Incident Management Process – A Must for Uninterrupted Business Operations

incident management process

Most of us have been there – disruption while working on a project or long server downtime, or even a power outage. Encounters with incidents that disrupt the work routine of employees are quite common.

Do you have an incident management process to manage incidents so that they do not cause a major impact on business operations? An incident management process is required to fix incidents quickly to ensure that the business is back on track. Read to understand what incident management is, need for an incident management system, and best practices in incident management. 

What Qualifies as an Incident?

Before we get into incident management, it is important to understand what qualifies as an incident in the context of business operations. When it comes to ensuring operational services provide value to customers, incident management is among the most important disciplines. Here are some definitions of an incident. 

An unplanned interruption to a service or reduction in the quality of a service.”

As per ISO 20000 – An unplanned interruption to a service or a reduction in quality of a service, or an event that has not yet impacted the service to the customer or user.”

“Issue or situations when a customer perceives a service interruption as well as actual interruptions.”

The manner in which a service provider handles incidents plays a crucial role in determining customer satisfaction. Here are some examples of incidents that occur in an online system-

  • Users not able to log in
  • Hacked or corrupted data
  • Slowness in response
  • Lack of responsiveness to commands

Once an incident has been reported, employees must register it as per ITIL principles.

Now, what is ITIL?

IT infrastructure library or ITIL is basically a framework designed to standardize the selection, planning, delivery, maintenance, and overall delivery of IT services within a business. The status of incidents registered with ITIL is tracked until they are resolved and/or closed. IT incident management refers to incident management within the company’s IT operations. ITIL addresses a wide range of issues ranging from laptop crashing to a printer or Wi-Fi connectivity issues. 

How is an incident different from a problem? An incident occurs when something stops working or breaks, which disrupts the normal service. A problem on the other hand is a collection of incidents with an unexplained root cause.

The incident management procedure is usually reactive, while problem management is usually a proactive procedure. Steps in the incident management process usually aim at swiftly restoring services, while problem management steps are focused on finding a long-term solution. 

Incidents are also often confused with service requests. The IT department plays various roles in an organization to address issues as they arise. The severity of these issues is what differentiates an incident from a service request.

When a user is asking for something to be provided, such as advice or equipment it becomes a service request. Services can include requesting assistance in resetting a password or getting additional memory for a desktop or a computer. An incident on the other hand is more urgent and indicates an underlying error that needs to be addressed. 

Types of Incidents

In order to design a proper incident management process flow, it is important to know the types of incidents that can occur in a business. There are mainly 3 types of incidents that occur in any organization – Major incidents, repetitive incidents, and complex incidents. 

1. Major incidents

Large-scale or major incidents may not occur too often, but when they do occur, they disrupt business operations. An example of a major incident is when an overnight server restart leads to login problems for hundreds of users. As employees try to get to work the next day, they are stuck waiting for the login issue to get resolved. Simultaneously, IT help desk requests pile up for resolving the issue. Dealing with large-scale requests is critical, as it can affect business operations and productivity ultimately. 

2. Repetitive incidents

There are some incidents that occur repeatedly, despite your best efforts to resolve them. In some cases, they are merely common IT requests that are logged in high volumes. Examples of repetitive incidents are – printer not working, or Wi-Fi slowness, etc. In some cases, these incidents are a sign of underlying issues with IT configuration. 

3. Complex incidents

IT help desk usually handles incidents that are fairly simple. For handling such issues, it is enough if we use self-service tools for support and resolution. Complex incidents on the other hand require 1st round of analysis by a level 1 technician first, and a second round of analysis by a level 2 technician for resolution. A typical scenario while handling complex incidents is that the issue slips through the cracks, or takes a really long time to get resolved. Such incidents impact the productivity of both users and analysts and also increase the cost of support and resolution. 

What is Incident Management?

Incident management is the process used by the IT and DevOps teams to respond to unplanned events or service interruptions and restore the service to its operational state. The scope of incident management starts with an end user reporting an issue and ends when the service desk member resolves the issue.

The purpose of incident management practice is to minimize the negative impact of incidents by restoring normal service operations as soon as possible. 

The incident process may be handled by an individual, team, or multiple organizations depending on the scale of the incident. In most organizations, an incident commander (IC) is assigned to lead a temporary cross-functional team to attend to the issue swiftly.

The company’s ability to handle incidents efficiently and quickly results in better customer and user satisfaction, improves your credibility and reputation, and creates value in relationships. 

Two important parts of an incident management process flow are: Recording and managing. Once you identify or get notified of the incident, you would capture complete information about it, such as description, time, and source. The record of the incident is the basis for further analysis and decision-making.

The outcome of analyzing the incident could result in decisions like resolution, communication, escalation, or handoff to other processes. Successful incident management relies on having a clear understanding of what the customer has agreed upon or is willing to tolerate regarding the duration and handling of any particular incident. 

Service level agreements (SLAs) or contracts clearly define the timelines for responding to and resolving incidents based on specific criteria. Terms like “priority”, “function of impact”, or “urgent”, are used to describe the priority and timelines of incidents. How you structure your organization to handle different types of incidents is an important part of incident management.

Some incidents may be repeatable with unknown causes. In such cases, you can define and use incident models for handling and resolution. An incident model is a repeatable approach to managing a particular type of incident. These models help reduce resolution time and the learning curve for new employees. 

In situations where a solution is not easily found, a workaround may be applied to try and lessen the impact or probability of recurrence. Workarounds like reconfigurations or restarts can quickly restore services back to an acceptable level of quality. 

The 2 main types of incident management are IT incident management and Incident management for DevOps. Incident management within a company’s IT operations is referred to as ITIL. This type of incident management addresses a wide range of issues that directly impact business operations and customer service.

Incident management under the IT service management (ITSM) framework, functions as one aspect of the ITSM service model. Rather than focusing on creating systems and technology, incident management for IT focuses on keeping systems online and running. 

IT Incident Management

IT incident management helps IT teams investigate, record, and resolve service interruptions or outages. The ITIL incident management workflow aims to reduce downtime and minimize the impact on employee productivity from incidents.

Templates can be used to manage incidents that are repeatable, allowing teams to log, diagnose, and resolve incidents, and have a record of their activities. ITIL works great when teams need to focus on cultivating a culture of active troubleshooting.  

The following steps are followed in the IT incident management process:

Identify an Incident and Log it – An incident can come from anywhere – an employee, a customer, a vendor, or monitoring systems. Irrespective of the source of the incident, the first 2 steps are simple – identification and logging of the incident. Incident logs include information like-

  • Name of the person reporting the incident
  • Date and time the incident is reported
  • Description of the incident 
  • Unique identification number assigned to the incident (for tracking)
Categorize

Assigning a logical, intuitive category to every incident helps analyze your data for trends and patterns, which is a critical part of effective problem management and preventing future incidents. 

Prioritize

Prioritizing every incident is important, to ensure that the critical ones are attended to immediately. You can start by assessing its impact on the business, the number of people who will be impacted, any SLAs that are applicable, as well as the potential financial, security, and compliance implications of the incident. It is important to define your severity and priority levels before the incident happens, making it simpler for incident managers to gauge priority. 

Respond

Once the front-line support team does the initial diagnosis of the incident, the next step is to log all the pertinent information and escalate to the next-tier team. The next team takes the logged data and continues with the diagnosis process. If it can’t be solved by the second team in line, then the next team takes it up. Communication is maintained through the investigation and diagnosis process. Resolution and recovery of certain incidents may require testing and deployment even after the proper resolution has been identified. 

Closure

Incidents that are escalated are finally passed back to the service desk for closure. To maintain quality and ensure a smooth process only service desk employees are allowed to close incidents. For complete closure, the incident owner must check with the person that reported the incident to confirm that the resolution is satisfactory and that the incident can be closed. 

Incident Management for DevOps

Incident management for DevOps is similar to ITIL in some aspects. DevOps teams are more focused on finding more efficient ways to build, test, and deploy software. Any unexpected delay or failure in DevOps operations requires quick fixing of incidents. Like ITIL incident management, DevOps incident management aims to fix issues without disrupting operations. For example, DevOps teams might monitor for poor mean time between failures (MTBF) metrics, which is a clear indication of an underlying issue that requires investigation. 

DevOps is rooted in continuous improvement, where there is a significant focus on post-mortem analysis and a blame-free culture of transparency. The goal of incident management for DevOps is to improve overall system performance, resolve future incidents more quickly, and prevent future incidents from occurring. DevOps teams may use automated provisioning, incident prioritization, and artificial intelligence for root-cause analysis, which ensures that uptime is rapid. Automated tools for incident management prioritize incidents, fix them quickly,  and prevent future problems. 

With a DevOps or SRE approach to incident management, the team that builds the service also runs it and fixes it if it breaks. DevOps incident management teams work on the following beliefs- 

Take turns being on call

Instead of certain members specializing in calls, DevOps teams usually rotate through an on-call schedule where all the members share the burden of handling calls. 

The person who built it fixes it

People who are familiar with the service or product are the ones that are best at fixing any issue that arises. These are the ones that understand every part of the product/service and are in a much better position to solve incidents that arise when users work on it. 

Balancing speed with accountability

The DevOps team needs to build products speedily but practice accountability too. When engineers know that they and their teammates are on the hook during outages, there is an added incentive that they make sure they deploy quality code. This approach assures fast response times and faster feedback to the teams who need to know how to build a reliable service. 

Why do you need an Incident Management Process?

When the IT department is taking care of service requests, why do you need an incident management process separately? When incidents and service requests are not the same, how can the IT service request system take care of incidents? All organizations need to fix problems, that is how they keep their business running. And having a dedicated team and system to fix incidents has undeniable benefits.

Using appropriate tools for incident management enables teams to react quickly to incidents and resolve them without causing any major disruptions to the business. Here are some of the compelling benefits of having an incident management process – 

Faster incident resolution 

Incident management tools, automation, and AIOps help teams identify problems and fix them quickly. This in turn improves the efficiency of business operations by allowing teams to focus on core business operations instead of being in the constant firefighting mode. 

Better user experience 

When incidents are getting fixed right the first time and when they are fixed faster, it improves service quality for the end user. This requires a clear and easy-to-use system for reporting service disruptions that pave the way for good communication while incidents are addressed. 

Deeper insights 

With an effective incident management system in place, teams are equipped with data on incidents that help them solve them faster and derive insights for root cause analysis. Team members can also document how past incidents were resolved so that they can use the data to solve similar problems in the future. 

More operational efficiency 

Incident response creates a system where issues have a clear path to resolution and helps build institutional knowledge over time. This knowledge is either leveraged by the staff or integrated into an automated system driven by AI. Such systems help in documenting important performance metrics that help the organization maintain high service quality. 

Meet SLAs 

A service level agreement (SLA) defines the level of service a company is required to provide the customer. An incident management system and management play a key role in meeting the metrics and key performance indicators that are defined in the SLA. 

Steps in Incident Management Process

How to implement an incident management process? The steps in the incident management process are listed below- 

1. Incident logging

An incident can be logged through phone calls, emails, SMS, web forms published on the self-service portal or via live chat messages. 

2. Incident categorization

Categorization of incidents is based on the area of IT or business that the incident causes disruption. The categories and subcategories of incidents enable faster and more efficient resolution. 

3. Incident prioritization

The priority of the incident can be determined as a function of its impact and urgency using a priority matrix. The impact of an incident denotes the degree of damage the issue will cause to the business. The priority of the incident indicates the time within which the incident should be resolved. Incidents are prioritized as critical, high, medium, and low. 

4. Incident routing and assignment

Once the categorization and prioritization of the incidents are done, they are automatically routed to a technician with the relevant expertise. 

5. Creating and managing tasks

Based on the complexity of the incident, it can be broken down into sub-activities or tasks. Tasks are typically created when an incident resolution requires the contribution of multiple technicians from various departments. 

6. SLA management and escalation

While the incident is being processed, the technician needs to ensure that the SLA is being adhered to. An SLA specifies the acceptable time within which an incident needs response or resolution. SLAs can be assigned to specific incidents based on their category, requestor, impact, and urgency. 

7. Incident resolution

An incident is considered resolved when the technician has come up with a temporary workaround or permanent solution for the issue.

8. Incident closure

The incident can be closed once the issue is resolved and the user acknowledges the resolution. 

End-to-end workflow automation

Build fully-customizable, no code process workflows in a jiffy.

Automation Tools for Incident Management

As IT operations get increasingly complex owing to the multitude of applications used by organizations to conduct their daily business operations, the need for a solid incident management system and automation is more than ever before. Some of the most commonly used incident management tools include- 

Monitoring tools

These tools are helpful in identifying outages, triggering alerts, and diagnosing incidents. Monitoring tools also reduce operational costs by freeing DevOps teams to manage software development lifecycles better. 

AIOps platforms

These platforms use logs and historic data to provide the context for better decision-making, smarter resource allocation, and faster incident response. Companies that use AIOps for incident management have reported reducing IT costs by 50%. 

Service desks

IT service desks are places for users to submit tickets, chat with the service desk teams, monitor the progress of their tickets, and perform some self-service tasks. Typically, the service desks use a request management system that enables efficient management of key incidents like prioritization and categorization. 

Documentation

This system creates scripts that document changes to an environment automatically, which makes it easy to record incidents for postmortem analysis. For example, teams can set up the PowerCLI scripts to run on a monthly schedule to record incidents for deeper analysis. 

Chat room

Real-time text communication is important for diagnosing and resolving the incident as a team. Chat rooms also provide a rich set of data for response analysis later on. 

Video chat

Video chats complement text chats for several incidents. Team video chats can help discuss the findings and map out a response strategy. 

Alerting system

A tool like Jira Service Management integrates with your monitoring system and manages on-call rotations and escalations. 

Documentation tool

Incident state documents and postmortems can be captured by documentation tools. 

Best Practices in Incident Management

We have put together incident management best practices that can help organizations track and manage incidents more efficiently. 

1. Identity early and often – Incidents can be tricky to spot, but the quicker you diagnose them, the easier the outcome will be.

2. Educate the team – Training the team about any accidents that may arise and what to do in the event they spot a potential problem.

3. Automate tasks Business process automation makes incident management a breeze. With the right automation software, you can program incidents to be flagged automatically. Workflow automation software like Cflow is incredibly easy to set up and automates incident management within minutes. 

4. Communicate in one place – Communication can be distributed at times, but it is important to create an organized method of communication. This starts with keeping collaboration in a shared space with the help of software tools. 

5. Use project management tools – The right project management tool can be used to create and maintain the incident management plan. 

Conclusion

Organizations are going to need a robust incident management process to manage incidents that can impact business operations. Depending on the severity of the incident, managing it can be complicated without an incident management procedure.

Cflow is a workflow automation software that can automate the incident management process flow. The visual form designer in Cflow can be used to create workflows by simply moving the visual elements, without having to code a single line of code.

Ready to explore Cflow? Sign up for the free trial right away!

What should you do next?

Thanks for reading till the end. Here are 3 ways we can help you automate your business:

Do better workflow automation with Cflow

Create workflows with multiple steps, parallel reviewals. auto approvals, public forms, etc. to save time and cost.

Talk to a workflow expert

Get a 30-min. free consultation with our Workflow expert to optimize your daily tasks.

Get smarter with our workflow resources

Explore our workflow automation blogs, ebooks, and other resources to master workflow automation.

What would you like to do next?​

Automate your workflows with our Cflow experts.​

Get Your Workflows Automated for Free!

    By submitting this form, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy.


    • Platform
    • Resources