- 1 Download this article: O365 Update Scout to go
- 2 Possible options how to stay ahead
- 2.1 Microsoft 365 Roadmap
- 2.2 Microsoft 365 Roadmap Watch
- 2.3 Office 365 Message Center
- 2.4 Office 365 Service Communications API
- 2.5 What’s new with Microsoft 365 Videocast
- 2.6 Office 365 Automated Change Management
- 2.7 Office 365 Message Center Planner Syncing
- 2.8 Monthly Technical Update Briefing
- 2.9 Office 365 Blog
- 3 Role Guide: How can you stay ahead?
- 4 Options Matrix
- 5 Conclusion
- 6 The Microsoft 365 change guide
- 7 Version History
One of the main challenges when using Office 365 products and services is to stay aware of announcements, updates and upcoming features. This applies to all responsible roles at Office 365 customers as well as for IT Consultants or Engineers guiding others.
This article, written by two Microsoft Customer Engineers (formerly known as Premier Field Engineers), provides an overview of choices, how to gain information and awareness on upcoming changes in Office 365. Different options, tools and services with their respective audience are compared with each other to help to decide what approach best suits the target audience’s needs.
At the end of this post you will find background information to get a general understanding what “evergreening” means, how updates work and why you should adjust your service management processes.
Download this article: O365 Update Scout to go
Grab the PowerPoint version of this article at aka.ms/O365UpdateScoutToGo and share it with anyone who should not be missing changes in Office 365.
Possible options how to stay ahead
There are various ways to keep yourself informed about what is happening in Office 365. Read about some of them below. Be aware that this list is not claiming to cover all existing options or information sources. This list is based on our experience as Office 365 engineers working for multiple customers. Do you know about additional sources, tools or solutions that are missing in this post? Speak up in the comments and let the authors know about it.
Microsoft 365 Roadmap
Source: Microsoft 365 Roadmap Website: https://aka.ms/m365roadmap
Description: The Microsoft 365 Roadmap Website is the official resource for all roadmap related information. Updates usually happen twice a week, related to all products, features and services released across Microsoft 365.
The intuitive website UI, that is offering filtering by certain options and categories, gives access to all roadmap items and their details.
Searching for and sharing of features is possible as well as a download (CSV Format) functionality. An RSS feed subscription is available and recommended for anyone professionally dealing with Office 365.
The Microsoft 365 Roadmap should be considered “the truth”. It is the official and main channel for all long-term change announcements and should be monitored by most roles dealing with Office 365. Every roadmap item comes with a targeted release estimation, so this is the best way to get information about long term changes or feature updates.
One of the challenges with the Microsoft 365 Roadmap is the release date. Keep in mind that those dates are estimates and subject to change. This doesn’t mean the update or feature will be available within your Tenant at this specific date. The complexity or requirements of a feature, quality checks, feedback while in preview (and more) all those topics can affect the date when a feature will be “really” available within your tenant.
Create an RSS subscription. You can quickly consume the RSS feed within a Microsoft Teams channel as well (Using Teams RSS Connector or via Flow). If necessary, you can easily search and export roadmap items on the website.
Microsoft 365 Roadmap Watch
Publisher: Joe Palarchio, Microsoft Employee
Source: Project Website: https://www.roadmapwatch.com
Description: This project helps monitoring the Official Microsoft Office 365 Roadmap and tracks changes that occur with each roadmap update. Changes can be reviewed via the “Browse by Feature” section of the site. You can subscribe to an RSS feed to get notified when updates occur.
The website offers a great way to keep track of chances in the Office 365 Roadmap. Author of the project is Joe Palarchio. He is a Microsoft employee, but the project itself is not affiliated with Microsoft.
Keeping track of the official Office 365 Roadmap alone can be challenging, due to the amount of changes. Roadmap Watch simplifies monitoring the roadmap. This solution helps to aggregate roadmap updates and does not provide further information on the roadmap item itself.
Create an RSS subscription and use the Browse by Feature section of the project website.
Office 365 Message Center
Source: Office 365 Message Center. Microsoft Documentation: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/office365/admin/manage/message-center
To learn about upcoming changes, including new and changed features, planned maintenance, or other important announcements affecting your tenant, go to the Message center within your tenants admin center. That’s the channel where Microsoft communicates to you or posts official announcements and let you take a proactive approach to change management. Each post gives you a high-level overview of a planned change and how it may affect your users, and links out to more detailed information to help you prepare.
The Message Center preferences offers the ability to send out weekly email digest as well as emails for major updates and data privacy messages. Administrators with access to the Message Center should subscribe this type of emails. A best practice is to create an email distribution list, that receives weekly digest mails. Members of this email distribution list, that have no access to the Message Center itself, can participate from this channel as well.
You can also use the Microsoft 365 Admin app on your mobile device to view Message center, which is a great way to stay current with push notifications.
Depending on your role and permissions, you should monitor your tenants Message Center constantly. Check the list of administrative roles, that do not have access to the Message Center. Even though you can configure Email alerts and digest messages, the amount of data available can make it difficult not to lose the overview. A general monitoring strategy should be discussed with other administrators in your organization.
Get familiar with the Message Center and its features. Go to the Message Center Preferences and configure a weekly email digest and email alerts for major updates. Discuss possibilities to monitor Message Center content within your organization. Review additional tools and solutions (mentioned in this article), that can help to implement an efficient Message Center monitoring.
Office 365 Service Communications API
Source: Office 365 Service Communications API reference: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/office/office-365-management-api/office-365-service-communications-api-reference
Microsoft offers an API, that provides access to various information of Office 365, Yammer, Dynamics CRM and Microsoft Intune cloud services. This enables developers and IT pros to build custom solutions to gather events and messages from the Office 365 Message center as well as to get the current state of Office 365 services. You can use the Office 365 Service Communications API V2 to query following data:
- Get Services: Get the list of subscribed services.
- Get Current Status: Get a real-time view of current and ongoing service incidents.
- Get Historical Status: Get a historical view of service incidents.
- Get Messages: Find Incident and Message Center communications.
There are various projects that make use of this API. It can also be used to support your Office 365 information and change management processes by creating your own solution that leverages the API.
A good example of an existing solution which uses the API is the O365ServiceCommunications project, available on GitHub. It provides a PowerShell module for retrieving data from the Office 365 Service Communications API. This can be used right away for reporting the health status of your tenant over time, or for alerting when new messages are published in the Message Center. So ideally you would not just extract the messages from the message center but define procedures (like task items, inform advisory boards etc.) to leverage and benefit from the extracted information.
The Office 365 Service Communications API offers an additional source of information that can be used by administrators or developers to create your own solution and help your organization to get the information you need to be prepared for upcoming changes.
If you are looking for possibilities to build a custom solution that is supporting your change management process, Developers or IT pros should take a look at the Office 365 Service Communications API and existing projects building on it.
What’s new with Microsoft 365 Videocast
Source: YouTube Playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLXPr7gfUMmKxJqvWQYhwEXZ8wPp3nkzb0
What’s new with Microsoft 365 is a YouTube Playlist on the Microsoft Office 365 YouTube channel. Microsoft is releasing a 10-15 minutes videocast at the end of each month, to cover important updates to products, features and services in Office 365. The hosts of the show as well as selected guests highlight certain important updates. The video format offers great possibilities to show details of each topic. Be aware, that not all changes of the last month are covered in each episode.
The videocast format is an easy and quick way to see what is happening in Office 365, on a high-level overview.
Schedule 15 minutes in your calendar at the end of each month to watch the videocast and catch up with what has happened the last month and how you can benefit from those updates.
Office 365 Automated Change Management
Publisher: Microsoft Services
Source: Available for Microsoft Premier/Unified Support Customers.
Contact your Customer Success Account Manager (CSAM), formerly known as Technical Account Manager (TAM) for more information.
The Office 365 Automated Change Management project is about building a fully automated solution around Azure DevOps (alternatively Planner) and Microsoft Teams as a central collaboration platform within an organization to provide tools to take control and be fully prepared for the changes in Office 365. Administrators, Developers and other responsible roles automatically get the information they need for their workload responsibilities by tasks that are automatically created and assigned to them through this solution.
Message Center Notifications can get posted to Teams for general awareness, even for roles with no access to Message Center. Teams is used to inform about new work items that are linked in the post within the Teams channel:
How about Azure DevOps automatically creating work items for any new Message Center notifications? Assign tasks to people in charge and never miss important changes. Not using Azure DevOps? Tasks can alternatively be saved in a Planner bucket as well.
The solution is an excellent way to automatically create tasks for relevant roles involved in Office 365 Change Management. Organizations that aim for operational excellence and try to improve processes to minimize risks and bad surprises, are recommended to have a look at this project. The solution needs to be implemented and customized by Microsoft Services. The minimal implementation effort pays off immediately.
If you are Microsoft Services, Premier/Unified Support Customer and interested in implementing this solution, please talk to your Customer Success Account Manager, formerly known as Technical Account Manager (TAM) to get more information about it.
Office 365 Message Center Planner Syncing
Source: Office 365 Message Center. Microsoft Documentation: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/office365/planner/track-message-center-tasks-planner
Non-Global Admins or Non-Service Administrators are not able to see the Office 365 Message Center. How about an automated way, that reads the Message Center and posts relevant information to Planner? Message Center Synchronisation to a Planner Plan can be set up in a few minutes.
The idea is reminding us of the Office 365 Automated Change Management solution mentioned earlier in this article. Compared to the Office 365 Automated Change Management solution this is a more simplified approach that just covers basic functionality but is very easy to implement.
Bring over notifications from the Message Center automatically into Office 365 workload related Planner buckets:
Similar like the Office 365 Automated Change Management solution from Microsoft Services, Office 365 Message Center Planner Syncing is an easy way to automatically manage changes by syncing Message Center items to a Planner Plan. In the Plan, synced tasks can be assigned to people in charge.
Work through the Microsoft Message Center Planner Syncing documentation and review the step-by-step implementation guide. Adopt it to fit your organization’s needs.
Monthly Technical Update Briefing
Publisher: Microsoft Services
Source: Available for Microsoft Premier/Unified Support Customers.
Contact your Customer Success Account Manager (CSAM), formerly known as Technical Account Manager (TAM) for more information.
The Office 365 monthly Technical Update Briefing (TUB) is available for all Office 365 workloads (SharePoint Online, Exchange Online, Teams and Skype for Business) and provides IT professionals with proactive information on updates needing change management attention.
TUB delivers the short-and long-term roadmap of future Office 365 capabilities and features:
- Enabling ongoing value of Office 365 investment by receiving knowledge on new features and updates
- Understanding necessary administrative and user actions to implement changes
- Overview on mandatory and optional changes including switches to consider
- Understand infrastructure updates to consider in your hybrid solutions
- Understand delivered bug fixes to update your helpdesk staff
TUB is available in two formats:
Webcast: Office 365 – Technical Update Briefing SharePoint Online / Exchange Online / Teams
The one-hour, monthly workload specific webcast series is presented by a Microsoft Customer Engineer (formerly knows as Premier Field Engineer). It contains information on new features, feature updates and changes, rollout timelines, and further roadmap information. There are separate one-hour webcasts available for multiple workloads (SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Microsoft Teams) which are not customer specific.
WorkshopPlus: Office 365 – Technical Update Briefing (Dedicated Session 1 Day)
Presented by one or more Microsoft Customer Engineers (formerly known as Premier Field Engineers), the monthly WorkshopPlus is a 6 hours delivery. It contains information on new Office 365 features, feature updates and changes, rollout timelines and further roadmap information. All workloads are included in this session (Overall O365 announcements, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online as well as Microsoft Teams) and targeted specifically to the customer. There are Demos, Q&A and Post-Delivery follow-ups included in this service as well.
Sample content from a former TUB announcement:
TUB is a very detailed way to get relevant information to the right audience. The interactive format offers more than just plain news about What’s New. Unique selling point is the possibility to ask the experts (CEs, formerly known as PFEs) during the delivery. Demos, Q&A and follow-ups add the value which Microsoft Enterprise customers are looking for.
If you are Microsoft Services, Premier/Unified Support Customer and interested in monthly Technical Update Briefings, please talk to your Customer Success Account Manager (CSAM), formerly known as Technical Account Manager (TAM) to get more information about it.
Office 365 Blog
Source: Office 365 Blog on Microsoft Tech Community: https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/office-365-blog/bg-p/Office365Blog
The Office 365 Blog is a great source for best practices, news, and trends. The product groups as well as other experts from the field (e.g. Engineers from Microsoft Services) publish content that is relevant for everyone dealing with Office 365.
There is a variety of Office 365 related Blogs on Microsoft Tech Community. Workloads like SharePoint, Teams or Exchange are covered by dedicated blogs, but by following the Office 365 Blog you make sure to get information across the board.
Articles that are published here are not just announcing latest updates or the availability of important features, but also delivering other must-know content. For that reason, you should not miss the pieces created by subject matter experts.
Role Guide: How can you stay ahead?
Different roles and responsibilities, different access to information sources, different point of view. In this section you find typical roles involved in the Office 365 game.
Select to find out which options could make sense for you:
Select your Role
Office 365 Developer
Office 365 Consultant
Office 365 Global Administrator
Office 365 Security Administrator
Office 365 Service Administrator
IT-Enthusiast / Power User
Business- / IT-Decision Maker
|O365 DEVELOPER||RECOMMENDED OPTION|
|Office 365 Developers design, create and maintain solutions for Office 365 workloads|
|O365 CONSULTANT||RECOMMENDED OPTION|
|Office 365 Consultants support customers or advise within the own organization|
|O365 GLOBAL ADMINISTRATOR||RECOMMENDED OPTION|
|Global Administrators have access to administrative features in all Microsoft 365 services|
|O365 SECURITY ADMINISTRATOR||RECOMMENDED OPTION|
|Security Administrators manage security related policies and features within the organization|
|O365 SERVICE ADMINISTRATOR||RECOMMENDED OPTION|
|Service Administrators are responsible for configuring and supporting Office 365 workloads (e.g. SharePoint, Teams)|
|IT-SERVICE OWNER||RECOMMENDED OPTION|
|Service Owners are responsible for delivering certain Office 365 workloads (e.g. SharePoint, Teams)|
|IT-CHANGE COORDINATOR||RECOMMENDED OPTION|
|IT-Change Coordinators handle Office 365 related changes|
|IT-ENTHUSIAST / POWER USER||RECOMMENDED OPTION|
|Power Users and IT Enthusiasts use advanced Office 365 features and adopt changes early|
|BUSINESS- / IT-DECISION MAKER||RECOMMENDED OPTION|
|Responsible for IT related decisions at a high level in an organization or business unit|
See all the options described in this article in one overview. Which role are you in?
Find out what is recommended for you to stay on top of Office 365 Updates.
As you might have guessed by now, there is simply no one-fits-all solution for this topic. Different Office 365 customers use multiple ways to deal with upcoming changes.
Look out for future blog posts covering real world customer examples from the field.
In our experience customers use a mixture of the options above to stay ahead of upcoming changes. Important factor to mention is not only to getting the information ahead of the update but to leverage this information proactively. Customers tend to “ignore” updates which first is not a proper way to deal with it. Furthermore, it is a bad decision because every month new features and updates will appear on top of the ignored ones within the tenant. And don’t forget, your users will use those features so staying aligned and proactive is in your organization and your users’ best interest.
Our hope is that every one of you will take action to
- Consume the information from Office 365 blogs, roadmap, and Message Center etc.
- Review the communications for business benefit and to avoid adversity with your business users
- Drive and measure business benefits of each new feature because success begets success like nothing else
The Microsoft 365 change guide
Microsoft published an excellent online resource that is a must read for the audience of this article.
The Microsoft 365 change guide helps understanding the concept of rapid feature release and adoption and why it is necessary to develop and implement a robust change management strategy. The documentation is structured in chapters to provide background information as well as giving advisory for customers to implement modern IT service and change management:
Continuous change in the cloud
Introduction to the Microsoft agile development model and how customers benefit from Microsoft being committed to constantly enhance, improve, and evolve cloud services.
Controlling change: challenges and strategy
An overview of challenges customers are facing with the continuous release policy of Microsoft 365. Learn about the impact your strategy can have on evergreen IT. Three categories of customers can be identified based on their observed change strategies. Read about these common approaches and what Microsoft is advising.
Service release channels and controls
Microsoft 365 customers can control the release of features they receive in two different options: “Standard Release” and “Targeted Release”. The implications of these different types are covered in the guide. Furthermore, Microsoft develops and releases new features in a ring deployment model while every ring reaches a broader audience.
Figure taken from the Microsoft 365 change guide
Client release channels and controls
To be able to manage changes on client devices, organizations must understand the concept of client release channels. The documentation compares the differences of Microsoft 365 Apps channels (Current Channel, Monthly Enterprise Channel and Semi-Annual Enterprise Channel) and how to modify update channels for devices in your organization.
Change evaluation democratization
Get insights about options on update evaluation and testing and how Microsoft IT internally is dealing with this topic.
Microsoft change plans, policies, and procedures
Updates are necessary to keep products and services secure, up to date, and working as expected. The M365 change guide is transparent in explaining the Microsoft 365 change management plan, disclosing details on the three phases of a change. The article explains how changes are classified and about Microsoft’s commitment to notify customers before updates are rolled out.
Version 1.4 (2021-01-28)
Version 1.3 (2020-11-19)
Version 1.2 (2020-04-30)
Version 1.1 (2020-03-13)
Version 1.0 (2020-03-02)
About the Authors
This content was published by Christian Heim and Christian Keller. Both work for Microsoft in Germany in their role as Senior Customer Engineers. Check out this video to find out what their daily business is all about: Working as a Customer Engineer (Premier Field Engineer) at Microsoft.
The authors of the Office 365 Update Scout online article and offline PowerPoint document are a group of Microsoft Customer Engineers (CEs), formerly known as Premier Field Engineers (PFEs). The Office 365 Update Scout should not be considered an official (Microsoft) product. It was created and published to help Office 365 Administrators to stay aware of announcements, updates and upcoming features. All information provided in the Office 365 Update scout online article and offline PowerPoint document is provided “AS IS” with no warranties and confers no rights. The Office 365 Update Scout online article and offline PowerPoint document does not represent the thoughts, intentions, plans or strategies of Microsoft. All content is solely the opinion of the authors and provided with a best effort to be based in reality. All content, code samples, demonstrations, or anything resembling a “how-to” are provided “AS IS” without warranty of any kind, either express or implied, including but not limited to the implied warranties of merchantability and/or fitness for a particular purpose.