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October 1, 2020
All IT system changes, from improvement rollouts to security patches or system updates, come with some level of risk. Careful planning, testing, and deployment are essential, especially when dealing with mission-critical systems. For banks that tend to operate extensive IT infrastructures and legacy systems, the release management process can be a daunting effort, particularly when it comes to payment systems.
With ongoing changes and updates to payment systems and their network of supporting IT systems, most banks schedule weekly weekend releases. Managing these changes effectively can be challenging for release managers who often don’t have the proper tooling to plan, coordinate, test, and execute the myriad details involved.
While helping numerous banks plan and execute IT system changes, we’ve identified five elements that have made the release management process more efficient and successful.
1. Work from one version of the truth
Many release management teams still capture and track their change releases using spreadsheets. A typical weekly release may involve three different spreadsheets of changes: the release team’s view, the payment team’s view, and the corporate banking view. Each week, the project management office combines the spreadsheets and hosts a walk-through to discuss and confirm the release plan. The process tends to generate considerable discussion, and often disagreement, over which changes should and can go, and leaves little time to dive into the execution details, which are critical to success.
Cutover's Work Orchestration and Observability platform eliminates static spreadsheets and provides teams with the level of visibility they need to be more efficient during a release. Using a dynamic calendar view to add and track all changes, team members can easily see what is planned a week, a month, or a year from now.
With this one version of the truth at hand, teams are more certain and spend a greater portion of their weekly release meetings discussing the finer details such as: ‘Are there conflicts with any other activities?’, ‘Do we have testing signed off?’, ‘Is the plan ready to go?’
2. Standardize wherever possible
For any implementation, there are numerous steps to prepare for in order to execute a successful delivery, e.g. designing the release, fielding the release, testing the release. When delivering change in a bank, regulations and the web of interconnected systems add further requirements to the process. For example, it’s not unexpected to need approvals from up to 45 different teams (or more!) before a change can be executed.
Managing and tracking this complex process can be laborious, particularly when using spreadsheets, project management software, emails, and conference calls. And success relies heavily on the Program Manager’s competence to orchestrate tasks.
Fortunately, Cutover enables teams to build fully customizable automated runbooks for change projects—detailed, step-by-step workflows that include both human (manual) and machine (automated) activities and any dependencies. These workflows can be rehearsed before “go live” to identify and address issues in a controlled environment. Afterward, these runbooks can be tweaked, templatized, and used over and over again for all your release activities.
In addition, teams and key stakeholders have full visibility into all aspects of a release initiative including a high-level plan with the ability to drill down to see the progress for hundreds or thousands of tasks. Team members can use filters to see exactly what activities they are responsible for, what changes are on track, where there are issues, and when they need to jump in and take the required action.
These capabilities can also be used to enforce release management policies, especially when integrated with an organization’s IT service management (ITSM) platform, like ServiceNow. For example, you can align change approval and ticketing with change execution through automatic runbook creation followed by automatic ticket closure for increased efficiency. Automation is crucial to enabling scale and consistency in your release process.
3. Automate as much as you can
Even the most well-thought-out processes can have bottlenecks that slow momentum. For example, delays often occur when work needs to be reviewed or approved to move forward. Requests can get buried in email, causing stakeholders to miss a release plan that’s waiting on their approval.
Automation can be used to optimize this process so all approvers are notified they need to review something. For example, Cutover has built-in communication features, including automated emails, SMS messages, and conference call setup, streamlining collaboration, capturing activities, and providing real-time status updates to teams and stakeholders. In addition, changes that need an approved record in the Service Management platform can be automated within Cutover.
4. Take time to review and improve
Pushing payment systems changes can be a relentless delivery cycle with little time to reflect on how to improve the process, particularly if performance metrics need to be manually gathered. Using Cutover’s post-implementation review (PIR) dashboard, delivery teams have full visibility into all performance aspects of their release post-execution, including planned timelines vs. actual performance, resource utilization, wastage, and the ability to drill down into any of the many tasks that make up the release. Teams can also use the PIR dashboard to log qualitative feedback about a release, what was successful, what wasn’t, combined with quantitative data. By identifying and sharing these insights—e.g. why an event took longer than expected—teams can take action to understand and fix the problem to improve future releases.
5. Maintain complete records
When things go wrong—and admittedly they do—there is the inevitable post-mortem analysis to determine what happened and ensure it doesn’t occur again. Usual audit activities can involve countless days of manually unearthing data from disparate sources. Fortunately Cutover provides a “black box” system of record for everything—what, when, and by whom—performed within the platform. This comprehensive audit trail provides visibility into all executed runbooks, ensuring you meet regulatory and compliance requirements without wasting resources gathering data.
The release management schedule will continue to be hectic for banks focused on improving their services and meeting new requirements. However, by investing in tools that eliminate many manual activities, provide standardization and automation, and deliver end-to-end visibility for planning, testing, and deployment, the release management process can be simplified, more efficient, and most importantly, more successful.