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What is ITSM incident management?

Efficient ITSM comprises four main processes: service request management, change management, problem management, and incident management. IT companies should deal with all of them in order to provide end-to-end customer service. The comprehensive approach to ITIL guidance helps reduce overall project costs and significantly improves the customer experience. In this article, we will develop the topic of incident management. Why is it so important and how does it align with your business goals? 


What is ITSM incident management? 

Incident management defined by ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) is a set of actions performed by IT or DevOps teams to respond to service interruptions or negative unplanned events. The goal of the management process is to get the service back to operating as smoothly as possible. An incident is resolved if the impacted service resumes functioning in its operational state. Usually, we distinguish between major and minor incidents based on their severity. They can range from the whole service crashing to intermittent errors that concern only a small number of users. 

ITSM Incident management - main steps


The ITSM incident management process consists of multiple stages. First, a user, a system, or a team member finds and reports an interruption. Then, we should long and describe an incident at a service desk along with all related links to tasks. In the next step, the agents review the incident and properly categorize it. It helps the team during post-incident activities and reporting. After the classification, we prioritize the incident, based on its urgency or impact on the service. When we already have a priority set up, the team can move on to diagnosing and finding possible solutions. During this stage, the support agents take care of the communication with incident reporters. Finally, the service team resolves the incident. After verifying whether the fix has been successful, the team can close the incident. It’s a good practice to fully document the resolution stages for future reference. 

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The risks of not managing incidents properly


A service can’t be fully functional when plenty of incidents happen. Especially if the same issues repeat or if they are severe. Let’s take for example security-related problems such as data leaks. In this case, mishandled incident management impedes patching these leaks. This may result in financial penalties for the organization or even worse consequences.


Incidents also negatively influence customer satisfaction and that means a lot in a competitive IT market. Clients won’t stay if there are constant interruptions. They are more likely to choose other solutions or another company to work with rather than dealing with issues and contacting the support team every day. Even if the agents do their best, the time spent on additional communication increases the project’s budget. Not to mention the frustration resulting from the inability to perform because of the inoperative service. The other significant aspect is economizing employees’ resources. Ineffective incident management leads to going back and forth to fix the same mistakes. Instead, the teams should take care of new or just more demanding problems. The consequences are visible not only in delays when it comes to project deadlines. Poor incident management can also reflect in employees’ professional burnout. 


Problem management vs incident management


ITSM incident management vs ITSM problem management


ITIL distinguishes between incident management and problem management. At a first glance, an incident and a problem seem to be very similar as they both cause service malfunction. What are the differences between them? ITIL defines a problem as a cause or potential cause of one or more incidents whereas an incident is a single unplanned event that leads to a service disruption. An incident can be traced back to a wider problem. 


Problems and incidents are connected to each other. Both need to be properly managed by the team. The ITIL guidelines advise traditional IT teams to treat incidents and problems separately. According to them, problem management should be focused on preventing incidents and minimizing their impact. Incident management, on the other hand, concentrates on fixing existing incidents quickly, possibly in real-time. The strong point of this approach is that the goals of both processes are clear and well-prioritized. The transparent division helps to avoid the situation in which the whole IT team tries to get rid of minor incidents instead of looking for the root problem. The weaker side of ITIL’s approach is a possible knowledge gap between incident resolution and problem analysis. Any breakdown in communication can lead to a misunderstanding of the cause.


DevOps incident management vs problem management


Besides ITIL, there’s also a DevOps approach that treats problems and incidents as two inseparable halves. The supporters of the DevOps methodology point out that incidents often have more than one root cause. They believe that only collaboration leads to improvement. There’s no point in excluding any part of the team if a service is impacted by an incident or a problem. The key challenge of DevOps teams is making sure that problem management won’t get postponed endlessly in favor of incident management.



If you'd like to discover how to use Jira Service Management for efficient incident management processes, read the first part of the article on the Atlassian Community. On the other hand, if you're interested in best practices for managing incidents, check out the second part of our incident management series



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