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What Is IT Change Management? A Complete Guide for Your Business

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Everything you need to know about IT change management to ensure smooth and successful deployments.

Has your organization ever deployed the perfect new software designed to drive more efficient operations, only to have it fall short of users' expectations or experience minimal adoption among your team?

Employees in your company rely on so many different technologies that adjusting their workflows without causing disruptions has become an elaborate puzzle. Add to that puzzle IT’s ever-growing scope of work and the need for crystal clear communication skyrockets. The good news is that there’s a step-by-step process IT leaders can follow to ensure users have all of the information and training they need: IT change management.

In this guide, you'll discover all you need to know about IT change management so you can increase technology adoption rates, reduce costly downtime and keep employees happy and productive.

What Is IT Change Management?
What Does IT Change Management Not Include?
Why Is Change Management In IT important?
Types Of IT Changes
What Is a Change Advisory Board (CAB)?
How Does the IT Change Management Process work?
IT Change Management Best Practices
Examples Of Change Management
IT Change Management vs. Release Management

What Is IT Change Management?

IT change management is the process that enables your organization to transform IT infrastructure while minimizing service disruptions. Following this structured approach, an IT team reduces the potential for adoption challenges and outages that disrupt employees’ day-to-day work. Additionally, IT change management ensures requested changes are truly necessary一either to fix an issue or upgrade performance.

The phrase “IT change management” came from an IT services framework called the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL). This structure outlines best practices and steps you can take to deliver IT services successfully. ITIL is also one way of implementing Information Technology Service Management (ITSM), the set of practices, policies and procedures that manage service delivery to end-users.

An example of IT change management might be a company wanting to transition to electronic signature technology. When stakeholders determine a vendor they want to use, they’ll submit a change request to their change advisory board (CAB) detailing the scope of work and make a case for the ROI. The CAB will review the submission and decide whether the risks are worth the reward.

What Does IT Change Management Not Include?

Some business leaders conflate IT change management with organizational change management, but the two concepts are quite different. Organizational change management (OCM) focuses on the effects of company changes on people, such as those that come from new leadership, restructured teams, or new technology.

On the other hand, IT change management centers on technology and evaluating the risks associated with IT-related decisions on efficiency, productivity and cost savings.

Why Is Change Management In IT important?

Modern organizations expect their IT services to be stable and consistent. The catch is that most IT-managed services need regular updates, which can interrupt employees’ workdays and occasionally lead to downtime.

You may think the answer is to implement changes slower, but that only sets companies back. Take paper documents, for example. The time and money it takes to file, scan and store them can put you years behind your competitors—especially in a hybrid or remote work environment. Signing PDFs electronically, which enables PDF editing and more, can dramatically speed up your processes.

The best way to prevent downtime is to implement IT change management. This practice allows IT teams to improve services while lessening the possibility of a detrimental outage in the following ways:

  • Streamlined and faster changes: With all the information IT teams need at their fingertips, IT change management helps them allocate resources better, prioritize changes with the highest ROI and carry out changes quickly without worrying about an outage. 

  • Improved communication with key stakeholders: Communication is inherent in the IT change management process. DevOps receives notifications when new tasks appear in their queue. QA teams know when DevOps completes jobs so they can get a headstart on testing, making the entire process more transparent and efficient. And security officers are in the loop to react to any alerts that arise.   

  • Less downtime, more productivity and cost savings: Better preparation and communication significantly reduce poorly planned changes, leading to fewer outages and incidents. 

  • Tracking and traceability of changes: IT change management leaves behind an audit trail of every decision related to a change. Having that information handy is not only useful if something goes wrong; it serves as a reference for implementing future similar requests.  

As more companies adopt work-from-home or hybrid environments, digital transformation (and all the changes that come with it) is inevitable. Excellent IT change management can improve an organization's ability to de-provision users quickly and ensure IT teams can deploy software remotely.

Types Of IT Changes

IT changes can come in several different forms, ranging in urgency and the amount of risk involved:

Standard changes

Standard IT changes are essentially pre-approved routine changes because the risk of implementing them is low.

Most of an enterprise’s changes will be standard ones. Some examples are replacing a device, creating a new database instance, increasing the size of a hard drive or provisioning a new user.

Normal changes

Normal changes are a step up from standard changes and often relate to upgrades for networks, devices or applications. Because there’s more risk involved, normal change requests must include a deployment plan and risk analysis upon submission.

Examples of normal changes are: contracting cloud services, integrating an acquired company’s tech stack, upgrading all network devices and other digital transformation-related activities.

Emergency changes

Emergency changes are what they sound like一changes required to fix an immediate, pressing problem. Emergency changes happen when someone on your security team detects a vulnerability, an unplanned outage occurs or a piece of equipment breaks.

In these cases, IT teams may postpone or significantly accelerate planning and risk analysis steps to rectify the issue as fast as possible. When they troubleshoot on the fly, they may document and process after the fact when they have more time, helping avoid similar future situations.

What Is a Change Advisory Board (CAB)?

A CAB is a group of experts from various facets of a business who are responsible for examining and approving IT change requests. The CAB meets regularly to review IT change requests, paying close attention to validity, risk and value.

As part of that process, they scrutinize user acceptance test outcomes and deployment and rollback plans. The CAB may even request a Q&A session with project managers if they need more detail. But if the CAB doesn’t think there’s enough information related to a request, thinks a submission is too risky or doesn’t feel there’s a critical need for the request, they can reject it.

The CAB acts as an extra set of eyes for the IT team, preventing them from spending time on unnecessary or precarious changes. While that’s mostly a good thing, the CAB can also hinder an organization’s progress by creating bottlenecks from complex and time-consuming approval processes—especially when CAB members aren’t close to the deployed changes.

So, in recent years, the CAB has modified its role to fit within modern IT to get changes approved and out the door faster.

How Does the IT Change Management Process work?

Decades ago, CABs could afford to spend time conducting lengthy reviews. But today, CABs and stakeholders requesting changes must work in an agile fashion, following this step-by-step process and iterating along the way:

1. Change request submission: Using an intuitive, self-service portal, company stakeholders and IT staff can submit change requests to their CAB. Requesters must compile basic information about their proposal, from goals to possible implementation risks to applications or systems the change may affect.  

2. Request review: Before a CAB member examines the request, a change manager, peer reviewer, or automation checks it for accuracy and feasibility. If the initial reviewer deems the change unnecessary or lacking information, they may send it back to the requester.   

3. Planning: Finalized requests need an accompanying plan outlining all aspects of the rollout, the reasoning behind any requested downtime, and what will happen if the company needs to back out of the change. 

4. Request approved: At this point, the CAB conducts a comprehensive review. When finished, they give their recommendation to the official change manager, who gives final approval. 

5. Implementation: Once stakeholders have gained CAB approval, implementation can start. During this phase, managers start assigning tasks and overseeing the project end-to-end. 

6. Review and closure: After an organization has fully implemented a change, the CAB reviews any remaining issues or deviations from the plan and, hopefully, resolves them. If something goes wrong, stakeholders and the CAB can learn from it and add any additional steps to their process to mitigate future risk. Eventually, the CAB will mark projects as incomplete, successful, or failed with a corresponding explanation.  

While this seems straightforward in theory, it’s tougher to execute in practice. That’s why many companies enlist the help of vendors to guide them through the IT change management process.

IT Change Management Best Practices

Driving end-user adoption without disruption can be a daunting mission, but it becomes less overwhelming when you follow these IT change management best practices:

  • Automate and streamline where possible: When you’re fielding hundreds or even thousands of requests, workflow automation is a must. Removing repetitive manual work empowers everyone to focus their time where it matters most. 

  • Engage and collaborate: Decisions shouldn’t happen in silos. IT teams and their leadership need to set appropriate expectations, answer questions, communicate and work together to ensure they deliver the correct results on time. 

  • Use metrics and KPIs: It’s challenging to know whether your IT change management process is working unless you track its success. Agree on success metrics ahead of time and monitor them weekly or monthly to determine whether any tweaks you make to the process align with your goals.  

  • Normalize change: As anyone in development or IT knows, change is constant. So factor that into your plans, allowing for extra flexibility when needed. 

  • Understand risks and regulations: Many companies must abide by specific compliance regulations, so it’s critical to stay vigilant. Be sure to add new checkpoints into your process as governments and agencies publish or amend requirements.  

  • Look to frameworks for inspiration: IT change management processes aren’t a one-and-done project: you can continuously improve them. Carve out time to read the latest thought leadership and research other frameworks that might help you simplify your process.

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Examples Of Change Management

Wondering what change management looks like in practice? Learn from these leading organizations.

T-Mobile needed to replace their existing Adobe solution with a scalable and affordable PDF software. With a comprehensive change management plan tailored to their unique technical needs, they accelerated a distruption-free deployment.

Pacific National’s goal was to digitize their workflows. With Nitro's support across the entire journey, from installation and rollout to onboarding and training, they improved productivity for over 3,500 employees.

Howden Group’s rapidly growing teams across 27 countries required a single source PDF solution. A proactive and process driven approach to change management helped Howden scale faster and accelerate user adoption across the organization.

IT Change Management vs. Release Management

Once you have your IT change management down, it might be time to consider a release management program. Whereas IT change management entails submitting, approving and implementing change requests, release management gets into the nitty-gritty details of preparation and deployment.

There's some overlap, but release management is more of a subset of IT change management. Release managers map out how and when implementations happen, including the order and priority of both manual and automated tasks.

Achieve powerful IT change management with Nitro

With an IT change management process in place, unplanned and unauthorized changes will become a thing of the past. Improved communication, attention to detail and automation make for less downtime and more successful deployments.

Nitro accelerates time to value in IT change management by streamlining the secure document lifecycle, from eSigning to document generation to identity services. With built-in customizable workflows, IT teams and CABs can get and stay on track, giving them more time to spend on strategic projects rather than tedious admin tasks.

On the backend, Nitro Analytics highlights what’s working and what’s not with intuitive dashboards and reports to encourage continuous improvement.

Contact us today to set up a demo and explore how Nitro’s Productivity Platform is changing the IT change management game.