Dynamics 365 BC - Reduce risk when applying the latest release wave update

Since 2018 we have seen 2 major updates for Dynamics 365 Business Central (BC) each year History of Dynamics 365 Business Central/NAV | Dynamics 365 Lab (yzhums.com)

BC falls under the Modern Lifecycle Policy from Microsoft that basically states that customers must stay up-to-date (and be licensed to use the product, and Microsoft must support the product). Modern Lifecycle Policy - Microsoft Lifecycle | Microsoft Learn

The good news is that upgrading SaaS BC is a simple as a few clicks! And may only take a few minutes to complete. 

However, the purpose of this article is to provide some guidance around how and when to do those few click that will upgrade your production system - to minimise the risk to your business operations!

When can I upgrade

Microsoft detail the key dates and actions they recommend you take on this page https://aka.ms/BCUpdates - I would recommend reading that article before reading the rest of this blog post!

Upgrade cadence for the annual release waves 1 and 2

Make sure your service desk or other suitable monitored inbox is added to the notifications list on the BC admin portal

You should check and add a suitable inbox to get BC system admin notifications 

 Prepare for Updates

Be sure to keep track of the upcoming features due to be released as part of the next release wave. Microsoft releases individual features throughout the release period. It's not uncommon for features to slip back into the next release. So don't 100% rely on a certain feature being available until you actually saw it on a sandbox!

Microsoft keep us all updates as best they can on this matter the best resource to check out is the release planner. Microsoft Dynamics 365 - Release Plans and the current release wave release plan  https://aka.ms/BCReleasePlan 

Another way Microsoft help us prepare for any upcoming changes is by making Preview versions available to test in a Sandbox environment. You should never run production operations on a preview version! (Or a sandbox for that matter!) also the Preview environments get deleted after a few months.

But you can create a demo company and do some basic testing of any new features that may affect your operations. Prepare for major updates with preview environments - Business Central | Microsoft Learn

Manage the Update

When an update is ready for your Production environment here are a few recommendations to reduce risk. Disclaimer: Always talk to your Microsoft Partner for their advice, this is generic advice with no knowledge of any matters specific to your circumstances!  

Step 1: Delay Production Update  

  • When the update is available for production, first set the set update date for your Production environment as far forwards as possible. This will give you the maximum time to test the update in a Sandbox before it is automatically applied to Production. 
  • Also put this date into your outlook calendar, share it with any team members, to raise awareness.
  • You can always change the date again if after testing you want to get cracking with the update and release those sweet new features to the users!
The BC admin portal showing that I have some updates available on 2 of my environments

This environment is currently set to update on 26th Feb. Click Modify to update this date.

The Schedule environment update dialog only allows you to delay for so long, here I picked the furthest away date it would let me.  

Step 2: Copy Production to a Sandbox, Update and test

Now that we have some time, lets get on and test the update on a copy of our Production environment.
  • Ensure you have space to create 1 more Sandbox, then use the copy action on your Production environment page. 
  • Once created, use the update modify set the Sandbox-copy-of-Prod to update right away. You can set the date to today and toggle the "Allow the update to run outside the update window". That will usually trigger the update to start in the next few mins.
We are now at the 1st major checkpoint towards understanding if the update poses a risk to your Production operations. Because when trying to do the update, if any installed app or bespoke development would be broken by the update, the update will fail and the system will email you to say why.

An example of a failed update notification

Review the operations logs for more details. Where a specific third party extension blocked the update you usually get a fair bit of info as to why, which will help the developer who created the extension resolve the matter.

Assuming the update completed, now it's time to test your business processes in the sandbox. 
  • Which processes should you test? 
  • How long should you spend testing? 
These are important questions and must be decided by you / the operations teams / the business, your aim is to balance risk and effort. In an ideal world we would test every process end-to-end. In the real world we likely need to focus on the most important processes that would cause the greatest disruption if affected by the update.
  • Carefully review the release plan, your highest priority should be any application areas that are important for your business and that you are actively using using.
  • Another very important area to review is the Feature Management page - in case there is an optional update that will become mandatory in the updated version. 
Feature Management allows you to try out new features in a Sandbox before making the change in Production

You don't have unlimited time as the Production system will update in due course. If the test plan is discussed with the operations teams, documented, agreed and signed off you will be in a good position. You can never eliminate all risk!

Once testing is completed if there are any issues then contact your Microsoft Partner for help to mitigate these. Might be you need a change of process and so on. Its fairly rate to come across issues 

If all is well, then you are in a position to update your production system. Communicate with your users, explain any changes they may see on the UI/UX etc, explain any new features that will be relevant for your users. 

It's best to do the update outside working hours as the system becomes unavailable during the update. You will know from the sandbox update how long the update should likely take!    

Revisit the admin portal and set the revise the update date as appropriate! Congratulations you have just upgraded your Production - Dynamics 365 Business Central application and released all the great new features to your users. 

Final thoughts

Some observations from the last few years of release waves. 
  • You might decide to wait for the xx.1 or xx.2 minor update to be available before upgrading your Production system, unless there is a new feature you really must have. 
    • In the past there have sometimes been small bugs or issues in the initial version of the major release, these are then fixed in the next minor update that will come a month later or so.
  • If any issues are found, Microsoft will pause the roll out of the update, if a pause is in effect there is usually a blue notification banner in the admin portal.
  • The upgrades are released over a period of weeks, don't be alarmed if the update is available for one environment but not another, just wait longer.