Heraclitus said, “No one steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he or she is not the same person.”

We understand the transition you are making from traditional change management you drove in an on-premises software world to the faster pace of change you are experiencing with cloud services like Office 365. We understand that in a cloud services world, IT gives up a level of control over when updates and capabilities are rolled-out to their organization. This can make planning, preparing and communicating to your organization more challenging.

More controls for you to stay informed and manage change in Office 365 1 

The journey so far to improve communications, control and visibility of changes across Office 365.

At the same time, we know that you value innovation at a rapid pace. You responded enthusiastically to last year’s introduction of First Release. More than 10 percent of Office 365 for business customers have signed up for First Release. Today we are sharing new capabilities that will help you to better manage changes in Office 365. These enhancements are based on your feedback and our commitment to helping you adopt a cloud change management model while still having visibility into what changes and updates are being rolled out to Office 365.

Evolving First Release to give you more controls for managing change

We heard—particularly from medium to large organizations—that you are interested in receiving updates early for some people, like your IT staff and help desk, but later for the rest of the organization. Based on your feedback we’re adding a new “Select people” option to First Release.

With this newly added option, you can select a set of users to participate in First Release. These users will receive updates before the rest of your organization, giving you time to prepare for changes.

Learn how to turn on First Release here.

More updates and features available through First Release

First Release originally offered a selection of feature experiences for customers wanting early access to Office 365 updates. We started with new experiences, including Office DelveOffice 365 Video, Office 365 Groups and the app launcher.  While having faster access to these new capabilities has been beneficial, you have asked us to roll out more changes through First Release. Starting with Exchange Online, we are delivering more changes to First Release customers before going to the rest of Office 365 customers. This means IT departments, partners and developers can be sure that they’re using the latest release of Exchange Online within Office 365.  Based on your feedback, we will expand First Release to include more Office 365 services in the future.

Help shape the future of Office 365

Early usage and feedback from First Release customers, through channels like the Yammer Office 365 Network and UserVoice, is impacting how we continuously enhance the productivity delivered through Office 365. Office 365 Video is one example you made better through First Release.

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We want to make it even easier for you to share your feedback. As a First Release customer, you now have the option to tell us what you think via a new Feedback tab in the Office 365 Admin Center.

Stay informed about changes coming to your service

A year ago, we updated the Office 365 Message Center to help you better stay informed and manage change in a services world. While most updates do not require any admin action to keep your service functioning normally, if there is a change that requires your attention, we will notify you at least 30 days in advance through a notification to your Message Center.

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Message Center and Service Health Dashboard communication timeframes. Learn more here.

To help you keep current with these important service communications, we have made two improvements:

  • The Office 365 for business roadmap has been improved based on your feedback. We recently added search, mobile optimizations, individual feature links and social sharing options.

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  • Office 365 Admin app was recently updated to include your Message Center so you can keep current while on the go.

We continue to improve change management and communications for Office 365.  Turn on First Release and join us in the Change Alerts Yammer group to share what you think. Learn even more by watching our Microsoft Ignite conference session Managing Change in an Office 365 Rapid Release World. We will be hosting a YamJam next week on Wednesday May 13th 10:00–11:00 a.m. PDT / 5:00–6:00 p.m. GST on the Office 365 Network to take your questions live.

—Andy O’Donald and Rajmohan Rajagopalan

Frequently asked questions

Q. Which Office 365 services does First Release Entire organization apply to?

A. The First Release Entire organization currently applies to Exchange Online, the Office 365 navigation bar, Office 365 Admin Center, and SharePoint Online.

Q. Which Office 365 services does First Release Select people apply to?

A. First Release Select people currently applies to Exchange Online, the Office 365 navigation bar, and Office 365 Admin Center.

Q. Which Office 365 subscriptions is First Release available for?

A. First Release is available for Small Business, Midsize, Business, Enterprise and Education multi-tenant subscriptions. First Release does not currently apply to Office 365 Government Community Cloud for U.S. Government customers, Office 365 operated by 21Vianet, or Office 365 Dedicated/ITAR customers.

Q. When will I see First Release Select people?

A. The new First Release Select people option is rolling out now and will be available in your Office 365 Admin Center in the next few weeks.

Q. Is First Release a beta program? Does First Release change my service level agreement or supportability?

A. First Release is not a beta program. All features made available to customers in First Release are fully tested, supported, and backed by Microsoft’s 99.9% service level agreement..

Q. What about “Preview” services and features?

A. “Preview” is separate from First Release. We may make “Preview” services and features available to Office 365 First Release, but they are independently updated and supported.

Q. How long after I turn on or off First Release will it take for the setting to take effect?

A. Changes to your First Release setting will take up to 24-48 hours to take effect. Please note, if you turn off First Release, you and your organization will lose access to the features that have not rolled out to Standard Release customers.

Q. Will I know when an update is coming to First Release?

A. We will continue to notify First Release customers about new experiences via the Message Center. With First Release Select people option, more Exchange Online service updates will come to First Release early and most of these changes will not be communicated.

Q. Will I receive 30-day notifications for all changes?

A. The 30-day notification target applies specifically for changes that require action to prevent an interruption of normal service operation.  This is a target that Microsoft makes a best effort to meet and, depending on the customer impact, may be extended into a longer notification period. Changes that do not require admin action, which make up the majority of changes, will not receive advanced notification.  Security-related updates are exempt from this target and will not be communicated.​


Published: 5/6/2015 7:23