There are acute break/fix IT issues that require immediate attention, and then there are chronic issues for which there’s no clearcut cause. Incidents are the broken bones, traumatic injuries and sudden illnesses of IT; they require quick responses and fast fixes to keep the patient (systems) healthy.
Problems are IT’s long-term pains and hard-to-diagnose challenges. They can be long-term conundrums without clear answers, and sometimes, no one’s 100 percent sure who’s in charge of fixing them. Good problem management, however, prevents many incidents, and the best service desk software should equip you to address both.
Incident management, like the hospital ER, has a clear, easily defined workflow. It follows ITIL’s preplanned steps for resolving the issue and uses straightforward KPIs for measuring success.
Incident management requires the following steps:
- Identification of the incident
- Logging the incident
- Categorizing it
- Escalating to Level 2, if needed
- Communication with users over the incident’s lifespan
For known incidents, it’s a service desk best practice to create an incident model for tackling the issue. A model includes the resolution, with steps mapped out sequentially and roles and responsibilities assigned. A model also provides precautions to take before implementing a solution, estimates the timeframe to fix it and outlines processes for escalating issues and preserving forensic data in the service desk software knowledge base.
The service desk is the hub of incident management. It’s the place where many incidents are first noticed, whether they’re reported by telephone call, walkup, email or IM, or whether they’re initiated by automated alerts. It’s also the place where incidents are categorized and resolutions are assigned based on technician expertise and the potential threat to the business. Success is usually defined by metrics spelled out in an SLA but may include first-touch resolution rate, cost per incident and customer satisfaction ratings, among others.
Some organizations have difficulty separating problems from incidents. What qualifies as a problem?
To return to our medical comparison, a problem is the illness causing the symptoms (or incidents). In order to treat the illness, you have to be able to diagnose it. The same is true with problems. Often the most important step is identifying them.
Sometimes the service desk (or service desk software) notes several incidents of the same nature in different departments that keep repeating despite troubleshooting. As they do in incident management, IT logs problems, categorizes them and prioritizes them. They investigate and diagnose and develop a workaround.
The challenge of problem management is that it can get lost in a sea of incident management. If the incident resolution IT was put together with spit and duct tape gets them through a few weeks without further interruption, the underlying problem doesn’t seem to be as important. To keep problem management top of mind in an atmosphere that’s not always conducive to long-term thinking, consider scheduling a problem management day, either monthly or quarterly, to identify patterns within incidents that could indicate problems. Use the day to come up with workarounds and also to evaluate the success of prior workarounds.
Important Service Desk Software Components
Service desk software should provide a robust ticketing system, with automation in place to speed up the identification, logging, categorization, prioritization, and diagnosis of problems. It should provide reminders related to SLA metrics and clear workflows for escalating when necessary. It should also make it easy to maintain user communication throughout the incident or problem’s lifespan. In addition, it should be simple to clearly outline roles and responsibilities within the tool, and it should be easy to create knowledge management entries to establish connections between incidents and problems and to build robust incident management models.
Overall, most IT organizations feel better about how they respond to incidents than how they tackle long-term problems. They perform better in an immediate crisis with a clear objective – turn everything back on – than when they’re trying to wrangle the long-term causes behind multiple incidents. With any patient, preventive care goes a long way toward avoiding the ER. Neglected problem management, like that neglected annual physical, can cost you down the road.
About Laura Miller
Laura Miller is the Senior Director of Sales Operations, ITSM at SolarWinds. She works one-on-one with customers ranging from SMB to Fortune 500, providing them with a modern way to look at service management. Laura's ITIL experience and ITIL v3 Foundations certification provides her with a unique understanding of the service management industry. Her guilty pleasures are anything chocolate, ice coffee, and reality TV.
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