Proactive Service Management: 5 Steps To A More Proactive Approach


An organization’s IT environment has a lot of moving parts. Yet, the combined sheer volume of hardware and software components, the integration of old and new technologies, and a base of increasingly diverse users practically ensures that something will go awry.


Whether it’s a faulty desktop hard drive, a software application that’s hogging network bandwidth, or connectivity issues for remote workers, many organizations are engaged in a perpetual state of IT firefighting.

Ramiro Rinaudo, senior engineering manager at Mulesoft, offers sage advice to the IT professional in his blog, The Definitive Corporate IT Firefighter Guide: “If you are working as a firefighter in IT…become a planner. Planning is looking ahead, firefighting is looking backwards.”

Planning, of course, is a relative term that covers everything from increased documentation to dedicated IT problem management. The latter is a deliberate process within the ITIL IT Service Management framework that is designed to minimize the impact and recurrence of errors in the IT environment.

“A common issue is that organizations think that they ‘do’ proactive problem management,” says Stephen Mann, former senior analyst at Forrester, “when in fact all they do is react to major incidents.”

That reactive mentality is like taking an aspirin for a toothache, since firefighting addresses IT symptoms – and not their root cause.

Steve Lawless, CEO of Purple Griffon, an ITIL training organization, notes that while most IT departments have help desks, “many organizations have stalled in their continued implementation of proactive service management and are failing to achieve the benefits that they deserve.”

These benefits can be significant for IT organizations in companies across all industries. They include an overall reduction of technology-related incidents and business interruptions, and the restoration of IT’s credibility in the eyes of frustrated users – particularly if issues are recurring.

Challenges to progressing to the next step in IT service management, according to Lawless, include:

  • No time (because everyone’s always fighting fires)
  • A lack of resources
  • No management commitment to the process
  • No formal problem management roles in place
  • Poor incident documentation, measurement, and reporting

While a dedicated IT problem management team may not be a feasible option for all organizations, these top five steps can get you closer – faster – to a more proactive approach to IT service management and issue resolution (and happier customers):

  1. ASSIGN OWNERSHIP Even if you’re not able to dedicate budget and multiple resources to a formal IT solution team, you can still take action to help your organization begin the shift toward more proactive planning. Assign a gatekeeper who is “responsible and accountable for problem management,” says Peter Summers of Hornbill Systems Management. This individual can establish some basic processes for consistent identification and documentation of issues and their resolutions.
  2. ESTABLISH CLEAR DEFINITIONS While “problem” and “incident” may appear to mean the same thing, both Mann and Lawless agree there are important distinctions. Lawless defines an incident as a one-time occurrence, and a problem is a series of similar, recurring incidents. Typical incident management strives to restore service as soon as possible. Proactive problem management often requires more in-depth analysis of the related incidents with a goal of determining a root cause. Clear definition of terms will set expectations and help everyone – from the service desk to IT firefighters to the business stakeholders – support an appropriate response for immediate and for long-term resolutions.
  3. PRIORITIZE BASED ON BUSINESS IMPACT Issues are not all five-alarm fires. Each issue will have a different impact on the business, and that’s a great way to help you prioritize your response. Summers suggests that you “identify ‘major impact’ incidents: those that result in lost productivity, repeat incidents, or similar incidents…and – based on that impact – their urgency levels (e.g., 1 = immediate, 4 = five days).” Be sure to involve your business stakeholders early in the discussion to ensure that your priorities are aligned with the business needs.
  4. DOCUMENT THE ISSUES Consistency is critical in how incidents are logged, categorized, and documented – through resolution. Documentation can serve as a valuable reference that can help your team resolve similar incidents more quickly. That same documentation can help you identify and analyze patterns and recurring issues, and surface root causes.
  5. COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE Even the best plans won’t be effective if no one knows about them. One of the most important duties of your newly established gatekeeper is to facilitate regular (weekly, monthly, quarterly) communications among the key business stakeholders, IT teams, and service desk to discuss your approach to problem management – and to adjust it iteratively – in order to continue to align effectively with the business.

Ultimately, the results of implementing basic problem management processes within your environment will result in improved IT reliability, less firefighting, and happier users – and may even help pave the way for a more formal proactive IT service management approach.

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