At Your Service: 3 Things to Know About Office 365 Update Options

With new servicing models for Office 365 and Windows 10, Microsoft is ushering in a new era. This “as-a-service” approach provides employees with new tools and features as soon as they are released, and safeguards company data with frequent critical security patches and bug fixes. In this new world of work, employees are encouraged to keep learning and innovating, and organizations can forever leave behind the widespread disruption of traditional big bang migrations.

But before organizations and individuals can be a part of this new world of work, they will need to lay some groundwork. Indeed, one of the first—and most difficult—phases in an Office 365 or Windows 10 migration will be gaining an understanding of the servicing channels, release types, deployment customization options, and changed terminology, and then deciding which approach or approaches best suit their organization.

Formulating a master update plan is not a task to be taken lightly—it requires time, and, often, help from experts. A good strategy addresses critical factors—such as checking the Microsoft 365 Roadmap and Message Center to learn about upcoming changes as early as possible, communicating those changes across the organization, segmenting and staggering updates to avoid companywide disruption, and ensuring employees have training and support to stay productive.

A strategy that’s thorough, uncomplicated and repeatable will drive technology adoption, innovation and ROI. One that’s unnecessarily complex and hastily formulated will do the opposite.

Below is a primer to help organizations get started formulating an update plan. (In next week’s post, we will take a closer look at how organizations can proceed once they’ve decided upon a strategy.)

Note that there are some differences between Office 365 and Windows 10 servicing channels, both in scope and terminology—this primer addresses Office 365 servicing only.


With Office 365, there are two types of updates: feature updates, which are released every six months and add new functionality, visual tweaks, and significant changes to the overall experience; and quality updates, which are rolled out every month to fix bugs and errors, patch security vulnerabilities, and improve reliability.


Microsoft provides the following servicing channels for Office 365 ProPlus:

The Monthly Channel provides users with the newest features of Office as soon as they’re available. Microsoft recommends this channel if your organization doesn’t have many line-of-business applications, add-ins, or macros that you need to test to determine if they work with an updated version of Office.

The Semi-Annual Channel provides feature updates two times per year, usually in January and July. This is the default setting for Office 365 ProPlus and is designed for the broad population of general-purpose PCs used throughout organizations.

The Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) is intended to provide pilot users and application compatibility testers the opportunity to test the next Semi-Annual Channel release with existing line-of-business applications, add-ins and macros. These updates are released about four months before the next Semi-Annual Channel release, in March and September.

A strategy that’s thorough, uncomplicated and repeatable will drive technology adoption, innovation and ROI. One that’s unnecessarily complex and hastily formulated will do the opposite.


Releasing any kind of update throughout an entire organization without first fully testing it is risky. With configuration options, IT departments can separate users and devices into smaller, more manageable groups and gradually roll out feature updates with less risk of major disruption.

Semi-Annual Channel is the default update channel for Office 365 ProPlus, but organizations can use a mix of channels. Microsoft provides the following examples:

■ Provide a group of pilot users with Monthly Channel updates, so they can try out the new features of Office as they become available.

■ Provide your finance department, which has several key line-of-business applications, with Semi-Annual Channel updates to ensure minimal disruption.

■ Set up Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) updates for application compatibility testers so they can ensure that line-of-business applications (such as those in the finance department) will work with the next Semi-Annual Channel feature release.


Organizations can look at the Microsoft 365 Roadmap and Message Center to get an idea of what kind of changes to expect. The Microsoft 365 Roadmap is an exhaustive resource that provides information about features and services that are in development, rolling out, and launched. It provides a wider view of the changes coming to Office and enables organizations to plan accordingly well in advance.

The Message Center serves as a hub where Microsoft posts official announcements about your organization’s Office 365 tenant—including changes and updates that are close to rollout, actions you need to take to manage the changes, and information about preventing and fixing issues. Messages are categorized one of three ways:

1. Stay informed: These messages announce new or updated features that Microsoft will turn on in your organization. They also provide information about planned maintenance, which may interfere with user access to Office 365, a specific feature, or a service such as email or OneDrive for Business, and cause downtime.

2. Plan for change: These messages alert you about changes to Office 365 that may require you to act to avoid service disruptions—e.g., features that are being removed or changes to system requirements.

3. Prevent or fix issues: These posts inform you of known issues that are impacting your organization and may require you to take action to avoid service disruptions.

Change that is considered a “major update” is highlighted at the top of the message center and is communicated at least 30 days in advance for organizations that have not opted into early release servicing channels. A major update can be any of the following:

• Changes that affect daily productivity such as inbox, meetings, delegations, sharing, and access
• Changes to themes, web parts, and other components that may affect customized features
• Increases or decreases to visible capacity such as storage, number of rules, items or durations
• Changes to product branding that may cause user confusion, result in changes to help desk processes and reference material, or break an existing URL
• A new service or application
• Changes that require admin action but do not fall under prevent or fix issues
• Changes to where data is stored

Once you overcome the update learning curve and design your master update plan, your organization will be ready for the next step—creating a culture of continuous learning and ensuring users can keep up with the changes, both big and small. Be sure to read next week’s post to learn more.

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We look forward to helping you on your journey to Digital Transformation.

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