information is available to the right people at the right time (and in a straightforward way), enables risk assessment capabilities that far outweigh those of other ITSM solutions. This provides increased value to its Change, Configuration and Release capabilities.

Change, Configuration and Release Review Best in Class: ITinvolve
Change, Configuration and Release Review Best in Class: ITinvolve

The way that these capabilities support and mold Change, Configuration and Release creates a product that gives control, intelligence and awareness back to the IT organisation.

Offered as a SaaS-only solution, ITinvolve states that Service Manager integrates with discovery products, and we feel proactively delivers timely and relevant information whenever needed.  The solution greatly reduces the burden on staff and ensures risk can be quickly and accurately assessed.

Best for On-Premise

For those organisations looking for Change, Configuration and Release capabilities in an on-premise solution then Cherwell Service Management® would be our recommendation (please note that Cherwell Service Management® is also available as a SaaS solution).

We believe that Cherwell Service Management® has the functionality the vast majority of organisations require to operate an efficient and successful management of Change, Configuration and Release processes.

Introduction

The only thing constant in life is change, and this is never truer than in an IT organisation.

In order to get a handle on the myriad of modifications and developments occurring within IT many organisations turn to frameworks, such as ITIL, for guidance on best practice.  Change, Configuration and Release Management are three processes that group together favourably and are a valuable continuance for businesses unsure where to progress following successful adoption of Incident, and in some cases Problem Management.

  • Configuration Management is the process used to track individual Configuration Items (CIs) and the way in which they interact with one another
  • Change Management is the process used to track and communicate any changes in service that may impact the customer, such as when systems are taken offline for updates
  • Release Management is the process of managing software releases from development right through to release

Each process can be used individually, but more often than not you will find these processes intertwined.  For example, when considering either a Change or Release you will need to know the CI’s that will be affected before you begin.

As listed above it is ITSM Review’s opinion that Configuration should come first.  We believe that if you can get Configuration right then Change and Release will be infinitely more straightforward.  Establishing that any prospective ITSM tool can record all information for a CI in an easy-to-document-and-locate approach will minimise risk both to individuals and the organisation as a whole.

Too often we see cases where needless mistakes occur during the management of Change and Release due to critical information not being easily accessible.  Upon investigation the result is usually that the documentation was circulated and then filed away with the expectation that it would be read in infinite detail and re-read upon any future modifications of said item.  There are several issues with this:

  • There is a finite amount of time in a day to read the multitude of documents one comes across
  • There is a finite amount of storage within a brain to remember which items have related documents squirreled away
  • People only know what they know

You can blame individuals after mistakes occur by stating that documentation should have been sought out, or you can employ processes that take the guess work (and leg work) out of the equation in conjunction with using an ITSM tool that offers up the information to the right people at the right time.

In this review we have looked at a range of ITSM products covering Change, Configuration and Release Management, targeting all market sizes.

Market Positioning (Target Market Size)

For the purposes of this review, vendors were classified based on their primary market focus, and product capabilities.

Vendor Small Medium Large Very Large
Axios 0% 0% 75% 25%
Cherwell 1% 14% 65% 20%
ITinvolve 0% 75% 12.5% 12.5%
TOPdesk 35.32% 53.63% 10.47% 0.54%

Approach

Vendor On Premise/Saas Separate Release Module Discovery Tool own/Third Party
Axios Both No Both (version dependent)
Cherwell Both No Both
ITinvolve Saas No Third Party
TOPdesk Both No Both (version dependent)

Competitive Overview

Vendor Elevator Pitch Strengths Weaknesses
Axios Axios assyst is a solid, mature and well-rounded tool marketed towards organisation with 1,000+ end users.The functionality and design of assyst provides the ability to manage both simple and complex workflow processes to support the management of change and request.Available both as a SaaS solution and on premise – with concurrent and named licenses – assyst provides a flexible model to fit around your business.
  • Relationships between configuration items, services and users are clearly displayed via a visual impact explorer
  • Drag and drop calendar functionality
  • Easy to collaborate on changes etc., reducing the need for the use of external software
  • Requires experience and an increased investment in time to implement release management if your existing process is complex
Cherwell Cherwell Service Management is a functionality-rich and user-friendly tool.The flexibility of Cherwell Service Management allows customers to automate existing change and configuration processes without the need to compromise the status quo to fit around the tool.With Cherwell Choice concurrent licensing and flexible hosting model, you can choose what works best for your business — Pay-as-you-go or perpetual license,.  Hosted on-premise, by Cherwell or by a third party.
  • Offers multiple ways to achieve the same outcome (e.g. creating a change request) meaning that users can work whichever way best suits them and their requirements
  • Mature change calendar with drag and drop functionality and ability to create changes direct from the calendar view
  • Robust collision detection
  • Requires experience and an increased investment in time to implement release management if your existing process is complex
ITinvolve ITinvolve Service Manager is a progressive and ambitious product.Uniquely combining knowledge capture, analysis, and social collaboration, Service Manager proactively delivers timely and relevant information whenever needed.  The solution greatly reduces the burden on staff and ensures risk can be quickly and accurately assessed.Saas based, Service Manager is licenced per user with an additional annual cost for the platform.
  • Advanced and proactive delivery of knowledge
  • Dynamic identification, analysis and engagement of changes
  • Key settings can be recorded against individual items/objects and are immediately obvious from all areas of the application
  • No drag and drop or create functionality from within the calendar
TOPdesk TOPdesk 5 is a visually pleasing and easy to navigate tool.TOPdesk’s modular structure accommodates a wide range of requirements from different sized organisations. All products include extensive reporting options, clear overviews and a handy Plan Board for planning resources.Web-based hosted as a service or on-site Service Management software, TOPdesk has made the transition from IT into Facilities Management and HR.
  • Tabbed working (ability to have more than one active record open at a time)
  • Attractive GUI which will be appealing to the wider business
  • Form Designer is not available to customers of the Professional version
  • No drag and drop capability on change/release calendar
  • Blackout and maintenance windows not created against Configuration Item (CI) or Service but instead in the Event and Actions module

Customers

customers-graph

Analysis

Vendor Functionality Competitive Differentiators Analysis
Axios Mature, well-rounded tool covering the larger end of the ITSM market with solid change, configuration and release functionality with strong risk assessment capabilities.
  • All ITSM process integrated into one app – non-modular
  • Visual Impact Explorer provides clear graphical views of infrastructure and relevant relationships
  • Drag and drop change/release process design
Assyst offers solid change, configuration and release functionality with strong risk assessment capabilities. I therefore believe that it is a good offering for both large and enterprise organisations with moderate to mature change processes in place.
Cherwell Functionality rich and user friendly tool ensures that no matter how you want to do something you’re likely to be able to do it.
  • Fully integrated management processes that are 100% configurable against an organisation’s current and future service request models, without the need to write a single line of code via programming or scripting services
  • Integrated Platform as a Service (PaaS) technology to empower users to easily develop and deliver integrated business services offerings
  • Quick, easy, and seamless system upgrades, as well as low cost of ownership for on-going system management overheads
Unless you are an organisation with advanced or complex release management requirements, I highly recommend that you consider Cherwell Service Management as your tool of choice.
ITinvolve Progressive, ambitious and agile product with exceptional use of knowledge and collaboration to underpin Change, Configuration and Release as well as all other processes.
  • Comprehensive understanding of not only configuration dependencies but also compliance and key settings
  • Dynamic identification and engagement of all relevant change stakeholders with facilitated collaboration and risk assessment prior to formal change approval workflows
  • Knowledge is proactively delivered to IT staff in the context of the change/release being created/worked on
Despite the lack of drag and drop and create option functionality from within the calendar, regardless of the size of your organisation I strongly believe that you can’t go wrong with considering ITinvolve Service Manager as your ITSM solution for Change, Configuration and Release.
TOPdesk Modern, attractive and easy to navigate tool which is likely to appeal to the wider business as well as IT.
  • Integrates multiple support processes into a unified system, which can be used by the wider business
  • Licensing structure is based on the number of end users rather than operators
  • Comprehensive and modular solution that allows customers to add new processes as they grow
If you are a purely reactive IT organisation, of basic to moderate maturity, with a low to medium number of change requests, then the Enterprise or Ultimate offering of TOPdesk 5 would be a suitable candidate for your organisation.

Deep Dive

Further details for each vendor can be found by using the links below:

Disclaimer, Scope and Limitations

The information contained in this review is based on sources and information believed to be accurate as of the time it was created.  Therefore, the completeness and current accuracy of the information provided cannot be guaranteed.  Readers should therefore use the contents of this review as a general guideline, and not as the ultimate source of truth.

Similarly, this review is not based on rigorous and exhaustive technical study.  The ITSM Review recommends that readers complete a thorough live evaluation before investing in technology.

This is a paid review, that is, the vendors included in this review paid to participate in exchange for all results and analysis being published free of charge, without registration.

For further information, please read the ‘Group Tests’ section, on our Disclosure page.

Review: TOPdesk for Change, Configuration and Release

Logo TOPdesk Service Management Simplified CMYKTOPdesk

This independent review is part of our Change, Configuration and Release Review.

Executive Summary

Elevator Pitch TOPdesk 5 is a visually pleasing and easy to navigate tool.TOPdesk’s modular structure accommodates a wide range of requirements from different-sized organisations. All products include extensive reporting options, clear overviews and a handy Plan Board for planning resources.Web-based hosted as a service, or on-site Service Management software, TOPdesk has made the transition from IT into Facilities Management and HR.
Strengths
  • Tabbed working (ability to have more than one active record open at a time)
  • Attractive GUI which helps make the product simple to use and requires no coding experience
Weaknesses
  • Form Designer is only available to customers in the Enterprise version
  • No drag and drop capability on change/release calendar
  • Blackout and maintenance windows not created against Configuration Item (CI) or Service but instead in the Event and Actions module
Primary Market Focus Based on the information provided, TOPdesk markets to organisations ranging from small (-100 users) to very large, multi-national companies (10,000+ users)

Commercial Summary

Vendor TOPdesk
Product TOPdesk
Version reviewed 5
Date of version release 2012
Year founded 1993
Customers 4,000+
Pricing structure The licensing structure is based on the number of end users that the customer wishes to support with the software. This structure allows customers to have an unlimited number of agents, operators and technicians working on the tickets themselves.Both on-premise installations and SaaS options, hosted by TOPdesk, are available.
Competitive differentiators
  • Shared Service Management and One-Stop-Shop application integrates multiple support processes into a unified system, which can be used by multiple departments either coupled with IT or independently within the business
  • Licensing structure is based on the number of end users rather than operators
  • Comprehensive and modular solution that allows customers to add new processes as they grow

Independent Review

With a modern and attractive interface TOPdesk 5 will likely appeal to the wider business, as well as IT, due to its differing from the usual use of the Windows Explorer-style in favour of a more intuitive GUI.  Whilst most ITSM tool vendors are now looking at ways to enable the integration of their tools outside of IT, in my opinion TOPdesk has been involved in leading the way in a shift towards Enterprise Service Management (ESM).

Our impression of the tool is that the Enterprise edition would be suitable for organisations with a basic to moderate maturity of change/release process with low to medium volume.  The choice to create actions in the Event and Alert module to notify of blackout and maintenance windows after the change has been requested, seems like an afterthought, and is the primary reason why we would not recommend the tool to organisations with a high maturity of change/release.

Without Form Designer, which lets you design your own forms ensuring you gather the correct information, the Professional edition lacks, what we believe, should be basic functionality. However, the processes link well together and the GUI is intuitive, with the ability to create new changes etc. from most areas without the need to navigate away from the current page.

In ITSM Review’s opinion, TOPdesk 5 is a solid ITSM tool, but unfortunately change and release is not its strongest area.  Our recommendation to TOPdesk would be to add Form Designer to its basic offering and to make a few changes to the change calendar (such as: creation of changes from calendar view and drag and drop of change requests) as well as to revise how maintenance and blackout windows function in all editions. This would then ensure that the tool is better suited to organisations with more complex change/release requirements.

General

As with a number of other tools included in this review, TOPdesk 5 combines release with change and the Project Management module (available to Enterprise customers) can also be used to plan releases.

TOPdesk has two offerings: Professional (basic) and Enterprise (standard). The Professional package allows customers to choose the modules, functions and processes that they require, paying only for what they need but with the flexibility to add new processes as they grow. However, as not all modules are available in Professional, should you wish to implement telephony integration, log or update calls on the go, or run surveys for continuous improvement then you will need to upgrade to the Enterprise offering.

TOPdesk states that Change, Configuration and Release are offered as part its Enterprise package. However for potential customers investigating capabilities, we feel that the website lacks clarity as to the inclusion of Configuration and Release as part of its offering. Furthermore, in our opinion little information is provided as to what functionalities can be included as part of the Professional package. It is therefore our recommendation that potential customers contact TOPdesk directly to discussion their Change, Configuration and Release requirements.

Change

As with the other processes in TOPdesk 5, change is easy to access from every screen.  The change record can be linked from incidents, problems, known errors etc. and provides a very good overview of the history of the issue. Change workflow can be configured to create a variety of change types dependent upon the processes an individual organisation has set up.

Configurable dashboards make change management easy to monitor with various widgets available to show you the relevant information you need, such as all current changes awaiting approval etc.  Dashboards can be set on a role-by-role basis giving an “at a glance” view to workload.

Although there are no change templates available out-of-the-box, TOPdesk states that these can be easily created by the customer and copied.

If your role requires you to wear more than one hat i.e. not just Change Manager, then TOPdesk 5 could be useful to you.  TOPdesk 5 has tabbed working that means that you can work on other areas (such as raising an incident) even if you are in the middle of creating a long and complicated change.  This is something that we personally feel is missing from a lot of tools in the market offering Change, Configuration and Release, and is an extremely useful component not just in change but all aspects of working in a busy IT department.

Configuration

For discovery and inventory within TOPdesk you can either use the additional network scanning tool “TOPsis” or integrate with a third party application.  There is also a Barcode scanner module available to Enterprise customers, which enables you to scan a room and attach labels to an item or object, with all relevant data being sent to directly to TOPdesk.

CI forms are fully configurable within Form Designer . The Form Designer allows customers to design forms for calls and requests for change, enabling them to determine which information must be filled in. Whilst Form Designer is part of the Enterprise package, we were surprised to find that this basic functionality is not included as part of the Professional edition. With many other tools containing similar functionality to Form Designer as part of their basic offerings we believe that TOPdesk needs to revisit its decision to not include Form Designer as part of its basic package.

The links wizard allows CI’s to be linked to changes, incidents etc. and each CI has a tab showing a trail of all operation changes.  It is possible within this tab to access all linked records by double clicking or single clicking for a quick overview.

Calendar    

Although TOPdesk 5 does not have the most basic of change calendars it’s not the most advanced either.

Creating blackout and maintenance windows is not as straightforward as it could be.  Rather than creating a window against a CI or a Service that would show on the calendar, these need to be created within the Events and Actions module (available in all versions), which triggers an email after submission dependant upon the parameters set.  We don’t think that it would be an inconvenience if you could go straight to the calendar, check the dates and then create the change from there, but unfortunately this is also not possible.

We feel that were we customers of TOPdesk, we would be frustrated by the toing and froing required to check dates and create requests.

There is also no drag & drop capability for changes on the calendar.  This is certainly by no means a deal breaker, but in the interest of making life as easy as possible for the user this is a possible enhancement TOPdesk could make in the future.

Approvals

Multiple activities can be created within a change, with different tasks involved that have specific time constraints.

Approvers and evaluators of changes can be person or role based.  There are fully customisable drag and drop workflow approval paths, which can be as simple or as complex as your organisation requires with the option for single and CAB approval.

Notifications or emails are automatically sent to approvers with details of the change request and these can be responded to via email or within the tool itself.

In Summary

If you are a purely reactive IT organisation, of basic to moderate maturity, with a low to medium number of change requests, then the Enterprise offering of TOPdesk 5 would be a suitable candidate for your organisation.

In Their Own Words:

TOPdesk develops ITIL-aligned Service Management Software for IT, Facilities Management, and eHRM helpdesks and is among the top five service management tools offered worldwide. Our award-winning solution, along with our ITIL verified consultants and outstanding customer support has helped over 4,000 unique customers to process questions, complaints and malfunctions. With over 20 years of service management experience, we have assisted businesses, to optimize their services with our 100% web-based and user-friendly application. TOPdesk’s modular structure accommodates a wide range of requirements from different sized organisations. TOPdesk can be hosted as a Service or can be installed on-site. All products include: extensive reporting options, clear overviews and a handy Plan Board for planning your resources. Every day, millions of users across 47 countries trust in TOPdesk as their service management solution. Raising your service levels and reducing your workload and costs have never been easier.

Screenshots

This independent review is part of our Change, Configuration and Release Review.

Review: ITinvolve for Change, Configuration and Release [BEST IN CLASS]

logoITinvolve

This independent review is part of our Change, Configuration and Release Review.

Executive Summary

Elevator Pitch ITinvolve Service Manager is a progressive and ambitious product.Uniquely combining knowledge capture, analysis, and social collaboration, Service Manager proactively delivers timely and relevant information whenever needed.  The solution greatly reduces the burden on staff and ensures risk can be quickly and accurately assessed.Saas based, Service Manager is licenced per user with an additional annual cost for the platform.
Strengths
  • Advanced and proactive delivery of knowledge
  • Dynamic identification, analysis and engagement of changes
  • Key settings can be recorded against individual items/objects and are immediately obvious from all areas of the application
Weaknesses
  • No drag and drop or create functionality from within the calendar
Primary Market Focus Based on the information provided, ITinvolve primarily targets the medium to enterprise market

Commercial Summary

Vendor ITinvolve
Product ITinvolve Service Manager
Version reviewed Winter ‘14
Date of version Release December 2013
Year Founded 2011
Customers 8 current customers using ITinvolve Service Manager
Pricing Structure The licencing structure is based on IT users, Business users, i.e. approvers, and Portal users with pricing set accordingly. Service Manager is SaaS-based.
Competitive Differentiators
  • Comprehensive understanding of not only configuration dependencies but also compliance and key settings
  • Dynamic identification and engagement of all relevant change stakeholders with facilitated collaboration and risk assessment prior to formal change approval workflows
  • Knowledge is proactively delivered to IT staff in the context of the change/release being created/worked on

Independent Review

ITinvolve seem to be heading in a slightly different direction to the other vendors in this Change, Configuration and Release review, which is refreshing to see. With emphasis for the other vendors being on broadening the scope into the wider business (outside IT), ITinvolve’s “Agility Application” is focusing on its use within IT and concentrating on helping to take the hard work out of capturing undocumented information, the “collective wisdom” – known by some but not easily accessible by all.

This product is far more dynamic than any of the others in this review and hits the knowledge management angle far harder than anyone else.  If our experience within IT has taught us anything it’s that you can have the best quality knowledge documented but if it’s not immediately available to you it’s not very useful. Ensuring that intelligence is not just recorded, but is immediately accessible to those that need it, as and when they need it, without the need to search through hordes of documentation is key to mature and successful ITSM.  With knowledge management nailed everything else seems infinitely easier and more straightforward.

Change, Configuration and Release work smoothly and effectively in this product.  The collaboration component and Key Settings establish a clear understanding of the needs of the IT department. In my view, doing both these two things exceptionally well, as ITinvolve Service Manager does, supports and benefits all other processes within the product.

In ITSM Review’s opinion ITinvolve Service Manager (hereafter referred to as “Service Manager”) would be suitable for organisation of all sizes, especially the more “forward-thinking market” looking to bring a more proactive way of distributing knowledge to the right audience in order to reduce risk and speed time to execution for change, configuration and release activities.

General

As with other tools in this review, release and changes are both created from within the change area of the tool, but with the difference here being that ITinvolve also handles releases as individual change items within a change record rather than just as a change.

Service Manager is built on the Salesforce1 platform and leverages the APIs, data integration facilities, and connectors available to integrate with third party systems such as discovery tools, CMDBs, systems management tools, etc.

Change

Service Manager supports pre-approved, normal and emergency change with the facility to configure these to your organisational needs.

The interesting thing about the way Service Manager works compared to other tools is that it gives interested parties a chance to weigh in on change requests before they go to the approval stage.  Proactive identification, analysis and engagement of changes ensures that everyone that needs consulting is consulted – avoiding the all to common “loop” where changes are brought forward to the CAB only to be pushed back for further analysis.

Service Manager is built with collaboration capabilities throughout, including the ability to follow particular items (which ITinvolve calls objects) such as applications, policies, and infrastructure components if you have a vested interest in them. Users can build a perspective (think of a “hot” Visio diagram) that includes all the objects valuable to their role rather than having to filter through information. This, in turn, enables the ITinvolve application to recommend the relevant experts to change planners for change, configuration and release activities.

These stakeholders are then able to collaborate virtually with one another on the change, adding or removing associations with other objects and engaging other stakeholders as necessary. The visual impact analysis is continuously updated during this activity, helping collaborators to easily see potential upstream and downstream impacts.

Additionally, any key setting information, policy information, or relevant knowledge objects/articles are inherited to the change for the objects associated, ensuring that all stakeholders have advanced access to the information they need to assess the change accurately and quickly without having to hunt for information.

Key settings for an object are able to be recorded and shown in the Activity Stream, as an icon within the Impact Analysis and within the Impact Factors tab, ensuring that important intelligence does not have to be hunted for and should never be missed.

This is by far the most agile and proactive change and release (as this is bundled also) product that we have reviewed so far.

Configuration

Service Manager supports a variety of integrations to leverage existing discovery and asset management data, but does not directly provide auto-discovery itself.  Objects in Service Manager support common attributes found in inventory control, asset management tools and barcode scanners making synchronization frictionless and consistent.

All automated updates to objects are written into the Activity Stream and followers of the object are updated immediately and are able to review, validate and correct revised information.  This creates a continuous mechanism for verification between expected and actual configuration avoiding the configuration inaccuracy challenges so common in CMDB implementations.

Service Manager supports a visual model of relationship mapping between objects including business services, applications, servers, databases, networking devices, policies, knowledge, etc., and also support custom objects.  Service Manager’s Impact Analysis not only shows which objects, services etc. are relative to one another, but utilizes badges to also show where changes and issues may be in effect for specific objects, as well as any key settings or information that you may need to be aware of.

What ITSM Review likes most about Service Manager is that you don’t have to go searching for relevant information.  Although there are times when you will want to manually attach information to an object, Service Manager does so intelligently without the need to perform extra steps or leave the screen you are on and go to a different area of the product.

Calendar    

The ability to set change/release blackouts/maintenance periods against individual objects as well as records that contain multiple objects, provides the opportunity to manage changes from a macro-level to a meticulous calendar ensuring that a change/release is only able to be requested for time periods that have been pre-approved.

One thing that we were surprised to find is that there is no drag and drop or create-from calendar ability within Service Manager.  Although this is not vital, it’s absence seemed a bit surprising given the other functionality contained. However this is functionality that ITinvolve states is on its roadmap for a future release.

Approvals

Once the change requester has performed an initial association of objects, including the business impact for the associated objects, relevant stakeholders are automatically identified based on those individuals, or groups that have included one or more of those objects in their perspectives (mentioned earlier within Change section).

Potential upstream and downstream impacts are visually represented ensuring that those stakeholders can easily spot any potential areas of concern.  Stakeholders are able to collaborate virtually with one another on the change, adding and removing associations with other objects and engaging other potentially interested parties, including business stakeholders as necessary. This “extra step” actually streamlines change approvals enabling greater change velocity.

Change and release approvals can be set to individuals or teams on a one/majority/percentage etc. must approve basis, e.g. a high risk change/release requires 100% agreement from all stakeholders before approval is granted. Escalations are also automated based on lack of stakeholder response within define timeframes.

Approvals, the same as all activities within the product, are documented and in effect creates a public audit that can be questioned, crowd sourced and peer reviewed.

In Summary

Despite the one noted absence of drag and drop and create option functionality from within the calendar, regardless of the size of your organisation, we strongly believe that you can’t go wrong with considering ITinvolve Service Manager as your ITSM tool for Change, Configuration and Release.

In Their Own Words:

ITinvolve Service Manager transforms IT Service Management (ITSM) with a unique, breakthrough approach.

Cloud computing, virtualization, and BYOD are making greater demands on traditional service management tools and processes. Unfortunately, commoditized service desk tools offer little more than ticketing and more “enterprise class” products are process-heavy and difficult to configure. What’s more, the collaboration capabilities they contain are afterthoughts at best and lack the context required for effective engagement.

ITinvolve challenges this status quo.

Product Highlights:

  • Provides a unified self-service portal for incidents, requests, and help information
  • Supports ITIL processes for incident, problem, change, and request management
  • Brings valuable, but scattered, IT knowledge and data together in one place – displaying it visually
  • Captures undocumented, expert tribal knowledge through easy-to-use social collaboration
  • Ensures teams have a trusted, complete, and accurate foundation for rapid decision making and risk analysis

Screenshots

This independent review is part of our Change, Configuration and Release Review.