Your step-by-step guide to planning a successful CMS upgrade

An upgrade is something to be excited about, not fearful. And following these steps will help system users and IT teams roll out the upgrade in an organised and stress-free manner

When it comes to upgrading a core piece of software like a collections management system, planning and preparation are key to a smooth roll-out. It’s not simply a case of downloading a file and clicking install, there’s a little bit more to it than that, but it needn’t be a painful experience.

The key to success comes down to what I’m going to call The Three Cs of Successful CMS Upgrade Planning:

  1. Communication: You will need to communicate clearly. All internal stakeholders, such as systems users and IT will need to be in the loop on activity. Delays are often the result of certain departments being unaware of and unprepared for the upgrade.
  2. Calendar: Make sure stakeholders are clear and agreed on the scheduled dates for work, including any scheduled downtime or implementation dates.
  3. Capability: You must make sure resources are available at the dates set out. Too often upgrades are halted by lack of capability to deal with the upgrade when it arrives.

So how should you prepare?

What ‘System Users’ need to prepare…

Review the release notes

Release notes will be made available after we announce any upgrade. Read through these carefully to see how the upcoming release will affect your work. What functionality has changed? Have changes been made to a part of the system you have customised? Make a note of anything you think may be significant to your system.

Determine what development will be needed

Through conversations with Axiell, you will find out if any development work will be needed. Time will be needed for Axiell developers to make and implement any changes, to test internally and to build the release.

Leverage a test system

Just like a dress rehearsal, before the full rollout, some sites opt to run updates on a test system. Axiell will create the test system by taking a snapshot of your system files and data on the day that the test upgrade is scheduled for.

System users must arrange dates for testing and a decision must be made as to who will be doing it. Will it be the database admin, system user or someone else?

Prepare a Test plan

You will need to plan what you are going to test on both the test environment and the live system once the full update has been carried out.

This plan should include:

  • Checking search results / number of hits
  • Identifying a sample of records and checking that the data displays correctly
  • Checking whether new features look and behave as per the specification
  • Testing a sample of reports / exports to confirm that they work

Perform user testing

After upgrading the test system, there will be a period of up to two weeks for user testing. During this time, you should utilise your test plan, as well as checking data integrity and that changes have worked properly.

Get approval to proceed with the upgrade

Once testing is complete, you will need to get approval to go ahead with the upgrade. The evidence gathered using your test plan should give you and your superiors the confidence to give the go-ahead.

Arrange the upgrade

Your communication, calendar and capacity are key here. Teams across your organisation must figure out a date and time when calendars are free of disruption and when staff have the capacity to roll out the upgrade.

This will require a period of downtime, so it needs to be a time when users aren’t going to be working with the system.

Make sure that all departments have been made aware that the upgrade is scheduled

Once a date for the full upgrade has been decided make sure this is communicated to everyone who uses the system, as any downtime may affect their work.

What IT needs to prepare…

Are IT staff ready for the upgrade?

IT should not only be aware, they should be part of the conversation.

IT and system users must communicate with each other to make sure that timelines are aligned and that you have the resources available to run the upgrade when planned. As this could include running software or desktop installs on numerous machines, plenty of time should be made available and users should be informed when their machine is going to be needed for upgrading.

Is the technology ready?

Hardware and software must also be primed for the upgrade. For major upgrades, we will supply a checklist, so that you are aware of minimum requirements. It is important to make sure you understand the checklist and that it is completed in advance of the upgrade.

Specific checks on software and hardware may include:

  • Do the servers and target desktops meet the minimum specification?
  • Is there adequate disk space on the server? The upgrade scripts will make temporary copies of the data files which can fill up all the existing disk space.

Do we have a backup?

In preparation for the upgrade, you will need to have a backup made, in the rare case of data becoming corrupted or damaged. This is normally a nightly backup, so we can roll back with no loss of data.

It may also be worthwhile testing a restore from backup so you are aware of any issues and are well practiced for a smooth roll out, if the need arises.

Does Axiell have remote access?

Axiell will need remote access to your database in order to implement the upgrade, so speak to us about setting this up.

Will the upgrade interfere with your IT policies?

All updates are different and all organisations and IT departments have different policies, which will need to be taken into consideration. If unaccounted for, these policies may cause a delay to the upgrade. Examples include:

  • Obtaining remote access to the server
  • Copying the data from Live to Test
  • Uploading the upgrade files

Further considerations

Be prepared for minor disruption

There are many factors that can cause disruptions to regular service. The majority of which can be avoided by following the above steps. But there are some things that are harder to avoid or harder to plan for:

  • If your collection is published to the web, your website will have to be offline during the upgrade, so make sure webmasters are informed so that they can put a hold page on the website.
  • There is a small chance of web interfaces falling over after the upgrade because of changes to code, so be sure to keep an eye out so we can get any issues sorted quickly.
  • Custom built ‘Reports’ might be affected by changes to the data structure, so look out for any changes here.
  • You might have to update some of the software packages, including Perl modules on the server and image rendering utilities on the desktop. These will be indicated by the release notes.

Don’t over-complicate the process

Don’t over-complicate the upgrade process. Prioritise and keep things simple. Anything that requires changing the code will need to be discussed but configuration and setting changes should be left to a less critical time as you don’t want any extra risk or downtime.

Don’t worry!

Plan your upgrade well and you will have little to worry about. They’re routine procedures and, with your data backed up and everyone on-board, your upgrade should go without a hitch.

So plan away, dream of what that new functionality can do for you or how many clicks that interface change will save.

But if you do have any further questions, feel free to get in touch with us here.

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