A major incident represents a critical event that poses a real or potential threat to an information system's confidentiality, integrity, or availability. Major incidents can disrupt normal operations, impact your customers, and may compromise the security of sensitive data.
What is major incident management?
Incident management = Restore services as soon as possible.
Incident management plays a vital role in the operations of development and IT teams, allowing them to handle unforeseen events and service disruptions effectively.
It enables teams to maintain business continuity, ensure customer satisfaction, and uphold the reliability of their systems.
Let's understand in detail why incident management is important for organizations.
Why is incident management important?
When faced with incidents, such as system failures or disruptions, teams need a well-defined and efficient approach to respond, resolve, and recover swiftly.
For instance, service interruptions can negatively affect the company, including financial losses, unhappy clients, and reputational harm. That's when incident management steps in.
To overcome the above difficulties, teams need an effective incident management strategy that helps them to deal with incidents in an organized way.
But what are the activities involved in incident management?
Incident management involves the following events:
- Detecting and recording incident details
- Prioritizing incidents based on impact and urgency
- Establishing clear lines of communications, war-room management and bringing in SMEs and stakeholders to a common communication channel
- Escalating incidents to other teams in case of multi-service(cross-team) failures
- Matching incidents with known problems
- Remediating the incident
- Incident Postmortem and RCA analysis
Read further to understand these activities and what an effective incident management plan looks like.
Goals of an effective incident management plan
An effective incident management plan consists of key components essential for successfully addressing and mitigating incidents.
Here are the key components of an effective incident management plan:
The primary goal is to minimize the impact of incidents and restore services as quickly as possible.
This involves promptly identifying and assessing the severity of the incident, activating the appropriate response team, and allocating resources efficiently to resolve the issue.
Clear and timely communication is crucial during incidents. Teams must provide updates, and status reports to stakeholders, including customers, service owners, and internal teams.
Transparent communication helps manage expectations, build trust, and minimize speculation or confusion surrounding the incident.
Incident resolution often requires cross-functional collaboration. Teams need to work together, leveraging their collective expertise to troubleshoot and resolve the issue promptly.
Incident management relies on eliminating obstacles to collaboration, promoting seamless information sharing, and establishing reliable coordination channels.
Every incident presents an opportunity to learn and improve. After resolving the issue, teams should conduct post-incident reviews or "post-mortems" to analyze the root causes, identify areas for improvement, and implement preventive measures.
By continuously learning from incidents, organizations can refine their processes, enhance their services, and reduce the likelihood of similar incidents occurring in the future.
Incident Management Processes: Which One Fits Your Business?
There is no one-size-fits-all solution, so you'll find various approaches across different organizations.
The choice of an incident management process depends on factors like:
- Company culture
- Operational goals
Out of all, there are two major styles adopted by companies:
IT led incident management process
It provides a structured approach to resolving incidents and restoring services.
IBM, Microsoft, and other companies implement IT-led incident management processes due to their holistic approach to service management. These processes facilitate collaboration between businesses and IT teams, ensuring the delivery of IT services to stakeholders.
Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) led incident management process
This approach focuses on collaboration, proactive measures, and integrating development and operations teams for efficient and resilient incident handling.
Google, as well as mid-size enterprises, are increasingly adopting SRE-led incident management. This approach aligns with the principle of having the team responsible for developing the service also maintain and address any issues that arise.
By embracing different methodologies, organizations can tailor their incident management practices to fit their specific requirements and work towards effective incident resolution and mitigation.
Understanding Incident Management of IT
In IT, incident management prioritizes addressing user needs and ensuring their satisfaction throughout the incident resolution process.
The goal is to keep systems online and operational, whether apps or endpoints (such as sensors or desktop computers).
ITIL, also known as the Information Technology Infrastructure Library, is a comprehensive framework within IT Service Management (ITSM) that emphasizes the alignment of IT services with your organization's specific business requirements.
There are five life cycles of ITIL:
- Service Strategy
- Service Design
- Service Transition
- Service Operations
- Continual Service Improvement
But the question is, where does incident management lie in the lifecycle mentioned above? Service Operations is the area where incident management plays a significant role.
But before moving ahead, let’s understand the difference between a problem and an incident.
What is a problem in IT terms?
A problem is an underlying cause of the incident. Incidents are always triggered due to a problem.
When it comes to a company's IT operations, incident management—often referred to as ITIL incident management—addresses a wide range of problems, from application crashes to network equipment failures(such as routers, firewalls, etc.) to license or software activation problems.
Incidents can created in various ways:
- Event management: Whenever an event occurs, an incident is created, or
- The user reports an issue through a service desk
Let's understand the IT incident management process through an example:
The user reaches out to the service desk, reporting an internet connectivity problem. They are currently unable to connect to the Internet.
What will the IT incident management process look like in this case?
Identification and Logging:
The first step in the IT incident management process is incident identification.
Here are key elements to include for effective incident identification:
- Name or ID number: Assign a unique identifier to the incident for easy tracking and reference.
- Description: Provide a clear and concise description of the incident, outlining its nature and impact.
- Date: Record the date and time when the incident was identified or reported.
- Incident assignee: Designate a responsible individual or team to oversee and coordinate incident response efforts.
So, in our case, the service desk agent has to decide if the problem described by the user is an incident or a service request and assign a name, id, description, date, and an assignee.
If it's a service request, he will send the request to the service fulfillment team, or else he will log a ticket.
Once identification is done, accurate categorization of incidents is important.
It helps the team in the following ways:
- Quick Solutions: By categorizing incidents, teams can easily find solutions if the same issue arises again.
- Prioritization: Proper categorization allows the team to prioritize incidents based on urgency. This ensures that critical issues receive immediate attention.
- Logical Order: Categorizing incidents helps the team handle them in a logical order. For example, they can address a complete website outage before serving an internet connectivity issue.
- Future Reference: Once incidents are categorized, they should be sorted into appropriate sections for future reference. This ensures the right team can easily access and address them when needed.
For instance, The service desk agent then categorizes the request as a software issue or hardware.
Here, a service desk agent will always look back into the Service Catalog/User level catalog and check what set of issues are considered service requests and what are considered incidents.
While categorizing the incident, urgency plays an important role.
Suppose a service with an availability of 99.9 % is down. In that case, the service agent will consider the urgency before prioritizing that incident, such as if it’s a critical or normal incident.
Priority = Impact X Urgency.
Impact is: User impact, financial impact, or business impact
Urgency is: how quickly you can restore the service.
Once you finalize the category, you must prioritize it as P1/ P2/ P3/ P4.
To effectively prioritize incidents, follow these essential steps:
- Consider Other Incidents: Take into account the other incidents that need attention. This helps you allocate resources effectively.
- Assess Project Tasks: Evaluate the other tasks that need to be completed alongside incident management.
- Focus on Immediate Impact: Give priority to issues that have immediate impacts and require urgent attention.
- Start with High-Priority Incidents: Begin by addressing the high-priority incidents first.
The priority may differ from account to account and will be mentioned in your SLA(Service Level Agreement) with your client.
In our case, the agent will prioritize the incident depending on the description.
Diagnosis and Troubleshooting
Once the incident has been properly identified and prioritized, you can check the root cause. Assign the incident to the team with the relevant expertise to address the issue.
This phase involves following the escalation matrix, i.e., if team A cannot resolve the issue, the incident is sent to appropriate team B.
In this step, we find the details about the issue the user addresses, log all relevant information, and escalate to the next tier team.
Incident resolution and post-incident activity
This phase involves the following steps:
- Resolution and Satisfaction: Once the problem is satisfactorily resolved, it's time to close the ticket and mark the incident as complete.
- Documentation and Storage: Store any relevant documentation generated during the incident resolution process in a shared workspace for future reference.
- Post-Mortem Discussion: Conduct a post-mortem project meeting to discuss any incidents that occurred during the project.
This is a valuable transition into the problem management phase, focusing on identifying root causes and improving future processes.
Now that we have understood the IT incident management process, let’s dive into incident management for DevOps.
SRE-led incident management process
No matter how good you are at predicting incidents or events, incidents will still happen. Hence, teams need to have an incident management plan.
To help you grasp the significance of incident management in DevOps, here are the top four ways in which its implementation can benefit you:
DevOps incident management plays a vital role in maintaining Service Level Agreements (SLAs) by promoting:
- Full stack observability with maximum operational coverage for efficient incident detection
- Coordinated and Collaborative incident response
- Robus post-incident analysis
By implementing continuous monitoring and automated alerting systems, incidents are detected early, enabling quick response and minimizing SLA violations.
The cross-functional collaboration in DevOps ensures that incidents are triaged, escalated, and resolved promptly, preventing extended SLA breaches.
Meeting Service Reliability Requirements
- With continuous monitoring, incident detection becomes faster, enabling proactive response and minimizing the impact of service disruptions.
- By promoting collaboration and shared ownership, DevOps incident management ensures that incidents are swiftly addressed through coordinated efforts across teams.
- Post-incident analysis helps identify patterns and implement preventive measures, ultimately enhancing service reliability and meeting the requirements of customers and stakeholders.
Increasing staff efficiency and productivity
- With automated incident detection and response mechanisms, DevOps minimizes manual effort and allows teams to focus on critical tasks.
- Incident management through DevOps ensures that potential incidents are detected early, preventing major disruptions and reducing the overall workload on staff.
Improving user satisfaction
- DevOps incident management plan enables proactive incident detection, allowing teams to address potential issues before they impact users.
- Collaborative and cross-functional nature ensures effective communication and coordination, resulting in faster incident resolution and reduced downtime.
- Ultimately, the improved incident response and minimized service disruptions contribute to higher user satisfaction, as users receive timely and effective support when incidents occur.
The role of DevOps and SRE teams in incident management process
In an incident management strategy based on DevOps or SRE, the team that develops the service maintains and fixes it when something goes wrong.
DevOps incident management teams adhere to three core beliefs:
Shared On-Call Responsibility:
Instead of designating specific individuals for on-call duty, DevOps teams adopt a rotational schedule where all members are responsible for responding to incidents.
Ownership of Solutions:
This emphasizes that the engineers who develop a service are the ones most familiar with it and are, therefore, best equipped to resolve any issues or outages that may occur.
Speed and Accountability:
Here, teams prioritize rapid development and deployment and emphasize individual and team accountability. Engineers understand that they are responsible for the reliability of the services they build, which drives them to deliver high-quality code and promptly address any issues.
Tools for Incident management
Effective incident management requires more than a single tool; it necessitates a combination of tools, practices, and skilled personnel.
Below are key incident management tools that are commonly used by enterprises:
Each incident should be recorded and tracked so you can spot trends and compare incidents over time. Zenduty can help you record and track an incident faster.
For the team to diagnose and resolve the situation, real-time text communication is essential. Additionally, it offers a comprehensive set of data for further reaction analysis. Tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom can be used in this phase.
Team collaboration platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Google Hangouts have proven to be extremely powerful war rooms for managing critical incidents. Apart from chat platforms, any powerful conference bridge like Zoom, Teams, Webex etc. can serve well for all-hands-on-deck scenarios.
Zenduty comes with an inbuilt escalation policy and on-call schedule/rotation management that maps your organization’s productiong services to their respective teams and dispatches alerts if any anomalies or downtimes are detected. For low-priority alerts, you can use integrations of your monitoring tools with Slack or Microsoft Teams channels.
Postmortems and incident state papers can be recorded using an application like Confluence, Google Drive and Git. You can also use Zenduty’s built in postmortem feature to record your incident timeline and also create, assign and track post-incident action items.
Sharing updates with customers and internal stakeholders with Statuspage keeps everyone informed.
Incident management and Zenduty
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