The major incident management process can be one of the most important IT service management (ITSM) processes for an organization. A major incident can hurt business operations (and thus revenues). And when a major incident is handled badly it reflects negatively on your organization and will likely increase customer inquiries and complaints. In addition, it can cause issues for your frontline staff because, at best, they face an increased workload and at worst, team morale is damaged.
This blog offers 5 ways in which to improve major incident communications and thus minimize the impact major incidents have on all affected.
What’s a Major Incident?
What defines a major incident will vary between organizations but it’s safe to say that when the major incident process needs to be invoked something critical is happening, and that it requires immediate attention and remediation.
Most organizations are aware of the criticality of the need for a major incident handling process, even if still relatively informal. They endeavor to get it right, but one area that is often open to improvement is communication. If your IT organization realizes that it could improve its major incident process – perhaps it receives complaints whenever your organization experiences a major incident – then the following should be of help.
1) Set-Up Formal Communication Channels to Improve Effectiveness
Communicating major incidents effectively will usually require more than one communication channel. There often isn’t one communication method that will work alone, and the trick is having multiple channels available and engaging them together to ensure that everyone (who needs to know) knows what they need to know, when they need to know it.
These communication channels can include:
- Outage banners. If your organization has an IT self-service portal, then you can apply a major-incident-related outage banner to the homepage. Such outage banners can be activated immediately, so as soon as you’re aware of a major incident you can turn it on. Then end users going to the portal to log an issue will see that you’re already aware of, and working to resolve, the major incident in hand. The banner can also provide access to simple workarounds if applicable.
- Text messages. While texting might be thought of as old-fashioned relative to newer social media networks, it’s still a reliable and effective method of mass communication. Thus, when a major incident dictates it, your IT organization can use a text messaging service to send important communications to a pre-defined group of people.
- Email. While email has its limitations as a communication channel, it’s still a great way to get important messages out to your entire business to alert end users to a major incident. But there needs to be a realization that not everyone will read the email(s) in a timely manner, so remember that a bulk email blast alone isn’t going to be enough to ensure that everyone who needs to know knows.
- Interactive voice response (IVR) systems. As with outage banners, when your IT organization experiences an outage, one of the best things to do is to activate a suitable IVR message on your IT service desk telephony system. This will advise callers that the IT department is aware of the major incident and is working on the resolution. It can also offer simple workarounds if applicable. This communication will stop people from waiting on the line to inform the desk.
Plus, of course, face-to-face meetings and telephone calls/conferences – both of which can be one-to-one or one-to-many communications – as and when needed.
2) Create Communication Templates to Improve Efficiency and Completeness of Message
Managing a major incident is a stressful task in itself, therefore your IT organization should want to ensure you aren’t creating any unnecessary stresses within your processes.
Trying to quickly write an effective major incident communication from scratch is one such stress that can be avoided by creating major incident templates ahead of time. Your IT organization can create various templates for different kinds of major incidents, such as an outage or performance degradation. And once the templates are created, all you need to do is open the template, insert any variables that can’t be pre-written, such as the date, and then click a button to issue the communication (ideally after it has been checked).
Communication templates help ensure a consistent and accurate message. Your audience might be misled by and will criticize poorly-worded communications and might make matters worse than they need to be. It’s something that’s easy to fix, so don’t let it happen.
3) Consider Your Audience and Target Communications Accordingly
When communicating what’s happening with a major incident, you’re going to have different audiences, and their respective information needs, to think about: affected end users, key stakeholders that need to be made aware, and senior business leaders who might want more technical information. The frequency of the communications will differ depending on the audience too.
The variety of audiences is a key reason why multiple communication channels are required – the different channels will allow your IT organization to send a range of updates ensuring you reach the right people at the right time, and perhaps even more critically, with the right message.
4) Communicate Consistently Throughout the Major Incident
Simply sending a communication when a major incident kicks off – letting everyone know that you’re aware – is not going to be enough to satisfy different stakeholder needs. At the very least, customers don’t like to be left in the dark when issues strike – which means that communicating throughout the incident is vital. As with the need for major incident communication templates, knowing what you will need to communicate upfront – and having a plan – makes it both easier and better.
Importantly, your IT organization’s communications need to be easy to understand and straightforward. They must also show your audience that you’re in control and that their needs are your priority. And, while you might not have any specific updates during the incident, simply telling your end users that the right people are still working hard to fix things can often be enough.
When you resolve the issue, it’s good practice to let stakeholders know what happened, why it happened, and what you’re doing to prevent the issue from recurring. Be apologetic and own the issue – transparency in your communication process is key.
5) Target the Right People – Sometimes Less is More
Sometimes it might not be necessary to alert your entire organization to the fact that you’re experiencing a major incident. If a critical business application is affected that only 50% of your end users work with, then the other 50% aren’t likely to care that there is an issue.
Thus, when possible, your IT organization should use your communication channels to alert only those who need to know rather than bombarding unaffected employees with updates about a major incident that’s of no concern to them.
Ultimately, application downtime, although problematic, doesn’t have to cripple your IT department. When you communicate effectively with affected people, they’re far less likely to have negative reactions and will soldier on. End users hopefully understand that incidents happen, what they don’t understand – and dislike – is when they’re not kept informed. And a good major incident communication process will help your frontline staff to manage, especially when under pressure, and should lead to quicker resolutions and fewer complaints.
So there you have it, our 5 top tips for improving your major incident management communications. Would you have included any others? Please let us know in the comments.