What is an incident?

In IT Service Management (ITSM), an ‘incident’ refers to an unplanned event or service interruption. ‘Incident management’ is about detecting, reporting, monitoring, and managing incidents to minimize and prevent service downtime. With so many key business functions powered by IT services, even a single incident can cause significant problems if handled incorrectly.

In ITIL, incident management covers all incidents, whether they only impact a single user or an entire business. This also applies to relatively minor incidents that may not stop services from running entirely but still limit functions and usability. 

In ITIL v3, incident management is defined as “any event which is not part of the standard operation of a service and which causes, or may cause, an interruption to, or a reduction in, the quality of that service.”

ITIL incident management is also separate from ‘Problem Management’:

  • Incident management – A reactive practice designed to restore service continuity. Speed is vital, and incident management teams will often utilize temporary fixes to get services running again.
  • Problem management – A proactive practice that focuses on either finding long-term solutions or preventing problems from reoccurring. 

How does ITIL incident management work?

ITIL 4 lists incident management as one of its Service Management Practices. Practitioners log, record, and resolve issues across an organization. This may also be handled by the service desk with a dedicated incident management team. A company may utilize incident management tools to facilitate reporting and support the service desk.

The framework does not recommend a prescriptive approach to incident management. Instead, it advises practitioners to design a process for managing incidents based on the requirements of their company. This requires a firm understanding of the ITIL 4 framework, as well as a company’s structure, goals, and ITSM practices.

One could describe the incident management workflow as broadly covering the basics. These include:

  • Detecting and recording incidents
  • Matching incidents with other known problems
  • Resolving incidents 
  • Prioritizing incidents based on impact and urgency
  • Escalating complex incidents to other teams when necessary
  • Detecting and recording incidents
  • Classifying incidents and providing initial support
  • Investigating and diagnosing incidents
  • Resolving incidents and implementing recovery
  • Closing incidents
  • Owning, monitoring, tracking, and communicating incidents

Because incident management is treated as a holistic issue, incidents can be reported by a variety of sources. These can include:

  • Customers
  • Clients
  • Stakeholders
  • Internal users
  • Support staff
  • Third-party suppliers or partners
  • Technical staff

In a setup like this, there are several key roles and functions:

  • Support groups, including first, second, and third-line support. This can also include any external supplier
  • Incident manager, the manager responsible for implementing the incident management process and the first stage for escalation
  • Service desk manager, the manager of day-to-day service desk activities, and a point of contact for both internal users and clients. They will also act as a liaison for business programs when necessary and will make sure all incident report tickets are handled quickly

Notably, ITIL does not offer detailed procedures for diagnosing, investigating, and resolving incidents. The desk may also utilize provided scripts containing relevant information for diagnosing and resolving incidents. 

If an incident is particularly complex or disastrous, it will be escalated and dealt with by support teams with more specialist knowledge and expertise. Examples could include incidents that have a large impact on security or customer data.

What are the benefits of ITIL incident management?

There are several benefits to having dedicated ITIL incident management practices at an organization:

  • Service availability – When businesses rely on services for value generation, they cannot afford downtime. Having incident management practices in place ensures that any issues can be detected and resolved as quickly as possible. The service desk will also keep solutions on file for repeated incidents and make ‘temporary’ solutions long-term if necessary.
  • Staff availability – Incident management can be made much more efficient with dedicated tools and software. This also applies to areas like capacity and performance management. Without having to manually monitor and resolve incidents, your team will have more time to boost productivity elsewhere.
  • Productivity – With reduced downtime for essential services, a business can enjoy much higher levels of productivity. This can also be a major USP when offering services to potential clients.
  • User satisfaction – Naturally, service availability is pretty key for keeping customers happy, though this applies to employees too. By preventing downtime and other frustrating errors, you can ensure a higher level of user satisfaction.
  • Service levels – In some cases, maintaining the quality and availability of a service is not a matter of choice. Having incident management practices in place can be vital for meeting the terms of a Service Level Agreement (SLA). You can even use your practices to impress clients with how potential issues will be swiftly and effectively dealt with, especially if you have high-quality software and tools to back it up.
  • Response times – By following ITIL best practices for incident management, you can create standardized processes for responding to, analyzing, managing, reporting, and documenting incidents. Having this in place will vastly improve response times as well as service availability.
  • Visibility – Incident management requires visibility throughout an organization. This helps staff decide how to allocate resources effectively. Having a visible incident management team with clear processes will also help throughout the business, as staff will know how to escalate and report potential issues.

Studying ITIL incident management

Good e-Learning is an award-winning online training provider, as well as an accredited Market Leader for ITIL training. Our in-house e-learning experts create diverse, highly engaging courses with unique insight from experienced subject matter experts. 

Our courses also offer a range of training materials, including instructor-led videos, gamified quizzes, and free whitepapers. Our world-class support team is on hand to help with both technical queries and syllabus content and can even offer a free exam voucher for every candidate!

Good e-Learning also specializes in corporate training. We work with global blue chips to plan, implement, and manage training programs with our award-winning LMS, the Learning Ecosystem. We also offer dynamic reporting to support managers and allow our teams to take a proactive approach to help individual candidates.

Want to find out more? Visit the Good e-Learning website today for a free trial!

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Philip is a content writer with experience across multiple industries, including gaming, home improvement, and now e-learning. He graduated from the London School of Economics with a BA in History before taking on various odd jobs and volunteer writing positions, but soon broke into professional writing as a retail journalist. Now focusing on content writing, Philip is a tireless enemy of cliched corporate jargon. He believes that marketing content should be clear, concise and relevant to readers. Rather than assuming that customers know all about your solution, it is up to you to identify with their problem and offer something that will really get their attention. As such, he strives to understand the real-world applications of Good e-Learning’s product portfolio so that it can be explained in a way that is both coherent and down to earth. If you cannot understand what you are selling, you won’t get far! In his spare time, Philip enjoys watching movies, gaming and writing with friends.