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 Triaging and Managing Incident Tickets (A Guide for Staff)

Solution

An incident can come from anywhere. Someone can phone in to the servicedesk, send an email or walk up to the service desk to report it, or it can literally fall through the ceiling tile and land in your lap, in the case of an ill-placed network hub and a leaky roof.

An incident is defined as an issue which affects one or more users and affects a service. (IE: Airsuite) Incidents are not requests for email account passwords to be changed, or for a email account to have their quota upgraded. These are classed as "change requests". Also incidents are not classed as a general request for help or information and are known as "support tickets". 

No matter the source, the first two steps are simple: someone identifies an incident, then someone logs it. 

If you receive the incident already logged via the service desk, these first two steps are already done for you. If you get a phone call or the incident is reported via email or text or courier pigeon, it’s the service desk team’s job to properly log it in your service desk. 

These incident logs (i.e., tickets) typically include:

  • The name of the person reporting the incident
  • The date and time the incident is reported
  • A description of the incident (what is down or not working properly)
  • A unique identification number assigned to the incident, for tracking

Categorize your incident

These next two steps–categorize and prioritize–are both critical and commonly overlooked. 

First, you must assign a logical, intuitive category to every incident. If you don’t, you’re cutting off your ability to later analyze your data and look for trends and patterns, which is a critical part of effective problem management and preventing future incidents. 

Prioritise your incident

Every incident must be prioritized. 

To prioritise an incident, start by assessing its impact on the business. Consider both the number of people that will be impacted, as well as the potential financial, security, and compliance implications of the incident to determine how much pain the incident is causing and how urgent a resolution is to the business. 

And when in doubt about priority? Go with the higher priority level. Better to err on the side of caution than to let something severe fall through the cracks.   

Once you’ve set those priorities, address all open incidents in order of prioritisation. Most organizations set clear service agreements around each level of priority, so customers know how quickly to expect a response and resolution. (See the separate article on dealing with ticket prioritisation)

Assign every incident

Incident Tickets should be assigned to a member of the Incident Response Team. (ART) The Incident Response Team are specialist members of IT Staff, who are trained to deal with IT Incidents.

Respond

Incident response is a pretty broad term, so let’s break it down a bit further into the most likely steps you'll perform once you’ve identified, categorized, and prioritized an incident.

Initial diagnosis
Think of this as the triage function that a hospital performs on new patients. The service desk staff formulate a quick hypothesis around what is likely wrong, so they can either set about fixing it or follow the appropriate procedures and compile the right resources to get it resolved. 

Knowledge bases and diagnostic manuals are helpful tools at this step, too. 

If the first-level service desk agent is able to resolve the incident based on his or her own initial diagnoses and available knowledge and tools, the incident is resolved. Else, it’s time to escalate.

Incident escalation
Escalation sounds like a bad word, but it’s not. 

Your front-line support team should be able to resolve a large number of the most frequent incidents without escalating. But for those they can’t, the goal is to gather and log the right information to help second and third-level (more technical) support get up to speed quickly, so they can resolve the incident promptly.

Investigation and diagnosis
ITIL calls this out as its own single step. In reality, it happens throughout the incident lifecycle. 

Your front line support agent is already investigating, to an extent, when he or she collects information, and may even successfully diagnose and even resolve the incident without any escalation required. 

In that case, you’ve skipped directly through the next few steps: resolution and recovery and incident closure. 

Otherwise, investigation and diagnosis will happen at every step of the way as you escalate to level 2 and 3 support or bring outside resources or other department members in to consult and assist with the resolution.

Resolution and recovery
Eventually–and, ideally, within your established service level agreements (SLAs)–you will arrive at a diagnosis and perform the necessary steps to resolve the incident. Recovery simply implies the amount of time it may take for operations to be fully restored, since some fixes (like bug patches, etc.) may require testing and deployment even after the proper resolution has been identified.

Incident closure
The incident is then passed back to the service desk (if it was escalated) to be closed. To maintain quality and ensure a smooth process, only service desk employees are allowed to close incidents, and the incident owner should check with the person who reported the incident to confirm that the resolution is satisfactory and the incident can, in fact, be closed.

Conclusion: don’t skip steps

The process may seem unnecessarily formal, particularly if you only have a few service desk analysts. Regardless of your team structure, though, the incident lifecycle is still the same. 

Let’s say you only have one service desk analyst, so there is no level-three support. But incidents that surpass the knowledge of your service desk analyst have to go somewhere, whether it’s to your chief engineer or an outside consultant or even you, right? 

Voila! You do indeed have level two or level three support!

Finally, a few reminders: 

  • Log every incident. Give it a unique number. And capture important details (like date, time, and description) 
  • Update the Status Page, regarding the incident and keep it updated! 
  • Assign every incident a category (and subcategory, as needed). 
  • Assign every incident to a member of the Incident Response Team
  • Give every incident a priority level and every priority level an SLA.
  • Whenever possible, enable your front-line support team with knowledge base articles and incident diagnostic scripts to help them resolve incidents quickly. 
  • Make sure the service desk always retains control of incident progress, routing, and status. 
  • And don’t just capture incident data. Analyze it! Look for trends, patterns, and potential underlying problems that can reduce incident volume and mitigate risk. 
 
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