Communication, collaboration and visibility are the three key factors in quickly and efficiently resolving a major IT service disruption. Traditional problem-solving methods, even those that follow ITIL guidelines for IT problem management, require time-consuming team coordination through multiple phone, voicemail, email and face-to-face communications; duplicated efforts; and wasted time. Even with the best technology, when it comes to a serious IT disruption, many organizations face the simple problem of “one hand not knowing what the other hand is doing.”
Kinetic Response is a web-based problem collaboration tool that automates assembling problem-solving teams and presents all team activity and actions related to a service issue in a single web console. All players in the problem-resolution process—including external third parties—are immediately apprised of all unknowns, facts and action items. It instantly communicates the nature of a service disruption, what’s been done, and any remaining actions required to return business operations to normal. And it documents and preserves a complete step-by-step description of how a disruption is resolved, to help solve similar problems in the future even more quickly.
The Problem with Problem Management
When a business-critical application suddenly stops working, rapid problem resolution is vital. You need to find the cause of the problem, fix it and return the application to normal as fast as possible. The longer it takes, the more the damage mounts in your organization—damage measured in lost productivity, lost revenue, missed opportunities and dissatisfied customers.
What happens, for example, when a voicemail system suddenly stops working? Without this tool, now an ingrained part of daily operations, the work your employees do can grind to halt, and your interactions with customers, suppliers and business partners can be seriously impaired. The same is true for other mission-critical applications and systems you used to run your operations, from accounting and billing systems to supply chain applications to CRM and ERP.
Problem resolution for IT applications and systems has never been easy, but in recent years the challenge has grown. Today’s application systems and network environments are bigger, involve more technologies and multiple platforms, and are indispensible to users in multiple locations that often span the globe. As a result, while problem resolution has become more critical than ever, it’s also more complex, involves multiple people and IT disciplines, and is more time-sensitive than ever before.
The pressure-packed complexity of problem resolution makes it crucial for IT and departmental managers to have complete visibility into current problem status and the actions being taken to resolve high-impact services disruptions.
What’s Wrong with This Picture?
Consider this example of a high-impact service disruption: credit card processing in a company’s large customer service center was taking an inordinately long time. Customer service reps were in the dark about the cause. Customers were told to call back later. (Many probably called a competitor instead.)
The IT manager in charge of the unit was alerted to the problem and began what for many businesses is a typical problem-resolution process. Phone calls and emails went out to the database administrator, a network engineer, a customer service rep, and everyone else the problem manager thought might have insight into the disruption. An ad hoc problem-solving team was assembled, and an urgent conference call was scheduled. As each new team member joined in the call, he or she had to be brought up to speed on the history of the problem, what was known and unknown, and whatever actions items had been identified, idling other team members as information they already knew was repeated. As facts emerged that suggested a problem with the credit card processor itself, a separate phone call was made, and the same process of bringing the credit card company’s representative up to speed on the problem was repeated.
Meanwhile, members of the team were communicating with other employees, some on the call, some not, over smart phones and PDAs, as they attempted to track down possible causes related to what they knew or their particular area of IT expertise. Team members returned to their desks to work on the problem in a process that involved additional phone calls, emails and face-to-face meetings. Obtaining a status update required talking to four or five people. The problem manager had little visibility into how the problem was being solved and was uncomfortably evasive when anxious senior managers pressed her for answers.
Eventually, the problem was traced to the credit card processor and ultimately resolved, but the process took several hours, resulting in damage to the company’s reputation and lost sales.
The inefficiencies in this process are obvious.
- For all but the most trivial IT problems, the efforts of multiple people must be coordinated in order to solve the problem. But using phone calls, voicemail, email and text messages to try to arrange a conference call or live meeting means a great deal of time is often spent coordinating the creation of a problem-solving team before the business disruption can even begin to be addressed.
- Speed and collaboration are essential in effective problem-solving, but sometimes conference calls promote the opposite. It can be difficult, for example, to determine and record facts and unknowns when different people are attempting to speak simultaneously. Valuable information being shared by team members in sidebar text messaging conversations may not be shared with all other team members. It also may be impossible to capture or re-create during postmortems of the problem, or to enter information about the problem into IT service management applications in order to continuously improve operations.
- Relying on phone calls, emails, and face-to-face meetings to resolve the problem limits visibility into problem status and often leads to inefficient duplication of efforts.
- Problem managers and other supervisors whose units are affected by a service disruption have limited if any visibility into how the problem is being solved and when service will return to normal. Will it take 15 minutes? An hour? An afternoon? A day? The uncertainty can result in lost productivity and excessive “checking in” with problem-resolution team members, further delaying the process.
- IT departments are subject to service level agreements (SLAs) that require them to document how quickly a problem was identified and when and how the department took steps to address it. When members of a problem-solving team essentially lack the ability to act in a unified manner—but instead pursue different and often duplicated methods to solve a problem—it can be difficult if not impossible to record their actions to demonstrate that SLAs and other IT governance policies are observed.
In short, today’s problem-resolution processes often make it difficult to coordinate team members and use their time efficiently, get the facts to those who need them, and document the resolution in order to understand causes and minimize impacts in the future. They lead to duplicated efforts and prolong the disruptive effects of a service problem on the business.
What About ITSM Software?
There are several problem-management tools available today, often included as part of larger IT Service Management (ITSM) software suites. These include HP Service Center, BMC’s Remedy ITSM Suite, Computer Associates’ Unicenter Suite, and IBM’s Tivoli Management Framework. Many of the these tools are offshoots of traditional service desk software, in which service problems are reported and logged, service tickets are assigned based on resources and priorities, and actions and results are not recorded until a service issue is closed.
While these tools are often indispensible for IT departments, they lack features that would have made them useful in the scenario described earlier. ITSM problem-management tools simply aren’t designed to enable collaboration and action; their primary function is tracking problem information for follow-up reporting. While useful for creating knowledge bases for preventing or mitigating service problems in the future, they are not effective at helping to fix service disruptions quickly before they take a serious toll on an organization’s ongoing daily operations.
Problem Collaboration and Kinetic Response
Rapid problem resolution requires more than what is traditionally viewed as ITIL-based problem management.
What’s needed is problem collaboration—the ability to:
- Automate the assembly of problem-solving resources once an issue becomes known;
- Give team members one interface to record and view continually updated facts, unknowns and outstanding issues, and to post real-time messages that all team members can see;
- Coordinate action items to avoid duplication of efforts; and
- Capture all information related to an issue and its resolution, so the process can easily be repeated and the information can be exported to ITSM tools for analysis and reporting.
With problem collaboration, there are no phone calls, voice messages, back-and-forth emails, face-to-face meetings, uncoordinated status reports or duplicated efforts.
Instead, all problem-resolution activities happen within the Kinetic Response environment, which collects and disseminates all events related to a problem, eliminates duplicated efforts, and coordinates team actions, even when third parties need to be involved in the process. Damaging service disruptions are resolved in a fraction of the time.
Kinetic Response is a database-agnostic, web-based application accessible to anyone in your organization. External parties such as software vendors and telecom providers can be given issue-specific access to the application and participate as if they were internal team members.
Kinetic Response is not a traditional ITSM application, but it is designed to work with such applications, chiefly via integration of any data captured during the Kinetic Response problem-collaboration process into ITSM databases, where it can be processed and analyzed like any other service management data.
The technology behind Kinetic Response is straightforward and utilizes corporate web-based chat applications and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol, (LDAP) directories, most organizations already have in place. Its functionality, however, is unique. It is designed not to collect and analyze service-related metrics, but rather to actively help solve service disruptions quickly as they occur.
Key features of Kinetic Response include:
- Automatic coordination of resources across multiple teams and locations to collaborate on common service issues;
- A live interface for browsing active and recent issue summaries and details; and
- Collaborative functionality for displaying and managing comprehensive issue information.
Solving the Credit Card Processing Issue with Kinetic Response
Using Kinetic Response, the credit card processing issue described earlier could be resolved with considerably less time and difficulty.
Step 1. Issue Creation
Problem managers can easily categorize problems, then automatically notify the team members assigned to that problem type.
This screen shows how Kinetic Response automates and simplifies the creation of a service issue when the credit card processing disruption is brought to the attention of the department’s IT manager. The issue is given a name, then invitations are emailed using the Automatic Invitation feature (see box) to designated personnel in the categories identified during the initial Kinetic Response installation (application, network, environment, network, servers, and other designated areas).
Problems managers can assemble problem-solving teams in minutes.
In this example, the problem manager determines that the problem is most likely related to database or network issues and selects the appropriate categories, which automatically triggers emails to the required personnel. The same email can be sent to an external party not in the company’s system to provide issue-specific access to the Kinetic Response Team Chat View interface.
Step 2: The Kinetic Response Team Chat View
Team members can communicate in real time and see all critical information related to the problem at a glance.
The Kinetic Response Team Chat View interface above shows the information displayed after all team members have joined the real-time chat session and how details related to the disruption are viewed at glance by scrolling up or down the right side of the screen. The web-based console provides real-time chats and full chat history. The scrollable right panel of the screen clearly identifies Facts, Unknowns and Action Items.
The key features of Response Team Chat View include:
- A complete synopsis of the issue;
- Ability for participants to communicate using real-time messaging and post messages instantly visible to all collaborators;
- A list of Facts, Unknowns and Action Items, visible to everyone involved;
- Ability for managers to convert messages into Facts, Unknowns, or Action Items at any time and assign action items to team members (see box);
- Ability for participants to post messages containing files or online images;
- Complete visibility of the issue and its history in one view.
Since all details of the issue are available to all participants, late joiners can quickly get up to speed without the need to distract other problem-resolution team members. Participants, including third-party vendors, simply follow a link and immediately see all Facts, Unknowns, and Action Items pertaining to the issue.
In short, all of the information that team members need to resolve the issue is presented on one screen and dynamically updated as facts and conditions change. Problem managers can assign action items from the same screen. Online collaboration eliminates duplicate efforts as well as the need to use phone calls, voicemail, emails or face-to-face meetings to coordinate activities or share information.
Assigning Action Items
Problem managers can create and assign action items to individuals or teams at any time.
Step 3. Issue Closed
Using Kinetic Response, the problem-solving team arrived at the same conclusion as did those in the initial scenario—namely, that the issue was caused by a network problem at the credit card processor—only they did so much quicker and without unnecessary phone calls, voicemails, and duplicated efforts. The problem was diagnosed, key roles assigned and the appropriate actions taken in a matter of minutes instead of hours. If the same problem arose again, even weeks or month later, the problem-management team could simply access the history of the closed issue in Kinetic Response (see box) and alert the credit card processor to take appropriate action.
Problem managers simply reopen closed issues for a complete history of how a problem was resolved.
Kinetic Response in Change ‘Collaboration’ and ITSM
Kinetic Response can play a key role in Change Management, which becomes with Kinetic Response more a matter of Change Collaboration. For example, consider upgrading a major module such as SAP. This can easily involve eight to 10 people: one to shut down the system, one to upgrade and test the operating system, one to handle database conversion tasks, one to ensure that applications run normally, one to test, and so on. Using Kinetic Response as a tool to coordinate the process keeps everyone on the same page, eliminates duplicated efforts, and makes it easy to diagnose and remedy any problems that arise.
Kinetic Response can play the same useful roll during Crisis Management and Root Cause Analysis, by providing one central interface for collecting and displaying all relevant facts, unknowns and action items; coordinating team activities; and documenting all actions taken.
And since Kinetic Response is database agnostic, it provides a simple mechanism for submitting issue information into most ITSM applications. In fact, since Kinetic Response typically captures and documents more information on how issues are resolved than most widely used ITSM applications, it actually enhances the usefulness of these IT infrastructure management tools. With Kinetic Response, an audit trail is maintained of all unknowns, facts, and actions taken throughout the duration of the problem-solving process.
Kinetic Response is a tool designed to help resolve serious IT disruptions. Its design is based on three premises:
- Problem management is improved with immediate visibility into real-time resolution status;
- Problem resolution is faster with online internal and external (vendor) collaboration; and
- Problem management is improved when the problem-resolution process is automatically documented for future reference and training.
Kinetic Response is designed to be deployed when:
- Multiple people need to work on a problem in a coordinated fashion—for example, when teams representing multiple IT disciplines are required to diagnose and isolate the elements of a service disruption;
- Visibility into problem status is critical since the disruption is serious enough to have a significant impact on the business;
- Vendors or external parties may need to be involved, as many applications and IT systems may involve software, hardware, and networking components that depend on external expertise; and
- The IT units involved in returning the service to normal have SLA and other governance requirements that must be met.
Every enterprise experiences problems like this. Regardless of the organization or issue, the common thread is that such incidents cause serious operational disruptions and must be resolved fast. This need goes beyond Crisis or Problem or Incident Management into what we call Problem Collaboration. Kinetic Response is the only tool expressly designed to handle this.
About Kinetic Data, Inc.
Kinetic Data is one of the largest and most experienced third-party BMC Remedy software companies in the world. As the only company exclusively focused on developing business service management (BSM) and service delivery management (SDM) software tools specifically for BMC Remedy, Kinetic Data offers the most extensive portfolio of third-party, built on BMC Remedy packaged BSM applications available. A BMC Remedy Technology Alliance Partner since 1999, Kinetic Data has helped nearly 100 Fortune 500 and government customers—including General Mills, Avon, Intel, 3M, and the U.S. Department of Transportation—implement BMC Remedy products aligned with ITIL best practices. The company serves customers out of its headquarters in St. Paul, Minn., and offices in Sydney, Australia.
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