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5 Ways to Ensure an Upgrade Doesn’t Disrupt your Business

Performing regular updates to your CMS is both necessary to the system’s functionality and integral to utilize the latest technology. Adobe typically releases upgrades to AEM annually, which could be a frequent disruption to an enterprise business. An upgrade can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. The length of this makes the ability to keep business up and running “as usual” during those times a critical factor in long-term success.

Why It’s Important to Perform Regular Upgrades

  • Get the latest features. AEM will often release features that can speed up the overall performance and enhance your team’s productivity.
  • Bug fixes and security updates. Adobe releases important security updates and bug fixes with every new upgrade.
  • Versions get deprecated. Adobe periodically retires support for older versions of AEM. You don’t want to get left behind on a version that is no longer supported.

Upgrading each time Adobe releases a major version or a point upgrade of AEM is ideal. Because of this, you sometimes don’t have the resources or the time to perform one. If that’s the case, as a best practice try to upgrade every other point release. Upgrading each time or every other time a new version is released makes it easier the next time you do upgrade. By doing this, you won’t have to worry about checking all the documentation for multiple releases. Time spent testing all the new features and changes with your code and content would decrease as well.

What is Business as Usual?

The truth is, it’s different for every business, and everyone at that business. And as a partner, we take the time to understand what that means to our customers before we dive into the project. For one of our clients, it meant being able to publish content outside of our development cycle. We had to create a strategy that included timelines and resource allocation that allowed us to develop new functionality, complete the AEM upgrade, and allow for authors to continue to create and publish. For this client who is constantly developing new features to deliver better experiences, it’s imperative to plan ahead so that the ‘business as usual’ functionality is available to the team, and is consistent with the upgrade.

Keeping Business as Usual

It’s vital to keep your business running as usual during the process of an AEM upgrade. Minimizing downtime and ensuring your content is regularly updated is key to your success.
We’ve performed a variety of upgrades for different customers including Fortune 100 clients and have developed many best practices from our experiences. Here are some of the ways we work with our customers to keep their business moving forward during an upgrade:  

1. Setting your team up for success.

Have a dedicated team performing the upgrade. There are many tasks that go into an upgrade and you don’t want to overlook the amount of work it takes. Ideally, you’d want to have a dedicated team of anywhere from 3-10 people (depending on the complexity of the site) working on the upgrade. If that’s not realistic split your development team into two. Have one team work on the upgrade for multiple sprints or development cycles while the other team focuses on regular updates and maintenance. It’s important to keep this team laser-focused on the upgrade so they’re not getting pulled in multiple directions. You want to have milestones and goals for your team to achieve, but you don’t want them to be rushed because they had to focus on other initiatives.

2. Dedicated development environment.  

Give your team enough time to go through their normal day to day workflow and test new features. Don’t get stuck in a situation where you go live with the upgrade and the team is struggling to perform regular content updates.

3. Taking a snapshot of your content and regularly updating it.

Once you’ve tested some of the new features you’ll want to see how they perform with your content in place. Work closely with your business team to find a good time to take a snapshot of the production content. Try to plan it when a major campaign or new offer is about to be released. Ensuring you get a big push of content. On a project for a Fortune 100 company, we utilized two week sprints.  At the end of the sprint when code is released to production and content is copied to lower environments, we would also copy the content to our upgrade specific environment.

4. Regularly updating your code.

Keeping your code up to date is just as important as keeping your content up to date. If someone on another team fixed a production bug you want to ensure that fix also gets into your upgrade environment. There are a variety of ways to do this depending on your version control. If you’re using GIT create an “upgrade” branch that is a “feature branch.” Base this off of your master branch and regularly rebase the “upgrade” branch to ensure you get the latest updates. This helps to ensure that features work properly with the latest version of code. Adobe will often release API changes and its important to ensure all features on the site are still working as expected.

5. Communication.

Regular communication with your entire team including all your business units is extremely important. Ensure all your business units align on the scope of the project at the beginning. Everyone should be aligned and have similar expectations of what is in the upgrade. This helps prevent confusion later on if one business unit had expectations of a complete redesign or code refactor going along with the upgrade. It helps to save a tremendous amount of development time to have a clear goal in mind and not change the scope midway through development.
In addition, the team should stay in touch on new initiatives getting released around the time of the upgrade and ensure everything has been tested in your upgrade environment. If there’s a planned content release shortly after the upgrade release date ensure your team is familiar enough with the new features to complete the required due dates.  One of the best ways to communicate is with weekly touch points attended by a representative from each team. Discuss what each business unit has  worked on and any upcoming initiatives.  

Make Sure You Plan Ahead

It’s important that your team research information about the upgrade beforehand. Adobe releases webinars and tutorials related to the upgrade well before an official release. This will help expedite the development time if you’re already familiar with what’s changed and potentially how to fix any issues you might see as problem areas.
Upgrading your AEM version can be a bit daunting. BUT, if you follow some of the tips we’ve outlined above, it will help keep the business running as usual. We’ve performed upgrades for a variety of our clients and it’s important to note that no two upgrades are exactly the same. Get in touch with us if you have any questions at all. Whether it be about your upgrade, or if you’re not sure where to start and would like some advice. We are here to help.

Justin Allen
As a Client Services Manager, Justin focuses on mitigating project risks while providing increased value to our customers. Justin ensures that communication runs smoothly between teams to create a trusted, collaborative and successful relationship. On the weekends, Justin plays Pro Ultimate Frisbee for the Raleigh Flyers, a team competing in the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL).
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