Tips From the Trenches: Automating Change Management for DevOps

One of the core beliefs of our security team at Code42 is SIMPLICITY. All too often, we make security too complex, often because there are no easy answers or the answers are very nuanced. But complexity also makes it really easy for users to find work-arounds or ignore good practices altogether. So, we champion simplicity whenever possible and make it a basic premise of all the security programs we build.

“ At Code42, we champion simplicity whenever possible and make it a basic premise of all the security programs we build. ”

Change management is a great example of this. Most people hear change management and groan. At Code42, we’ve made great efforts to build a program that is nimble, flexible and effective. The tenants we’ve defined that drive our program are to:

  • PREVENT issues (collusion, duplicate changes)
  • CONFIRM changes are authorized changes
  • DETECT issues (customer support, incident investigation)
  • COMPLY with regulatory requirements

Notice compliance is there, but last on the list. While we do not negate the importance of compliance in the conversations around change management or any other security program, we avoid at all costs using the justification of “because compliance” for anything we do.

Based on these tenants, we focus our efforts on high impact changes that have the potential to impact our customers (both external and internal). We set risk-based maintenance windows that balance potential customer impact with the need to move efficiently.

We gather with representatives from both the departments making changes (think IT, operations, R&D, security) and those impacted by changes (support, sales, IX, UX) at our weekly Change Advisory Board meeting–one of the best attended and most efficient meetings of the week–to review, discuss and make sure teams are appropriately informed of what changes are happening and how they might be impacted.

This approach has been working really well. Well enough, in fact, for our Research Development & Operations (RDO) team to embrace DevOps in earnest.

New products and services were being deployed through automated pipelines instead of through our traditional release schedule. Instead of bundling lots of small changes into a product release, developers were now looking to create, test and deploy features individually–and autonomously. This was awesome! But also, our change management program–even in its simplicity–was not going to cut it.

“ We needed to not make change control a blocker in an otherwise automated process. We looked at our current pipeline tooling to manage approvers and created integrations with our ticketing system to automatically create tickets to give us visibility to the work being done. ”

So with the four tenants we used to build our main program, we set off to evolve change management for our automated deployments. Thankfully, because all the impacted teams have seen the value of our change management program to-date, they were on board and instrumental in evolving the program.

But an additional tenant had to be considered for the pipeline changes. We needed to not make change control a blocker in an otherwise automated process. So we looked at our current pipeline tooling to manage approvers and created integrations with our ticketing system to automatically create tickets to give us visibility to the work being done. We defined levels of risk tied to the deployments and set approvers and release windows based on risk. This serves as both a control to minimize potential impact to customers but also as a challenge to developers to push code that is as resilient and low impact as possible so they can deploy at will.

We still have work to do. Today we are tracking when changes are deployed manually. In our near future state our pipeline tooling will serve as a gate and hold higher risk deployments to be released in maintenance windows. Additionally, we want to focus on risk, so we are building in commit hooks with required approvers based on risk rating. And, again, because we worked closely with the impacted teams to build a program that fit their goals (and because our existing program had proven its value to the entire organization), the new process is working well.

Most importantly, evolving our change process for our automated workflows allows us to continue to best serve our customers by iterating faster and getting features and fixes to the market faster.

Connect with Michelle Killian on LinkedIn.