Problem Management: Identifying Problems and Alerting Clients Quickly

As the first point of contact with every IT related issue, the service desk is best equipped to check the pulse of what the end user population is experiencing and detect larger problems that may be leading to the incidents they are reporting.  Operationally, the symptoms of problems are like raindrops. If enough are concentrated in one area and build in frequency, a flood of calls is on the way. It’s important to get ahead of the problem management process and stem the tide of end-user downtime and rising service desk costs to address major technical hiccups. As with any problem, the first step is recognizing that you have one. Here’s how:

How to Identify a Problem

Service desk agents know to look for the following:

  1. A high number of recurring incidents over a short period of time
  2. Incidents appearing to have a common root cause
  3. Incidents reported by a specific department, group, or location
  4. Incidents pertaining to a particular application or network

Notify Client IT Management of the Problem

During the discovery and implementation phase of a new service desk solution, the implementation team or project manager documents escalation procedures or notification call sheets with client input identifying the point of contact for each problem. Primary components of such documentation may include a flow chart segmented by technical issues, often split at the application or server level, as well as the contact information of key personnel responsible (SMEs) and intervals at which to continue down the list until the appropriate individual is reached. Leaving a voice mail or merely sending an email is not sufficient as the service desk cannot be assured that action will be taken until receipt of the message is acknowledged.

Continue to Support End Users

The problem management process really has no order of importance with regard to supporting end users. They are always first priority and service desk agents continue to perform incident management as the root problem remains unresolved. In the meantime, agents take the following actions:

  1. 1. Create new problem records for identified problems and create workaround steps when available.  Client IT Management also has the ability to create and manage problem records.
  2. Assist in performing root cause analysis with clients in order to prevent future occurrences.
  3. Update the IVR system as well as the self-service portal to alert end-users of known problems. A best practice is to develop some prerecorded IVR scripts for unplanned outages specific to individual applications (i.e. Outlook, SharePoint)  or whole systems (i.e. internet, VPN) so they can be deployed quickly on demand.
  4. Associate incidents with known problems to ensure proper tracking and metrics for root cause analysis.

While the above are preventative call avoidance measures that minimize undue spikes to contact volume, the last line of defense in problem management is to deal with the consequences at Level 1 on a reactive basis. Below are the more reactive problem notification steps.

  1. Inform callers who bypass the notification process, document the information in the ticket details, and associate them with the problem ticket.
  2. Set up emails and web submits to trigger an auto response based on the incident reported, notifying that user of the known issue status.

Depending on the service desk pricing model selected, there may be additional costs associated with end users bypassing or overlooking call avoidance measures and engaging live agent support for unresolvable incidents. If fees are assessed on a per incident basis, each contact can needlessly drive up costs just for the privilege of the personal notification. Even in a per agent or per user pricing model, time is money for the end user waiting to get the “known issue” message not to mention any colleagues next in the queue who may be awaiting support for more resolvable issues.

Once the root cause of an incident is identified, Problem Management may submit a Request For Change and recommend a permanent fix for the underlying cause or, if a permanent solution is not possible or rejected by the client’s Change Advisory Board, may assist in the development of a workaround for use in restoring service and minimizing the impact of associated incidents. This is the appropriate course of action when introducing new technology or major changes to the client’s IT environment; however, for outage-related problems or resuming a service interruption, there should be little or no deliberation beyond resolution by the IT professional to whom the problem ticket is assigned.  As with any effective problem management strategy, once the problem is identified, the solution should never be far behind.

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