An important part of maintaining a stable network environment is establishing a change control process. For enterprises with larger IT staffs and multiple sites, change management is critical. Changes to routers, servers, or other network hardware or applications affect everyone who relies on the network as a productivity and communications tool. Problems can easily arise if the IT staff at different locations aren’t on the same page when it comes to implementing network changes.

A key step toward implementing a change control process is using a standard form to communicate needed changes and to track implemented updates. Documenting requests and projects and distributing the information ensures that all those concerned are aware of network issues that could affect them. It also helps prevent duplication of effort and unnecessary conflicts.

To take the first step toward creating a change control process, download this change control form template and use it to systematize and document network modifications. With this form, you can identify needed updates, make business justifications for changes, and track the progress of the updates.

Benefits of a change control procedure
CNET Vice President of IT Paul Osterhus saw a need in his department for change management to gain control of network updates. Osterhus said that because the network was constantly changing, lack of a process made it difficult to keep track of what was going on—and some of the changes being made might not even have been necessary.

“We were getting a little willy-nilly with our changes, and I felt that if we established change management, it would ensure that the network engineers were taking time to think about the impact of the changes.”

The process Osterhus put in place required that network engineers submit a request via e-mail that would be distributed to individuals in the organization who wanted to be notified of changes. This system, Osterhus said, accomplishes a number of goals, such as:

  • Informing management and other staff members of upcoming network updates.
  • Giving others a chance to question the changes before they are implemented.
  • Scheduling the implementation of changes.
  • Establishing an approval process.
  • Justifying changes based on business need.
  • Documenting changes for auditing purposes.

In addition to providing much-needed communication of changes and documentation, Osterhus said the change control process improved the general opinion about changes.

“When failures occurred, the perception was that IT wasn’t doing a good job. We were making changes all the time, and you might have one in 20 that caused a problem, but it’s the failures that people noticed.”

With the change control process, management has been kept informed of changes and have been made a part of the process and given a voice in it. Since more people are aware of the changes, Osterhus said, they have a better idea of what’s going on and can clearly see that many changes are for the better and do not result in failures.

“In this way, the process has also done a little PR work for IT.”

Putting the change procedure to work
With the CNET process, anyone can offer feedback on the proposed network changes described in the request, but Osterhus ultimately approves them. Osterhus said he usually speaks directly with the network engineer submitting the request to clarify the need for it. If the change is approved, the network engineer initiating the request makes the changes at the scheduled time.

After implementing the change, the network engineer sends a follow-up e-mail stating that the task has been completed. All information relating to the change is logged in a history file so that anyone can view a list of all the tasks that have been performed since the change management process was set up.

Another side of CNET, TechRepublic, also felt the need for a change management process as its network began to grow rapidly. After the company was acquired by CNET, TechRepublic admins suddenly found themselves managing a much more complex network and interacting with other admins thousands of miles away. The organization quickly realized that maintaining stability across the entire network was going to require a conscious effort to coordinate activities.

Network Administrator Lori Hyde said that before the change control form and process were established, she saw three or four requests per day come in to her department. Admins were tied up with the volume of changes, and the requests also resulted in duplicated effort and even undoing needed changes.

“We stepped on each other occasionally—one person would make a change in a router and another would access the settings and unknowingly overwrite those changes,” Hyde said.

Accountability could also be an issue under these circumstances. Hyde said that in some cases, she was questioned about changes she’d made only to find that someone else had modified settings after her, undoing the work she’d done. She feels that network stability suffered because of the lack of process.

“There’s a fine line between being responsive and being out of control.”

The establishment of a formal process reduced the number of requested changes and also reduced the number of cases in which network engineers made conflicting changes.

In CNET’s case, Osterhus said the process reduced the number of changes by about 20 percent because network engineers were taking more time to consider what they were doing. Hyde’s experience has been similar. She said that the process has led to more careful consideration of the changes the admins are proposing before they submit them. She said the process has definitely stabilized the whole environment.

Establishing a change management procedure can have many benefits, and the experiences of CNET and TechRepublic show that change management can result in noticeable improvements in a short period of time. You can use our change management template as a place to start in establishing your own change management procedure.