It’s rare to find an IT department that isn’t swamped with work. IT personnel have a lot in common with emergency room physicians, often finding that they must triage their support by focusing on the most serious incidents first and finding time to tackle the others later. This can lead to a never-ending cycle in which IT employees are constantly in reactive mode, responding to problems that crop up instead of taking a more proactive, forward-thinking approach to IT service management (ITSM).
Breaking this cycle by managing problems instead of incidents might be the single biggest thing your organization can do to improve the delivery of IT service. In other words, instead of treating each incident as a separate, unconnected event that must be resolved, look at it within the context of the larger picture. Try to identify the root cause of the issue and fix this underlying problem, so you don’t continue to experience similar incidents in the future.
Defining a Problem in an ITSM System
A problem is simply a collection of incidents. When there’s a series of incidents all related to the same underlying issue, they are bound together and referred to as a problem. When this happens, the situation is typically viewed as more severe than a single incident. The follow-up procedures will require a more in-depth review cycle with root-cause analysis and appropriate stakeholder visibility.
TeamDynamix can really help the technicians at this point by allowing for fast grouping and mass communications out to all impacted. It’s important to note, incidents in and of themselves are not problems – however, if an incident is severe enough, it can be raised alone to a problem level – this happens when there is a need for a more in-depth review to prevent a likely recurrence.
Problem management rests not on solving the specific issue – which would be the remedy for the incident – but instead focuses more on recurrence and underlying root cause. This is an investigative procedure that takes place as a preventative measure.
Incident vs. Problem – Understanding the Difference
Ultimately, understanding whether you’re dealing with an incident or a problem will determine the processes you use to resolve whatever the issue is.
When focused on an incident, the goal is to restore service to acceptable levels.
Problem management comes after this – and is focused more on how to prevent this from happening again. Incidents have distinct timelines for resolution attached – whereas problem management is more focused on the investigation, and there are no clear timelines.
Incidents are also tied to Service Level Agreements (SLAs), which are in place to ensure the IT team is held to a set of response time standards. Deviation from these standards should be monitored closely.
Getting Started with Problem Management
Moving from incident to problem management makes a lot of sense intuitively, but it can be easier said than done — and it requires a few things to achieve.
The first is an investment in time and resources to analyze the root cause of frequent IT issues within your organization. Making the time to do this can be challenging, but this up-front investment will pay dividends later on — freeing up IT staff from having to spend their valuable time resolving repetitive issues.
The second requirement in shifting from a reactive to a proactive model of IT service delivery is having visibility into the nature of common IT incidents within your organization. An ITSM platform like TeamDynamix gives you the insight you need to identify key trends and quickly uncover the underlying cause of these incidents.
For example, if you’re tracking and categorizing incidents within an ITSM platform, you might see there are many more service requests for one particular type of server than for the others in your network.
Upon further investigation, you might determine that this server model is unreliable — and when it’s time to upgrade, you replace it with a more dependable model. Or maybe you notice that the WiFi service keeps getting interrupted in one particular building. After doing some additional digging, you find that it’s not actually the WiFi after all, but faulty wiring within the building itself.
Unique to TeamDynamix ITSM, is the ability to also convert an incident or a problem to a project. As the case develops, you can convert to a project, and from there assign a budget, timelines, and risk grades as required. This gives you a single view of your resources across both tickets and projects – and your end–users and technicians can see all their work in one spot.
The Benefits of Problem Management
While it can be hard to apply a long-term, strategic approach to ITSM when you feel like you’re inundated with IT service requests that need immediate attention, there’s training available to help IT leaders make this shift.
The ITIL certification process teaches leaders how to manage problems rather than incidents, and the Help Desk Institute (HDI) has some useful resources as well. Addressing problems as well as incidents represents a more mature approach to IT service management.
By reducing the number of recurring incidents your organization experiences, this key ITSM strategy can save employees time and make your IT department much more efficient in the long run, enhancing the delivery of IT service.
This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated with new information.