Setting Incident Priorities on the Help Desk

Help desk incident prioritization: the seat of the pants method

In a 50 employee organization, prioritizing activity in response to IT incidents will fall to the single hard-pressed individual who keeps the organization’s IT running. If a decision has to be made on relative priorities between two or more open incidents, it will involve a simple assessment of the impact of each incident on the organization, and estimates of how long each will take to fix, and maybe at what cost. If the decision is not clear, it will go to the CEO or whoever heads the organization to adjudicate. There may or may not be a ‘proper’ help desk solution in place to keep track of the activity.

So, how does such a simple process, which relies on a blend of intuition and experience, scale up to an organization of 5,000 members with a complex multi-tiered management structure?

Setting help desk incident priorities: the FIFO cop-out

The simplest way of dealing with the question of prioritization is to ignore it, by simply using a First In First Out approach; each new issue receives attention and is progressed as far as possible before the next available issue is addressed. If any existing open issue comes back into play – for example as a result of some tests, or more information – then it is attended to in preference to any new issues. This is the sort of treatment we have all experienced while waiting in line at a government office of some sort. It doesn’t matter how pressing our problem is, the folks the other side of the counter will carry on with their own variety of plate spinning and we have to wait our turn. The system is simple, undemanding of management and imagination, and hugely frustrating at times. (Apologies to our government sector customers for the caricature.)

SLAs – making the most of help desk incident prioritization

The concept of Service Level Agreements does at least mean that once our incident is in the system, and has been assessed for its impact on the organization, the support team will be deploying their resources of time and skill to attempt to get it resolved within the appropriate SLA’s parameters. Just about every help desk tool available today will offer some level of SLA management, which will guide the prioritization of effort. SLA management will involve escalation of an incident if it is falling behind schedule for solution, not only escalation of priority but also notification of higher levels of supervision. I.e. SLAs give us a framework within which we can trigger the attention of senior staff who can take decisions on re-allocation of resources.

IT support and help desk tools: automation in assessing incident priority

How do you decide which Service Level to initially apply to each new incident? What rules does your help desk solution allow you to apply? Is this a wholly manual process – which means that the incident must at least be opened and assessed – or can it be partially automated by reference to the user’s ID, his / her department’s significance, or keywords in the incident subject line if reported by email or Web interface? Automation, such as analysis of email Subject lines or content, allows an incident to be pushed up the line for early attention, even before it has come to the top of the queue and been assessed. It’s a little like the agent that walks up and down the check-in lines asking for anyone scheduled to fly on the 17:45 to Tuscon; if you’ve got the right characteristics you will be pushed up the queue to be attended to quickly.

Just as that little extra ‘automation’ at the airport can make the difference between making or missing your flight, then intelligent priority allocation by your help desk tool can make the difference in getting that major project proposal ready for FedEx (another of our happy IT asset management customers in the UK!) to collect.

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