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Managing changes in Office 365: An overview of resources

Office 365 gives you the latest updates and features as early as possible so you can continue doing your job productively. For Office 365 services, updates are run in the background as soon as they become available, instead of bundled updates scheduled months apart.

 

Shifting from a static Office suite to an evergreen one that enhances user productivity, creativity, and collaboration requires us to provide visibility into the updates that are coming for your users – you need the resources to navigate and guide these changes throughout your tenant. From the Office 365 Roadmap to the Message Center, Microsoft provides the information you need to stay on top of change.

 

Note: While Office ProPlus client apps are updated every six months, there is also the option to sign up for earlier releases to receive them sooner. See Targeted release section for more details.

 

 

Roadmap

 

The Office 365 Roadmap gives you a snapshot of upcoming changes as early as possible. Product groups post upcoming updates for features and services on the roadmap in one of several stages: in development, rolling out, and launched. The roadmap is designed to give a wider view into the future of Office 365 changes to come, so admins can get excited for new features, plan appropriately with Targeted release, and keep on the lookout for the Message Center post as the update nears its ship date. Visit the roadmap to get the first view of exciting updates and keep up-to-date on applications and services across Office 365.

 

 

Message Center

 

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Message Center is the hub where we post official announcements about upcoming changes to your tenant as well as any actions required by admins to proactively manage the change. You can access the Message Center as a card on the admin center home dashboard or under Health in the left-hand panel.

 

Each post gives a summary of what’s changing, how it may affect users, and additional links to help you prepare your tenant. Message Center posts also provide important information on preventing and fixing issues in your tenant. Because not all admins may need to see all posts, each admin can set preferences to control which posts are displayed on Message Center. You can also opt in to receive a weekly digest of posts in email format delivered right to your inbox.

 

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Change that is considered a major update is communicated at least 30 days in advance for those who have not opted in to early release opportunities. These announcements are highlighted at the top of Message Center as they are the most impactful to your organization. Major updates are defined as:

  • Changes to daily productivity such as inbox, meetings, delegations, sharing and access
  • Changes to the themes, web parts, and other components that may affect customized features
  • Increases or decreases to visible capacity such as storage, number of rules, items or durations
  • Changes to product branding that may:
    • Cause end user confusion,
    • Result in changes to help desk processes and reference material, or
    • Change a URL
  • A new service or application
  • Changes requiring an admin action (exclusive of prevent or fix issues)
  • Changes to where your data is stored

 

Click here for more information on Message Center and here for guidance on setting preferences in Message Center.

 

 

Targeted Release

 

Targeted release is an early release ring for select users within a tenant who will receive certain changes prior to the rest of their organization. For Office 365, new releases are first tested and validated by the feature team, then by the Office 365 team, and finally, by all of Microsoft. After internal validation is complete, customers can set individuals in the organization or the entire organization to receive available updates on Targeted release to see the latest updates and help provide early product feedback.

 

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You can manage how your organization receives updates by utilizing Targeted release in many ways. Targeted release allows admins or anyone responsible for managing Office 365 changes within an organization to prepare by letting them:

  • Test and validate new updates before they are released to all the users in the organization.
  • Prepare user notification and documentation before updates are released worldwide.
  • Prepare internal helpdesk for upcoming changes.
  • Go through compliance and security reviews.
  • Use feature controls, where applicable, to control the release of updates to end users.

For Office 365 ProPlus client applications, updates are deployed every January and July on the Semi-Annual Channel. However, admins can opt to deploy some of their users on Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) for the opportunity to receive updates a few months earlier every March and September. Additionally, admins can set certain users to receive more frequent updates on the Monthly Channel to further test the newest features available before deployment on the other channels.

 

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For more information on Office 365 ProPlus update channels, see here.

 

We strongly recommend enabling Targeted release for admins to manage change within their tenants. However, keep in mind that there’s an option to set specific users, as opposed to entire tenants, to Targeted release. This functionality allows administrators and selected users to experience the new change earlier than the rest of the organization, giving them enough time to prepare the tenant before the change rolls out broadly.

 

You must be a global admin to set yourself and other users to Targeted release. If you choose not to opt into Targeted release, you will receive updates when they are release broadly in Standard release. For more information on Targeted release and setting it up for your organization, click here.

 

 

In addition to the resources above, check out the official Microsoft 365 blog here and continue engaging here in TechCommunity. Be on the lookout for posts on the Microsoft 365 TechCommunity blog, as we will be announcing news there as well.  As always, feel free to provide feedback in the admin center dashboard or in the comments below, as we love hearing from you and finding out ways to improve the Office 365 experience!

 

11 Comments
Regular Contributor

New Office 365 Roadmap page is useless. In the past it was possible to filter out only last months changes, so i was checking it every month to see a few upcoming or released changes. Can't do this now. I'm not going to remember what entries out of thousand or so i have already seen. I have tried various channels to find out why such filter was removed and whether it will come back, but was told it is by design, so i have abandoned this "resource". We live in dynamic times, you can't waste your time on unrefined resources.

 

How i follow the changes:

Office 365 Updates episodes in Youtube (Jim Naroski). He also posts it as an rss feed to follow easily as Office 365 channel on Youtube has a lot of stuff for beginners (maybe it needs a separate channel). Channel https://www.youtube.com/user/officevideos/videos - rss feed https://blogs.technet.microsoft.com/o365guy/

I also check this feed (updates weekly) for upcoming, released changes, it has replaced the official roadmap for me https://blogs.technet.microsoft.com/skywriter/

Of course, daily checking Message center (and advisories for possible issues). And recently i have followed a lot of blogs here to find out news faster and in a more detailed way and actually to be able to comment and get feedback.

 

Message center - well, i often get better or better timed information through blogs here. Often in message center MS reports about changes, but stays "it will be released in coming months to every one". Not very helpful. I have then to make some sort of reminder to check it daily whether it is already released? This is a very annoying and confusing part of MS updates. I want to know about changes relevant to my users and WHEN they are already relevant. But i guess with millions of clients MS can't care about every individual client, so we get what we get.

 

Targeted release - in my experience it creates even more confusion for admins (so i already have this feature, so my users will get it.. when??). Also, as we use a Monthly channel, i have noticed no difference between those in the Targeted release and all the rest and even been told by someone from MS (not sure if by support or maybe on TechNet or Answers) that with Monthly you can't have Targeted.

 

All these resource do not help with issues though. When MS decided to remove "legacy" tracking and workbook sharing in Excel it wasn't on the roadmap or mentioned anywhere. We had to learn it the hard way when after the monthly update users started to complain. Don't even start me on continuous problems with PowerView add-in in Excel. One month it just disappears and is restored with next update, one month later it breaks again and support can't give a date when it can be fixed and suggest to go back to Semi-annual. When we decided to purchase E3 licenses, we were assured that it will support PowerView, that we needed. I guess we paid so much needlessly. I have more stories about surprising "features" every month. Yeah, we could probably go with a Semi-annual route, but i guess we will then get a bunch of issues at once every half a year.

 

/rant mode off :)

Microsoft

@Oleg K Thank you for the extensive feedback! Some comments: 

Roadmap filters: the roadmap team is making improvements on the filters and we'll take your feedback on those into consideration. Like you mentioned, we understand filters are an important tool to stay on top of the most recent changes in this ever-changing world. 

 

Message Center/Targeted release: Because of the way Microsoft deploys change throughout our tenants worldwide, it is impossible to give customers an exact date of when the change will hit their environments. This is why we hope to provide at least a window of time in which the change is deployed, and will continue to make announcements in that manner on Message Center. Also, there is an option for targeted release for Monthly channel users, as shown on this page.

 

Thanks again for your feedback -- it's critical as we continue to improve change management policies and resources. 

Regular Contributor

Thanks for replying. I understand the situation, that there are lots of data centers, regions, etc. But it still disappointing a bit, that with every new million of customers MS becomes less connected to its clients and catering to their needs.

 

Maybe Monthly Targeted is a new thing, i have only tried Targeted a year or so ago.

Regular Contributor

@Jee Soo Han,  Many good tips in Your article! In addition, i would like to mention that by sending "alerts" from Message Center and/or Security and Compliance Center etc, into an Office 365 Governance Team it will be even more easy to manage changes and Office 365 Governance.

 

Regards, Magnus

@Jee Soo Han

"it is impossible to give customers an exact date of when the change will hit their environments"

 

Before the change: yes, understood.

 

After the change: it would be nice to be notified when it actually hits your tenant. I've wasted so much time checking for a new feature every few days for weeks before it hits our tenant (even when we're on Targeted Release for all users). It's great to send the "it's coming" message. It would be even better if there was a "and it's here now" one as well.

Trusted Contributor

Please make sure that the MessageCenter messages have their metadata properly populated so that we can create scripts to automatically route the messages. Many of the messages do not have the Workload and Feature attributes populated which makes automation on these values difficult.

Trusted Contributor

What applications and services deploy changes through the Targeted Release process? I know that Yammer and Teams do not, but I have not been able to find a definitive list that I can share with my clients. 

Occasional Visitor

Good Morning.

 

I saw the message center notification about the Office 365 Roadmap.  I searched the roadmap, and cannot find anything relating to being able to delegate the ability to enable Multifactor Authentication to non-Global Administrators.  According to the AD Azure Team, this has been "Planned" since November 29, 2017.  Currently only Global Administrators can enable Multifactor Authentication for a user.  This requirement causes Tier 1 administrators to request someone with a global administrator account to enable MFA after the their 1 has created the account.  This causes significant delay in provisioning user accounts.  

 

Is there any update on when this Planned Feature will be available in ring 3 and 4?

 

Reference:

AD Azure Team:

https://feedback.azure.com/forums/169401-azure-active-directory/suggestions/10072839-allow-the-user-...

Office 365 User Voice:

https://office365.uservoice.com/forums/273493-office-365-admin/suggestions/17429305-delegate-permiss...

 

Occasional Contributor

@Jee Soo Han - I like the Message Center very much but would like to suggest an improvement. Can you create a status column to show if a feature is already deployed in my tenant? Also would it be possible to add another column so I could flag certain announcements for follow-up? I would like to filter the list to see only features I am interested in and see their current status (Pending, Deployed). Right now it takes a lot of work to maintain a list of features I am waiting for and manually checking if they are already in my tenant or not. Thanks!

Trusted Contributor

+1000 to the suggestion by @Igor Karon


Trusted Contributor

@Jee Soo Hanyou mentioned improvements to the Roadmap Filters, the Office 365 Message Center needs filtering improvements also. In fact, it would be great if the same set of filtering options were available in each system. i.e, filters by apps, services, sku, and deployment status should be available wherever appropriate.