How to Categorize Applications Before Rolling Out Windows Updates

Published on August 26, 2021 by

Andrew Sweeney

With the announcement of Windows 11, Microsoft has turned its back on Windows-as-a-Service and sent the message that annual enterprise Windows updates are here to stay. For many IT program managers nothing will have really changed. You may have fantasized of moving to a process of continuous updates that don’t take months to deliver, but you knew that was an unrealizable dream.

The reason? It’s all about the apps. For many companies it’s just not possible to roll out updates without seriously thinking about your applications and how changes to the OS could affect them. Nobody wants to stop critical business applications or VIP access. But not all apps are equal, and by categorizing them ahead of your update you can save yourself time and effort.

Step 1) Discovery

Do you know what applications you are using? Or how many versions are supported across the company? With thousands of employees it’s probably way more than you think, so you’re going to have to turn to your tools to get a list:

  • Pull an inventory from your CMDB – given that’s updated manually, it may not be completely accurate, so you’re going to need more.
  • Scan devices using your systems management platform to understand what’s installed locally and rationalize the list (there’s going to be a lot more information than you need) before comparing it against the data you got from your CMDB.
  • If you’re certain your end users aren’t accessing apps online, then you have a complete list. However, it’s more likely they are, so you will need to use your access management platform to add in a list of those applications.

Step 2) Spring Clean

As we said before, you’re going to be supporting multiple versions of any app within your company. If you can reduce that number, then it’s going to make life easier for you to roll out your update. Look at your list of apps and see what versions you can consolidate or update – to reduce your list.

Step 3) Cover your apps

Now you’ve got a cleaned up, consolidated list of applications that are installed or accessed within your organization, you need to start categorizing them. So, what’s the best way to do that?

If you sort your apps into three categories, you can make decisions on how to treat them and save time and effort in testing.  You can read about this in our Windows Application Testing: Are You Piloting More Than 15%? blog post.

Group applications into three tiers:

Tier 1: These are the mission critical applications that could take out your customer facing teams, customer access, critical business applications or VIP access. Think about halting activities on the trade floor, crashing your consultant’s laptop, halting critical manufacturing operations. Those are the types of apps you need to be thinking about.

Tier 2: Important applications are those that, if they weren’t compatible with the update, they could disrupt a lot of users – or cause some business disruption – but not to critical services.

Tier 3: This will account for most of the applications in your organization and are either home grown or commercial off the shelf (COTS) applications that aren’t used that widely.

You can probably already start to categorize some of your apps with knowledge about your business and Microsoft Desktop Analytics will help you some of the way, but to really protect your rollout you’re going to need to know more.

Step 4) Do some digging

Using Desktop Analytics, you’ll have an idea of the most widely installed applications, but is that enough? Answer the following:

  • Do you know which applications support your business-critical operations?
  • Do you know who is using those apps? Even if they aren’t installed widely, maybe only a few critical or VIP users rely on them.
  • Do you know which business units use those apps?

Unless you know everything about your organization, you’re probably going to answer no to these questions, so you’ll have to find out more.

  • Use your tools including ITSM platforms, CMDBs and HR software to understand which applications are being used by which teams and individuals – and who they report to – to understand the most critical users.
  • Talk with business teams and leaders to understand which applications support critical business operations.

With this information in hand you’re all set for your update – well sort of. Managed manually these steps are going to take a lot of time and given that your IT environment – and your organization – is constantly changing, some of your data will already be old. And there could be some errors – that’s always possible if when relying on human input.

If you’re happy with accepting there will be some level of error in your data that you’ll need to correct later, then that’s fine, but if not, consider leveraging automation. If you automate the repeatable tasks across every step then you’ll make faster progress and always working from the latest and greatest data, making sure that when you’re ready to roll out your Windows update – everything will go much more smoothly.

Learn how ReadyWorks can help see you cut the time and effort of categorizing your apps to simplify your enterprise Windows update. Schedule a demo today,