Introduction to Incident Management: Step-by-Step Process, Tools and Best Practices

Picture of Ralitsa Dimitrova
Ralitsa Dimitrova
DevOps & Cloud Engineer
Reading time: 7 mins.
Last Updated: 12.02.2024

Table of Contents

What do we call an incident in the world of IT?

We classify an incident as an unexpected event that may cause an interruption of service, operation, or feature, thereby affecting end-user productivity. The incident may be caused by an asset not functioning properly or by problems with the network. Examples of incidents include any service disruption on a system, website certificate expiration, performance degradation of a system due to low disk space on a system drive, an increase in CPU load, etc.

The incident is resolved when the affected service resumes its normal functioning.

What is incident management?

“Incident management is the process of restoring services from unplanned IT service disruptions within agreed service level agreements (SLAs).”

In order to minimize the effects of the incidents, every company should have a good set of steps to take to identify, analyze and resolve critical incidents that could otherwise lead to serious issues. Incident management describes those steps and the actions needed to prevent future incidents.

Incident Management is a process of ITSM (IT service management) that focuses on restoring the full performance of an organization’s services as quickly as possible with little to no negative impact left on the core business. The aim of the incident management team is to resolve IT service disruptions within agreed service level agreements (SLAs). 

A service-level agreement (SLA) sets the expectations between the service provider and the client. It provides a thorough description of the products and/or services to be delivered, a single point of contact for end-user issues, and all the metrics for monitoring the effectiveness of the processes involved. The time to own (TTO) and time to resolve (TTR) is also determined by the SLA. Incidents are logged and analyzed and the process of solving them is recorded. 

If we should get specific about the timeline: the scope of incident management starts with an end-user reporting an issue and finishes with a service desk team member resolving it.

What does the Incident Management Process look like?

Incident Management Process Workflow
  1. Incident Logging & Ticket Creation

The first step in incident management is to spot and report the identified issue. This can be done by the end users themselves or by agents. However, often times incidents are registered and logged by a monitoring tool. Both clients and agents have access to a ticketing system where they can raise tickets for incidents and create service requests. The Incident Response team should gather as much information as possible regarding an incident when it occurs. It is a good idea to create reports at the end of the day, week, and month about what incidents have occurred during that period of time.

  1. Notification & Escalation

The time to complete this step is not fixed. It depends on the classification of the incident. Minor incidents can also be logged and acknowledged without formally triggering an alarm. Escalation occurs when an incident triggers an alert and the correct procedures are carried out by the person assigned to manage the incident.

  1. Incident Categorization

Incidents should be classified into the appropriate category and subcategories to be easily identified and addressed. The values high, medium, and low refer to how urgent the incident is. In order to categorize it, the Incident Response team needs to set up the incident form with the correct fields. If possible, the process of classification, prioritization, and assigning to an agent should be automated.

  1. Incident Prioritization

Setting the right ticket priority (critical, high, medium, or low) has a direct impact on resolving critical issues on time as well as on deciding the SLA (Service-Level Agreement) policy that will be applied. We need to give a realistic definition of SLA so that we can fulfill our commitments to the clients.

  1. Investigation and Diagnosis

When a ticket is raised, the agent performs an analysis and provides a solution to the customer. If no immediate resolution is available, the incident is escalated to the appropriate teams for further incident investigation and diagnosis.

  1. Incident Resolution & Incident Closure

One of the main goals of any IT team is to resolve any incident that occurs as soon as possible. Effective communication regarding resolving and closing resolved tickets is very important. The team can even automate the process of closing resolved tickets or the user can do it themselves through the customer portal.

Common Incident Management Tools in use

There is no one-size-fits-all tool for incident management. The best incident management tools have a few things in common. They are open, reliable, and adaptable. This means that not only do they provide the needed information to the agents but they also provide visibility into the process of resolving an incident for the company’s clients. Reliability means that the risk of an outage on the infrastructure taking down some response tools should be minimal.

  • Before the Incident

Monitoring systems allow IT Operations teams to collect, aggregate, and trigger alarms on data coming from different services from different servers in real-time. These systems are essential for providing full visibility of the services we want to monitor.

When choosing a monitoring tool, one must ask whether it gives visibility over all servers across the entire infrastructure, whether we can see real-time analytics and dashboards, and whether it can be integrated with any alerting tool.

Service Desk (also called Help Desk) is a software that allows clients and agents to quickly report incidents through the service portal. When an incident is reported (when a new entry in the service desk appears), the incident management team is notified immediately.

  • During the incident

It is a good practice to use a Configuration Management Database (CMDB) because it shows us the relations in our infrastructure. If an issue occurs, we can track the potential cause of the incident, thanks to this database. For example, if there is a problem with a service, we can track on which host this service is running, and quickly find other services running on the same server and monitor their status.

There must be reliable communication between people in the team during problem-solving. Therefore, a robust communication platform is needed, which can also serve as a record of incidents that have occurred in the past and what were the steps to resolve them.

Clients are informed when incidents occur and the problems are discussed with them. This increases their trust as they know when the team is working to resolve an incident.

In addition to the channel of communication for the team, we must also have an official protocol or register in which information about all incidents, their analysis, and the methods for their resolution are stored.

  • After the Incident

Sometimes after an incident is resolved, teams still don’t know what caused the incident in the first place, and there is a risk that the incident will repeat itself if the underlying problem is not resolved. It is therefore important to bring the team together after the incident to analyze the cause and to document the issue and the steps taken in a postmortem.

Key Terms and Roles in ITSM (IT Service Management)

Agent – licensed users who work on customer requests. 

Asset – an IT asset includes software and hardware systems, or information on sensitive organizational data.

Change – any change that might affect IT services such as adding, modifying, or removing something. It may be tied to a service request. 

Configuration Management Database (CMDB) – CMDBs store information about the configuration of hardware, software, systems, and employees within an organization.

Customer – unlicensed requestors who send requests to your service project through the portal, email, or widget.

Incident – an unplanned outage that disrupts or reduces the quality of service.

Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) – a widely accepted set of best practices that align IT services with business strategy.

Insight Query Language (IQL) – is a language format used to create search queries for assets and configuration items.

IT Service Management (ITSM) – defines the management of end-to-end delivery of IT services including all the processes and activities to design, create, deliver, and support IT services.

Knowledge base – an online library of information about a product, service, or topic.

Object Schema – a collection of information used to track assets, configuration items, and resources. They help users understand and visualize critical links between objects.

Problem – the underlying cause for an incident to happen. 

Projects – a collection of issues grouped together in a relation to common purpose or context.

Service request – a user requests for a new service to be provided. 

Incident Management Process benefits

Incidents can disrupt operations, lead to downtime and cause data loss and productivity loss. Therefore, it is crucial for organizations to take incident management practices seriously. Some of the benefits of IM include:

  •   Better efficiency and productivity

Practices and procedures that help IT teams to react effectively in case of incidents and that mitigate future issues should be set up. The special portals for incident management provided by the ITSM systems, assist in the quick resolution of incidents by gathering the right teams and stakeholders for restoring the needed services. 

  • Preventing incidents or reducing Mean Time to Resolve (MTTR)

Once incidents are identified and mitigated, knowledge of those incidents (the knowledge of what triggered these incidents) and the required responses can be applied to future incidents for faster resolution or overall prevention. The average time to resolve is reduced when there are documented processes and data from past incidents.

  • Visibility and transparency

Customers have better visibility into the incident management process, which increases their trust in the company.

  • More focus on service quality

Incidents are logged in the incident management software. Each record provides information on incident resolution time, severity, and more. Reports are also prepared, based on these records, which indicate whether there is a persistent type of incident that can be mitigated.

  • Service Level Agreements (SLAs)

Incident management systems help build processes that provide insight into SLAs and whether or not those agreements are being met. If you need help with resolutions of incidents and comprehensive management of your entire IT infrastructure to ensure the effectiveness of IT processes and operations, check out our expertise and packages here!

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