Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) guidelines are used by IT companies to evaluate their service delivery standards and achieve optimum performance. Problem management is an important process as defined under ITIL. ITIL problem management addresses common IT incidents (problems or issues) and aims to prevent their recurrence.
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There are two versions of ITIL currently in use: version 2 (published 2006) and version 3 (published 2007). Most companies continue to use the older version 2, although it was announced in 2009 that certification for ITIL v2 will be withdrawn going forward.
The following are broad categories of IT incidents that can affect service delivery to clients, both internal and external:
- An incident with no known resolution, which the support team is unable to resolve quickly
- An incident recurring in many places, with many users complaining of the same issue
- A major incident whose impact on service management is huge
An effective problem management system can resolve such incidents quickly or even prevent them from arising in the first place. A problem can be defined as an unknown underlying cause of one or more incidents.
Problem management has two facets to it:
- Reactive problem management
- Proactive problem management
Reactive problem management usually translates to finding workarounds, tackling recurring issues or major incidents, and doing a root cause analysis (RCA) to prevent recurrence. Consider the case of a computer freezing when multiple applications are opened simultaneously. To solve the problem, the support team can first come up with a workaround. The workaround here can be restarting the system and opening only one application at a time. The user will be able to get back to work, but if the issue recurs with the same or another user, it means that the root cause has not been eliminated.
Proactive problem management, on the other hand, is often neglected. Proactive problem management aims not only at finding workarounds and identifying root causes, but also at making broader changes which will eliminate the problem completely.
Our experience has shown us that periodically analysing incidents and service requests provide great insights into the root cause of common issues and helps support teams close issues quickly. Recurring or major impact issues, when resolved successfully in this way, lead to incident reduction.
A few tips for ensuring effective problem management:
Identify a problem management day
Identify a particular day in a month or quarter and call it ‘problem management day’. On that day, ITIL specialists should spend time with users identifying the underlying cause of incidents and raising problem tickets for them. There was an instance where solving one problem eliminated 500 recurring issues for one of our accounts. Results start becoming visible almost immediately, provided people follow the problem management process. Implementing a problem management day will also lead to enhanced user satisfaction.
Use of problem prevention techniques
While most organizations are good at reactive problem management, and moderate at proactive problem management, there are many who do not even realise the value of problem prevention.
When proactively implemented, problem prevention techniques ensure that problems do not occur, and make problem management irrelevant. For example, if an organization does not perform adequate testing before delivery, there will be issues when the service goes live. Making sure that testing is done, and done well, will ensure a bug-free service delivery. Similarly, deployment of patches or other changes must be done with care.
About the author: Sharada Prasadita is the group head of ITIL practice at Wipro Technologies. Her areas of specialization include Developing Service offerings, Transition Management, Standardizing collateral based on ITIL Framework, relevant to AMS, Defending and responding to RFPs, Competency development across AM. Prior to this, she worked in Satyam Computer Services as head – service offerings, application managed services.