We’re all familiar with two main types of cars for sale: Internal Combustion Engine (ICE)/regular cars or Electric Vehicle (EV)/electric cars. With the first one, you’ll have your regular maintenance scheme, and the car remains virtually the same as at the time of purchase. This is revolutionarily different than most electric cars. New “Over-the-Air” (OTA) updates for the car bring new features and improvements every month. This means that the car is getting a little bit better over time without going to the mechanic. That would also be nice for an IT environment, right?
To accomplish this, companies are implementing Evergreen IT. But what exactly is Evergreen IT, what are the risks and how can you start applying it within your organization? This blog introduces you to the world of Evergreen IT.
Although the term ‘Evergreen IT’ has been around for quite some time, it is still relevant. Many companies are still catching up with technology and ways of working which are more iterative. The balance is shifting more and more towards shorter times to market for introducing new functionality and updating solutions that make use of Software as a Service (SaaS) and (public) cloud infrastructure. This requires a different approach and processes that are more aligned to these objectives.
The Evergreen IT approach takes new ways of working from managing (public) cloud infrastructure and SaaS solutions and applies these to managing IT in general. Instead of meticulously planning large, lengthy upgrade projects, smaller updates are applied at faster frequency. The smaller updates mostly contain smaller changes in functionality and technology, which reduce the effort required to check on compatibility issues in solutions. Evergreen IT also aligns to the agile way of working which has become prevalent in many IT departments and IT vendor delivery teams. And, Evergreen IT supports the next step and move to DevOps.
Introducing the Evergreen IT method requires a new kind of flexibility and managing the expectations from the end-user perspective. In more traditional IT organizations, end users face larger changes in functionality and need more time to adopt the updated solution. To manage this change and adoption, management is focused on preparing and managing the expectations of end users. Also, during and after implementing the change, IT organizations should make sure the right amount of support is available for after care. This process sounds straightforward and relatively simple, until it concerns changes in which various parties/suppliers are needed. In that case, the IT organization and supplier(s) should prepare and plan extensively regarding communication and minimize possible impact on the IT environment. End users should be informed along the changes journey to make them understand the impact on their working environment and that they might encounter some issues. The same applies to the other suppliers in the ecosystem, who need to be informed (or even taken along) as well about the upcoming changes. Managing the entire change cycle is very time consuming and proven difficult.
The Evergreen IT approach is 180 degrees different compared to the traditional way of managing change – that is a good thing! In an evergreened IT environment, end users are facing smaller but more frequent changes. For example, daily routines of today’s end user include updates from apps, telephones and even cars. So, end users are already familiar with this process to a certain extent and have experience in a rapidly changing environment with little impact. This is a huge advantage for the IT department and helps them with faster change and the sequential introduction of new functionality and technology. By applying and deploying minor changes, end users will experience a constantly improving and easy to use IT environment and won’t be bothered with large incremental upgrades. With the introduction of Evergreen IT, also the need for communication declines because end users can continue to work as if nothing is changed.
From the perspective of the IT department, there are multiple challenges and requirements in changing the way of working into a more agile one, which helps achieve evergreening objectives. Some examples of changes that are needed include increasing the frequency and attentiveness of monitoring trends and updates in technology and solutions. Also enhancing the flexibility of service processes like: Change Management, Release and Deployment Management, Service Validation, and Testing and Security Management, is needed. Besides the process and monitoring function of the IT organization, also the testing capabilities need to improve. Testing new versions need to happen more frequently and on an ongoing basis to become more flexible and to adopt and push new solutions quickly.
All these changes to process require a higher level of automation, to make sure tests are performed correctly and consistent and deployment is executed seamlessly in the production environment. This aligns and supports the DevOps way of working, with the purpose of integrating development of new functionality and IT Operations, to deploy improvements and functionality faster.
Besides improving the current IT environment and IT (Service) Management Processes, the introduction or redefinition of IT Outsourcing can play a huge role in adopting the Evergreen IT methodology and help tackle some of the challenges mentioned above.
Based on our experience, to be able to evergreen IT, companies need to adhere more closely to the standard ‘out of the box’ or ‘off the shelf’ functionality of (software) solutions. In this way updating becomes easier, because a large part of the testing is done by the supplier of the solution. IT organizations on the other hand, mainly need to focus on the integration of the solution within the IT environment. Additional customizations and add-ons build on top of standard solutions require more effort, which may add time to releasing and deploying new functionality. The disadvantage of mainly implementing standard functionality is that solutions are less tuned to the existing business processes and the business will need to align their processes to the solutions.
Also, to be able to react proactively on changes to solutions, the IT department will need to monitor supplier and market developments and trends more closely and make sure that governance and (Service Management) process include this.
Lastly, before changing a system or solution in a business process, a business case should always be part of the assessment and decision making. This way, a concise decision can be triangulating the short- and long-term objectives along with the associated financial implications. In our experience, a business case is often lacking or not given the right amount of attention. This results in a discussion based on opinions and conversations without having solid facts!
Actions & tips on how to start with Evergreen IT
- Use the ‘at home’ end-user experience as a foundation for designing processes for upgrading solutions and implementing new functionality. At home, end-users are accustomed to an evergreen environment where updates and new functionality are delivered quickly in small iterations, and this expectation is increasingly being transferred to their working environment.
- Implement a multi-channel communication strategy to notify end-users, using succinct messaging along providing links to specific locations to provide more detailed information. This will allow end-users to easily access additional information about the changes and new functionality, if they desire (such as via email, SharePoint, and the company intranet/website).
- (re)Consider IT Outsourcing opportunities to help in introducing or further maturing the Evergreen IT way of working into the IT environment.
- Align to standards of the provided solution by limiting the level of customization.
- With regards to testing: Automate, Automate, Automate! This supports the required speed and agility in deploying new software.
- Validate the maturity of the supplier processes regarding their SaaS or (public) cloud solutions. Like IT departments, vendors are also in various stages of implementing Agile, DevOps, Evergreen processes resulting in risks. Verify the level of maturity carefully to make sure that the IT department and the supplier processes are aligned.
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