10 Technical Best Practices For A Seamless ServiceNow Upgrade

ServiceNow releases an upgrade to its instance every six months. Regularly upgrading the NOW platform helps you leverage the latest features, reduce bugs and enhance platform stability and security.

As a ServiceNow Elite Partner, INRY has helped several organizations seamlessly upgrade their instances. Because we run our business on ServiceNow, we are among the first to upgrade to any new instance. Using our PASS methodology, we complete upgrades for our clients within one week!

Using our extensive experience with the NOW platform, we’ve listed 10 technical best practices for a quick and effective ServiceNow upgrade.

1. Effectively communicate the change across the organization

Communication is a crucial part of a ServiceNow upgrade, just like any other traditional IT project. Before starting your upgrade journey, inform the key ServiceNow stakeholders about the schedule, process and impact. Notify users about new features and changes they can expect after the upgrade. Ensure everyone is in sync before, during and after the upgrade.

Build an organizational change management communication plan to ensure effective communication to the right audience across your organization. ServiceNow provides an extensive list of templates for building communication plans, you can download them here.

2. Read the release notes and plan your upgrade

Upgrading an instance involves significant planning and testing. In order to ensure an effective upgrade without any defects or issues, you should read the release notes and feature upgrades. If you are skipping a version in between, it’s important to understand the updates in each release version.

Reading the release notes will help you:

  • Understand if there are any enhancements implemented previously that are now made available Out of the Box (OOTB) with the new upgrade
  • Understand if a new feature is added to replace an existing custom-built feature
  • Compare customizations to the upgraded OOTB configuration
  • Detect potential issues with the new upgrade because of any changes or workarounds implemented previously

If you’ve customized any functionality previously, it’s extremely important that you check if there are any changes to it in the release notes. This step also helps you understand the level of customization of your instance.

Once you are familiar with the release notes, start planning your upgrade journey! Treat upgrades just like any other IT project; set project phases and timelines, allocate resources, assess risks and more.

3. Make a Backup

Make a backup of your in-progress development work (if any) in the sub-production instance/development instance to avoid any rework.

4. Clone your sub production instances before upgrading them

Before you plan to upgrade your sub-production instances, like development or test instance, you must clone your production instance onto sub production instances. Cloning the production instance helps you avoid inconsistencies across all instances. You are also less likely to encounter any issues or surprises while upgrading your production instance. If you have access to a cloned instance, you can consider upgrading that instance first.

5. Schedule the upgrade with the HI team

Before upgrading, verify if the cloned instance captured all important configurations and the sub-production instance is as close to production as possible.

Once you have the upgrade plan ready and all the test cases or ATF tests created, you can schedule an upgrade to the sub-production instance with the HI team.

6. Check the upgrade monitor

The Upgrade Monitor helps you check the progress of your upgrade. Once the upgrade is completed, you can check your upgrade start time, finish time and duration of the upgrade in the Upgrade Monitor module. You can even find the number of skipped items. Once you identify your update sets, you can go ahead with functional testing.

7. Review skipped items

If users modified any out of the box items during the upgrade, the system will skip the change on that particular item and mark it under Skipped Items. It will not upgrade the item to the new version and the customization will remain as it is. After reviewing the item, you can either retain the customization, revert to the base configuration, or merge the customization with the base configuration. You can view the list of skipped items, by clicking on ‘view all skipped items’ in the upgrade monitor.

Based on the priority of the item, the system automatically provides the priority, ranging from P1-P5.

  • P1: (Highest priority): xml content. E.g. UI Page, Macro.
  • P2: script or script_plain. E.g. UI Actions, Script includes, ACL, Notification, Client Script.
  • P3: html content.
  • P4: sys_ui_form_section, sys_ui_related_list, or sys_choice_set. E.g.  Related lists, Variable set, Order guide, Record producers, UI policies, Catalog items.
  • P5 (lowest priority): other. E.g Widgets, menu items, UI View, List layout, Form Layout.

When you open a skipped item, you can click on Resolve Conflict to compare the code. Once you compare the code, and there are only minor changes and the change can be merged with the OOB code, you can go ahead and  merge the code and click on Save Merge.

After clicking on Resolve Conflict the below screen will be displayed. What you see on the left side is the base system (i.e. OOB code, new code) and the right side is customized code. Based on changes required, you can click on the arrow in the middle to merge the code, and once completed you can click on save merge or revert to the base system.
Note: If you revert to the base system, this item will not be skipped in the next upgrade.

8. Create Test Cases using Automated Test Framework

It’s always recommended to have test scripts or test cases created before you perform the upgrade. Creating a test plan before upgrading, ideally during development, helps you streamline processes and reduce test times. Use the new Automated Test Framework feature to avoid manually testing and checking the test scripts.

You can create automated tests and test suits for each module with the flow we follow in the current version.

Creating tests with the Automated Test Framework (ATF) saves time and effort. ATF also allows you to run tests multiple times, something that is not possible with manual testing. Finally with ATF, you can identify the gaps in logic or workflow to a certain extent with the upgrade.

9. Plan to upgrade production when usage is low

Once you have upgraded your lower instances and captured all changes to skipped items in update sets, you can schedule an upgrade to the production instance with the HI team. It is always advised to plan the production upgrade when instance usage is very low (outside business hours). This way if any unexpected issues occur, you can quickly fix them before people start actively using the instance.

Generally, upgrading the production instance is a seamless process. Most of the time, supporting nodes are available in ServiceNow to support ongoing platform activities. If there are critical processes running on ServiceNow, they will run uninterrupted and as expected unless they are customized during the upgrade. However, this doesn’t mean the upgrade can be performed at any time.

10. Post upgrade measures

Cloning the development and test instances after upgrading production is a very important step that is often overlooked. Once production is upgraded, you might encounter some issues you haven’t faced in lower instances. Keeping all the instances in sync post-upgrade helps you resolve any issues that occur post upgrade.

Finally, if ATF is setup, after cloning, it is recommended to run ATF in the test instance to check for issues. Issues that are not identified in ATF testing or regression testing are generally fixed as and when end users report them.

Want to learn more about successful upgrades? Check out some of our in depth articles below, or reach out to us today!

  1. K-12 Services Company Maximizes Value From ServiceNow Upgrade With INRY
  2. Global Software Company Upgrades And Takes Full Advantage Of ServiceNow Discovery

Are you planning to upgrade your ServiceNow Instance? Get in touch with one of our ServiceNow consultants for a personalized consultation to plan your upgrade journey!

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