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ITIL 4: What's new in Incident Management?

The purpose of Incident Management remains the same: get service users back online and productive as soon as possible. What has changed is the way we do that:

The way incidents are detected and logged. The way customer interaction happens. The way issues are diagnosed. The way fixes are applied. All of these have changed in the last decade.

Part of our Making ITIL 4 Simple series.

What’s Changed Since ITIL 2011

Not long ago, most employees logged technical issues by phone, and most of the response was done manually. Now, digital channels and automation have transformed how Incident Management happens—across both interaction and response. To understand what’s different about Incident Management in ITIL 4, and why it’s different, we need to understand what has changed since the last ITIL update:

  • Customer expectations have evolved. Driven by consumer experiences, service customer expectations are higher than ever. in the digital age, they want instant, frictionless access to services and support—via the digital or personal channel of their choice.
  • Digital Service Management is here. Mainstream adoption of digital channels (IT web portal, mobile support apps, chatbots, integration with enterprise collaboration tools) means phone support is now just one of many channels and working on the service desk no longer feels like a call-center role.
  • Automation changes the game. Identification, logging, categorization and prioritization of incidents is now automatable for the majority of Incidents, shrinking the time and effort spent on each case.
  • “Shifting-left” is now workable. Diagnostic and knowledge management tools empower service desk agents and employees so that they can solve more issues themselves.
  • Detect-and-correct automations not only detect and report an issue but now have the capability to automatically resolve the issue—in seconds instead of hours or days. This changes the profile of work that human service desk agents are dealing with—making the analyst role less about handling a high volume of calls and more about human interaction, deep problem solving and new value creation.

As with almost every other aspect of life and business, most of these changes have been driven by developments in technology. And ITIL 4 has evolved to provide some guidance on how to make use of new opportunities.

Incident Management isn’t Just About IT Services Now

In ITIL3, the definition of an Incident was:

An unplanned interruption to an IT service or reduction in the quality of an IT service.

But in ITIL 4 this has changed in a subtle (yet very important) way:

An unplanned interruption to a service or reduction in the quality of a service.

Note the only difference: “IT” is missing. ITIL changes the scope of Incident Management to include issues with all services. This makes is applicable to other corporate service providers such as HR, Facilities, Legal, Marketing, and beyond (Enterprise Service Management).

what is enterprise service management?

WHITEPAPER: What is Enterprise Service Management?

There is No Prescriptive Incident Process in ITIL 4

One of the most important things to know is that ITIL 4 doesn’t define prescriptive processes—because these promote process-dominant thinking and ITIL 4 is all about flexibility.

If you want to find a standard process diagram for Incident Management, you can find it in the ITIL 3 books—it’s still a valid process to get your started. However, ITIL 4 is mindful of the fact that every organization should tailor its processes for a better fit to requirements.

Where before, organizations would talk about the Incident Management process, ITIL 4 talks about the Incident Management practice because organizations find that in reality they need a set of IM processes to handle different categories of issue quickly and efficiently.

This diversification of IM processes is also required to support detect-and-correct automations where a set of custom processes must be in place, ready to be triggered to remedy a variety of types of infrastructure issue.

The most mature organizations are able to customize template processes on-the-fly to ensure that service desk activity is always fully aligned with what the customer needs—with no waste, but also without compromising the outcome by cutting corners or missing necessary steps. The outcome is white-glove quality of service, while remaining fully efficient. This has been described as a just-in-time process approach, where the process can be quickly defined (based on an existing template) and then refined on-the-fly while the Incident ticket is in progress.


 SOLUTIONS: Drag-and-drop Process Designer

This means that over time, a library of useful Incident Management processes is built-up—ready for future re-use. This reduces the cycle time on incidents as it rarely starts from a blank slate. As a result, customers get faster response and the service desk saves time.

Think About the Customer journey

If you look at a historic ITIL Incident Management process from ITIL 2, ITIL 3, or ITIL 2011 it’s all about the IT perspective. Where is the customer in this process?

ITIL 4 makes Incident Management more customer-centric by encouraging service providers to look at value streams from the customer perspective. Customer Journey Maps are ways to visualize the creation and delivery of value in a way which shows both the service provider and the service consumer.

ITIL 4: What's new in Incident Management? - customer journey map

An example ITIL 4 Customer Journey Map

This means that organizations can look at services from an outside-in perspective and an inside-out perspective. Customer needs and expectations are met, but the service providers commercial pressures, constraints and requirements are also considered. By using customer journey maps as a tool, it is possible to balance out service provider and consumer requirements so that everyone is happy.

ITIL 4 Covers Human Factors of Incident Management

Where previous versions of ITIL have been more focused on process/how work gets done, ITIL 4 brings the 4 Dimensions of ITIL into play to consider Organizations and People—to ensure human factors like culture and communication are not forgotten as necessary parts of the formula for successful Incident Management.

For example, when an organization has a heavily-siloed team culture where incidents are passed around like a hot potato, this extends the resolution time and frustrates the customer—This is a negative situation which must be identified and remedied to accelerate the process and boost customer satisfaction.

Likewise, communication doesn’t feature in the ITIL 3 Incident Management process diagram. There is no distinct step which says “Now contact the customer to tell them what’s happening” (although ITSM tools like our assyst solution have been enabling customer transparency for years). ITIL 4 talks about omnichannel service management and the fact that customers want their choice in how they are kept up to date with progress (mobile app, web portal, email, phone, SMS, etc). This is a key expectation today, driven by consumer-life customer experiences.

Internally to the service desk, open collaboration should be encouraged so that the IM practice benefits from the full breadth and depth of organizational knowledge. In some cases, the answer to the question “Who is the subject matter expert here?” is not obvious. This is why it is sometimes a good idea (particularly with novel issue types) to assume a swarming approach instead of the usual team assignment approach.

With swarming, a group of IT people get together to discuss and analyse the issue collaboratively; and the most obvious expert will then take ownership, having taken on board the input from the swarm.


SOLUTIONS: Collaborative ITSM platform

This can avoid the assignment ping-pong that sometimes happens when an issue sits on a boundary between two or more support teams.

These are just some of the issues which can be spotted and addressed when we look at a practice through the lenses of the 4 Dimensions model.

ITIL 4: What's new in Incident Management? - itil 4 dimensions model

All four dimensions are very important to creating a high-performing Incident Management practice, so everybody in the service desk should be aware of these factors and the part they play in spotting and resolving incidents more quickly, while simultaneously improving the customer experience.



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