The steady pace of software updates have become part of the rhythm of life in the 21st Century. Even on a personal level, sometimes it feels rare to make it through a day without one of your apps nagging you to be updated. Sometimes those updates can be time-consuming, and sometimes they can lead to headaches if those new software releases introduce bugs, security flaws or conflicts with other software into your system.
For businesses, the stakes are even higher. New software releases need to be carefully vetted from a security standpoint, as well as thoroughly evaluated for stability and compatibility with existing systems.
In the cloud, technology is continuously updated. Microsoft may release as many as eight updates per year for the Microsoft Dynamics 365 Cloud ERP platform. In general, that's a plus, because staying fully up to date with the latest software makes sure you're positioned to get the most out of new tools and functionality that can help you stay agile and ready to capitalize on new opportunities.
At the same time, it can be an uphill battle for companies to understand these new releases and take full advantage of them. That means it's critical for your technical team or an outside advisor to stay on top of the latest updates to understand how they affect your business. In some cases, they may conflict with an integration or third-party solution that's already in place. And errors caused by new updates can create security risks or cause potentially costly delays in business processes.
That’s why it pays to make sure you have a well-planned release management strategy in place. Let's take a closer look at what that means, and how it works.
What Is Release Management — and What Are the Benefits?
A successful software release management strategy involves, at the minimum:
Planning for new releases
Coordinating tests to make sure they're stable and secure
Managing their deployment
The goal is to put releases in place in a controlled way that minimizes potential disruption and negative impacts for users, as well as the larger organization.
Doing it right carries valuable rewards: It ensures day-to-day stability for the production environment, keeping the ride smooth even as you adapt to new capabilities and harness the power of increasingly sophisticated tools.
The risks of doing it wrong, on the other hand, are substantial. And it isn't an option to simply stick your head in the sand and put off updates for long periods of time. Doing so compromises your security, leaving you vulnerable to cyberattacks and other harms. It also reduces your competitiveness as you fall behind on new features — and it negatively impacts your productivity as team members struggle with aging and inefficient software.
The Power of Evergreen
The risks mentioned above are part of why Microsoft (among others) has transitioned to an evergreen IT approach (also known as Kaizen, or continuous improvement). Simply put, going evergreen means "running services consisting of components that are always up to date," per Microsoft's definition.
In the case of Dynamics 365, that means that Microsoft releases updates eight times per year to fix bugs, strengthen security and expand core functionality. The updates are automatically deployed to your business system, although only the two most important updates (in April and October) are mandatory to implement. Overall, the evergreen way is a big step toward helping you stay secure and competitive.
How Columbus Can Take the Headaches Out of Release Management
Although we wish we could tell you that this evergreen approach takes 100% of the pain out of staying up to date — and while it does deliver enormous benefits — the truth is that it isn't completely easy being evergreen (with apologies to Kermit).
Some of the challenges that remain include:
Testing: You'll need to test updates in advance to make sure they're compatible with your business systems and data. This requires a comprehensive, automated testing setup, which is something not many companies are positioned to handle on their own.
Learning: It's also crucial to thoroughly study new updates to make sure you understand how they'll affect your business. The devil, as they say, is often in the details. What's changing with this new update? What features or functions are going away? And what if any challenges might these changes create — will there be any impacts on your other systems or workflows?
The learning component can be a particular hurdle, because there's a steady stream of highly detailed documentation that may require specialist knowledge to fully decode and understand. Dealing with that can be both time-consuming and stressful.
That means you'll still need a solid update strategy in place to manage new releases efficiently and make sure you reap all the benefits while staying secure.
We can work closely with you on testing, implementation and integration with your day-to-day processes, so you've got a trusted and experienced partner in your corner with deep understanding of how Microsoft solutions operate.
Here's some of what Columbus can do to help you tackle these challenges and make sure you come out on top:
Knowledge: We'll make sure you're up to speed well in advance on what's coming down the pike, and what adaptations may be necessary, so you've got both the lead time and the understanding you need to implement successfully.
Strategic Input: We'll help you craft and fine-tune your strategy, with a particular eye for the technical details and the small print, and a well-honed sense of the potential pitfalls to avoid.
Oversight: We'll makes sure there are eyes on your updates as they're implemented, to keep everything on course.
We know that every company requires its own specialized approach to these challenges, so the solution we create for you will be a custom fit based on the needs of your business.
As part of that, we assign every customer a permanent release manager who's familiar with your company, aware of your needs and available to discuss them, and will keep you briefed not only on what's changing with each release — but on what new opportunities it create for you.
Want to learn more about how Columbus can help you master release management? Reach out today.
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