Maximize Benefit. Minimize Risk. Planning for IT Change Control

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Image of pen and paper with checkboxes, one of which is checked, signifying the need for change control.

Like so many other types of policies for IT management, "change control" policy is used to govern the means and methods by which technology change is planned, approved and implemented.  The goals are simple - to embrace required change, avoid unneccessary change and ensure that all approved change is implemented with minimal disruption to ongoing operations.  This is a big task - read on to learn how it works.

Technology change is inevitable, whether it relates to systems administration, hardware configuration, software updates, or other maintenance obligations. As a standardized IT management practice, IT change control is used to support changing business and technology needs, designed to maintain overall stability, security and reliability. Technology change is beneficial, but it can also be disruptive. Quality change control practices must be designed to realize every benefit, while minimizing related problems.


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Basic Principles of Technology Change Control

The basic principles for managing "technology change" can be broken down into four (4) categories for simplified planning, covering technology use, change control targets, change delivery mechanisms and change "purpose".

How is change control used to manage technology?

  • Change control is a management practice used to "control" the initiation, planning, approval, execution and processing of required changes to in-place technology.

What are the most common change control targets?

  • The targets of change management practices, and related policies, are in-place technology including networks, servers, storage devices, end-user devices (desktops, laptops, notebooks, tablets), software, and related products.

How is change control delivered?

  • Change control practices are delivered as documented policies, implemented through the use of related operational procedures and related tools.

What are the primary change control "goals and objectives"?

  • To manage and create a documented record of required changes and ensure that each change is implemented in the most cost effective, high quality manner with minimal disruption to ongoing operations.

Standardized Steps for Effective Policy Planning

Change control policy development begins with a comprehensive needs assessment, executed to establish the basis upon which policy terms and variables will be created. 

The "define, align, and approve" management methodology provides an standardized roadmap for policy planning, development and implementation). 

Step 1:  Identify your change control objectives.

  • What are you trying to accomplish with the use of change control?  Common change control objectives include problem reduction, improved control and improved service quality.

Step 2:  Identify your policy development "scope".

  • At this stage, you must consider the need to create new policies or update existing policies.

Step 3:  Collect information and requirements in order to evaluate current needs and capabilities:

  • Inventory your change control "targets" (in place systems, hardware and software).
  • Identify change control requirements (what types of changes do you encounter?)
  • Identify organizational requirements (number of locations, business priorities, etc).
  • Evaluate change control capabilities including resource availability, SLA obligations and skill levels.

Step 4:  Create "change control" policy deliverables.

  • Document goals, objectives, roles, responsibilities, initiation procedures, approval procedures, design procedures, testing procedures, scheduling, communication, recovery, support, documentation, tracking, waivers and documentation.

Step 5:  Implement policies and pay careful attention to communication and consistency.

  • If change policies are to have any true benefit, they must be enforced.  Make sure you have sufficient management support to overcome objections and minimize related conflicts.

Step 6:  Plan for ongoing review of policy impact, value, and revision as may be needed.

  • Continuous improvement and continued relevance are essential to IT change control value and viability. Review and evaluation should be a "baked in" element of the change control policy and related operational procedures.  (Also Read: Practical Procedures for Managing Project Change).

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