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ITIL® Problem Management – A Problem Shared is A Problem Halved!

ITIL Five StagesThere have been a disproportionately high number of catastrophic IT incidents hitting the headlines this year, including major technology glitches at two respected US airlines and a prestigious UK bank.

These damaging events propelled their respective Incident Management and Continuity Management teams into overdrive in a desperate bid to restore services to customers as quickly as possible. But what happens after normal operations resume and the dust finally settles?

Steps Taken for IT Resolutions

In today’s challenging economic climate, cash starved IT departments often let out a collective sigh of relief and immediately turn their attention to the next crisis. More savvy organizations, on the other hand, recognize that extinguishing the fire is just the beginning and that thoroughly eliminating its cause is the next logical step.

ITIL® Problem Management

ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library®) is a unique and widely adopted methodology, proven to enhance IT services, reduce costs, improve customer satisfaction, increase productivity, make more efficient use of staff skills and experience, and improve third party service provision. A comprehensive and scalable set of industry recognized IT best practices, ITIL embraces the entire Service Lifecycle, from initial planning and alignment to business strategy, through design and delivery to subsequent operation and support. The Service Lifecycle is comprised of five stages:

Problem Management falls under Service Operation, which focuses on ‘business as usual’ activities and ultimately achieving agreed end user and customer service levels.

An Incident or a Problem?

Whereas Incident Management is primarily concerned with restoring normal service operations as quickly as possible (and with minimum impact to the business), the main goal of Problem Management is to identify and resolve the root cause of an Incident and thus actively prevent future or recurring Incidents or at least significantly reduce their severity.

ITIL defines an Incident as an ‘unplanned interruption to an IT service or reduction in the quality of an IT service’ and a Problem as the ‘unknown, underlying cause of one of more Incidents.’ ‘Known Errors’ are defined as Problems that have been successfully diagnosed and for which there is either a workaround (temporary fix) or a permanent solution in place. Problem Management makes these solutions available to IT support personnel via a Known Error Database in order to resolve Incidents more rapidly.

Key Problem Management activities include:

  • Problem Identification – proactively identifies Problems via trend analysis often before an Incident even occurs
  • Problem Categorization & Prioritization – records and prioritizes Problems to ensure that they are dealt with according to business impact
  • Problem Diagnosis & Resolution – identifies the underlying root cause of a Problem and recommends the most appropriate and cost effective solution, supplying a temporary workaround if available
  • Problem & Error Control – tracks open Problems to ensure that corrective measures are being implemented according to priority
  • Problem Closure & Evaluation – ensures a Problem Record contains full details of both the root cause and resolution. Updates Known Error Database to improve first time fix rate of Incidents
  • Major Problem Review – reviews resolution of Problems associated with Major Incidents in order to prevent recurrence and learn lessons for the future
  • Problem Management Reporting – keeps IT Service Management informed about the volume of open Problems and their current status

The Benefits of IT Problem Management

At a time when many businesses face financial constraints, scarce IT resources are often directed exclusively at firefighting activities. Unfortunately, this shortsighted approach often costs an organization more in the long term. ITIL Problem Management protects companies from financial and reputational loss, by implementing cost effective, permanent solutions to Problems and preventing their recurrence. The rigorous analysis of historical data and trends also proactively prevents future Incidents or minimizes their potential impact, thus improving overall service availability. In addition, Problem Management guarantees an effective use of IT resources by prioritizing Problems and assigning IT support staff accordingly. The creation of a Known Error Database leads to a dramatically improved first time fix rate and a notable increase in customer satisfaction.

That’s why for every organization, across all industry sectors, the question shouldn’t be ‘can we afford to implement ITIL Problem Management’, but rather, ‘can we afford not to?’


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About this author:

Jon Francum

Jon is the Director of Training at Ashford Global IT.

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