Are you overwhelmed, confused, or maybe even caught off guard when changes are made in SharePoint Online? Well, you aren’t alone. This ever-evolving product that is near and dear to our hearts is being updated regularly and if you aren’t paying close attention you may not be able to keep up with the changes or understand what changes are happening or may have already happened.

I have good news for you, not only can you be informed of upcoming changes to SharePoint Online, you can also read about the changes that have already taken place.

Let’s begin by looking back at what you may have missed. Microsoft maintains a Web site called What’s new in Microsoft SharePoint Online that you can locate here, and please bookmark it, that lists out the changes that have been made and they lists them out by month. So you may want to take some time to look through this to see what has changed that you missed. It may clear up a few mysteries as to why SharePoint is behaving differently.

Now that we have discussed the reactive mode, let’s look at a way for us to be proactive, so these changes don’t sneak up on you. Microsoft shares the upcoming updates through the Office 365 Message Center found on the landing page of the Office 365 Admin Center. The list of changes can be filtered so you can look at the ones that are of most concern to you. A few of the filtering options include; Plan for change, Stay informed, as well as prevent or fix issues.

You can configure the message center so it only includes information relevant to you, by cherry picking the services that you want reported in the Message Center. You may not be doing anything with OneDrive for Business or Skype for Business, so we can prevent those types of messages from being listed in the message center. The Message center is located in the Health category of Office 365 and will contain information similar to seen here:

Another option to stay informed about upcoming changes, is to frequently visit the Office 365 Roadmap, which contains information about the planned updates and releases. Between the Roadmap and the O365 Message center, there shouldn’t be any big surprises.

Sample screenshot of Roadmap

Great, now that you can see what changes are coming, it will be in your company’s best interest if you could dabble with these changes prior to them hitting your company intranet. This can be done by creating a development or piloting tenant and enrolling in the First Release (soon to be renamed the Targeted Release) program in that tenant through the Settings->Organization Profile interface.

These tenants configured for Targeted Releases receive all the Office 365, not just SharePoint Online, updates before they are actually rolled out to the entire public. Targeted Release tenant IT Pros are then able to assist Microsoft in identifying all the bugs and kinks and help work them out before the new features are released to the general public. For a brief overview of how these targeted releases fit into the normal release cycle, you can review Microsoft’s ideas and thoughts around targeted releases on this Web Site.

Well I hope this demystifies the changes you’ve seen, and helps you be more prepared for the upcoming changes happening in SharePoint Online, and other Office 365 products.