Major incidents affect all organizations, big and small. A bank transaction server crash, airline check-in software crash, stock market outage, or other major incident has an adverse impact on customers. Under such circumstances, help desks are slammed with calls, only adding to the panic and chaos. It becomes a race against time to find a fix as every hour of outage could translate to thousands, if not millions, of lost dollars. IT technicians often find themselves answering calls and replying to emails rather than trying to find a fix. What does it take to keep a cool head and steer your organization out of the situation? Follow these 10 best practices to deal with major incidents that come your way.
Clearly define a major incident
When an issue causes a huge business impact on several users, you can categorize it as a major incident. It is one that forces an organization to deviate from existing incident management processes. Usually, high–priority incidents are wrongly perceived as major incidents. This is probably due to the absence of clear ITIL® guidelines. Therefore, to avoid any confusion, you must define a major incident clearly based on factors such as urgency, impact, and severity.
Have exclusive workflows
Implementing a robust workflow helps you restore a disrupted service quickly. Separate workflows for major incidents help in seamless resolution. Focus on automating and simplifying the following when you formulate a workflow for major incidents.
Identifying the major incident
Communicating with the impacted stakeholders
Assigning the right people
Tracking the major incident throughout its life cycle
Escalation upon breach of SLAs
Resolution and closure
Generation and analyses of reports
Reel in the right resources
Ensure that your best resources are working on major incidents. Also, clearly define their roles and responsibilities because of the high impact these incidents have on business. You could have a dedicated or temporary team depending on how often major incidents occur. Some organizations have a dedicated major incident team headed by a major incident manager, whereas others have a dynamic, ad hoc team that has experts from various departments. Your primary objective must be to keep your resources engaged and avoid conflict of time and priorities.
Train your personnel and equip them with the right tools
You don’t know when a major incident can strike your IT, but the first step to handling it is to be prepared. Divide your major incident management team into subteams and train them in major incident management. Assign responsibilities by mapping skills with requirements. Run simulation tests on a regular basis to identify strengths, evaluate performance, and address gaps as needed. This will also help your team cope with stress and be prepared when facing real-life scenarios. Equip your team with the right tools, such as smartphones, phablets, and tablets with seamless connectivity for them to work from anywhere during an emergency.
Configure stringent SLAs and hierarchical escalations
Define stringent SLAs for major incidents. Set up separate response and resolution SLAs with clear escalation points for any breach of the process. In addition, follow a manual escalation process if the assigned technician lacks the expertise to resolve the incident. Moreover, ensure that a backup technician is always available.
Keep your stakeholders informed
Throughout the life cycle of major incidents, send announcements, notifications, and status updates to the stakeholders. Announcements in the self-service portal will prevent end users from raising duplicate tickets and overloading the help desk. Also send hourly or bi-hourly updates during service downtime caused by major incidents. Have a dedicated line to respond to major incidents immediately and offer support to stakeholders. Use the fastest means of communication, such as telephone calls, direct walk-ins, live chat, and remote control desktop, instead of relying on email.
Tie major incidents with other ITIL processes
After a major incident is resolved, perform root cause analysis by using problem management methods. Then, implement organization-wide changes to prevent the occurrence of similar incidents in the future by following the change management process. Speed up the entire incident, problem, and change management process by providing detailed information about the assets involved by using asset management.
Improve your knowledge base
Formulate simple knowledge base article templates that capture critical details such as the type of major incident the article relates to, the latest issue resolved using the article, the owner of the article, and the resources that would be needed to implement the solution. Create and track solutions separately for major incidents so you can access them quickly with very little effort.
Review and report on major incidents
Document and analyze all major incidents so you can identify areas of improvement. This will help your team efficiently handle similar issues in the future. Also, generate major-incident-specific reports for analysis, evaluation, and decision-making. You could generate the following reports to help in efficient decision-making.
1) Number of major incidents raised and closed each month
2) Average resolution time for major incidents
3) Percent of downtime caused by major incidents
4) Problems and changes linked to major incidents
Document major-incident processes for continual service improvement
It is a best practice to document major incident processes and workflows for ready reference. This could capture details like number of personnel involved, their roles and responsibilities, communication channels, tools used for the fix, approval and escalation workflows, and the overall strategy, along with baseline metrics for response and resolution. Upper management must evaluate processes on a regular basis to check if targeted performance levels in major incident management are met. This can help rectify flaws and serve for continual service improvement.
Major incidents are unavoidable, and each one is a learning experience for your team. Adhering to these practices could be your first step towards mastering the art of handling major incidents.
Interested in making your IT help desk more productive?