Navigate Incident Management Like a Pro: MyFitnessPal's Sr. Director of Engineering Shares Insider Strategies with Lee Atchison
How much time are engineering teams spending on incidents?
Are you trying to set your engineering team free to do their best work? Read our new case study to learn how Blameless can help you do that.

Incident Management Automation - What You Should Know

What is Automated Incident Management?

Automated incident management is the process of automating incident response to ensure that critical events are detected and addressed in the most efficient and consistent manner.  

In incident management, time is of the essence and the primary benefit of automated incident management is speed. With automation, you can accomplish time-consuming tasks much quicker. This brings down the incident response time and allows the team to focus their attention on matters that require their expertise. 

What is Incident Management?

Incident management is the process of responding to an unplanned event or service interruption and restoring the service back to its operational state. In any incident, the most important thing is to resolve it quickly, which is why it’s important to formalize a process and stick to it. There are generally four steps involved in the incident management process:

  • Incident identification and logging
  • Incident categorization 
  • Incident prioritization 
  • Incident response

Examples of Automated Incident Management

Automation in incident management is most beneficial in two types of incidents: time-critical incidents, and straightforward incidents. An example of a time-critical incident can be a technical issue that impacts the customer directly. If your customer is impacted, then you want to resolve the incident as quickly as possible. 

On the other hand, a simple incident such as a printer connectivity issue can also be automated. Since the process is straightforward and can be resolved without human involvement, you can use runbook automation to automate the process and make things simple.

Why is Automated Incident Management Important?

Faster MTTD and MTTR 

The primary benefit of an automated incident management system is speed. By minimizing human intervention, you will cut down the Mean Time to Detection (MTTD) and Mean Time to Resolution (MTTR)

Fewer False Positives 

In incident management, alerts are both useful and troublesome. Among real and actionable alerts are often false-positive notifications, which can lead to alert fatigue – employees becoming desensitized to alerts becoming of their overwhelming volume. With automation, the tool will analyze the alerts and triage them to the right team members saving valuable time and resources. 

Less Room for Human Error

Managing everything from the incident resolution to data entry manually can leave you vulnerable to small mistakes. For example, you may forget to update the status of an issue or miss an important notification. With an automated incident management system, the response team does not need to constantly switch between apps and perform manual tasks. They can rather invest that time working on issues that require their attention. 

Automated Tracking of the Ticket’s Progress

Communication is a big concern in incident management. The C-suite executives want to be notified about everything and the other team members want to stay in the loop. In automated incident management, everyone involved in the process is automatically notified via messaging tools at every stage of the ticket’s lifecycle. This makes the process transparent and allows the team to manage the incident instead of managing notifications and providing status updates.

Gives Your Organization a Competitive Advantage

When it comes to incident management, organizations still aren’t making any substantial efforts. Research by IBM indicates that 77% of organizations do not have a consistent cybersecurity incident response plan in place and the cost of a data breach has hit its high during the pandemic. Investing in an incident management team and plan can reduce the data breach costs. 

Companies that have an incident response team along with a tested incident response plan in place had an average breach cost of $3.25 million. On the other hand, companies that had neither a plan nor a team in place experienced an average cost of $5.71 million. Having an incident management process in place makes a difference of 54.9%, and with an automated incident management process in place, the number can be even higher. 

5 Steps to Automate Your Incident Management Process

Step 1: Create an Incident Management Workflow

To automate your incident management process, the first step is to create an incident management workflow. Also known as the incident lifecycle, the incident workflow describes the step-by-step process of what happens when an incident occurs. The main steps involved in an incident workflow are:

  1. Identification 
  2. Prioritization
  3. Response 
  4. Resolution 

For every organization, the incident management lifecycle is unique and customized accordingly. The key to designing an incident management workflow is to get feedback from everyone involved in the process and list all the steps they take and the data they need to resolve an incident.  The workflow needs to put everything into perspective, but you will likely find many people disagreeing on how to do things and gather data. This is why it’s better to map the workflow on paper before automating the process. 

Step 2: Standardize Incident Prioritization

The second step is to standardize incident prioritization. In order to respond appropriately, you need to know the severity and root cause of the issue. Many businesses use the priority matrix to prioritize incidents. 

An incident priority matrix uses a P1 to P5 numeric scale to measure the priority and response for an incident. The P1 is considered a top priority and requires an immediate response. An example of a P1 incident is a server issue that may cause the entire system to go down. The urgency/impact of the incidents decreases as you go down the priority scale. Over time, the organization collects risk data, which can be assessed to define the standard for P1 to P5 incidents. It’s important for everyone to agree on the methodology. 

Step 3: Runbook Automation 

Runbooks, also known as playbooks, are documents that outline the step-by-step process of walking through a certain task. The purpose of developing playbooks is to ease the cognitive load by clearly outlining the process for common tasks. Runbook automation takes things one step further and eliminates toil by including software in the process that runs the step automatically triggered by a certain situation. Not only do runbooks save time but also standardize the process and make it more consistent. 

Step 4: Collect Data for Retrospectives

A critical step in incident management is data collection. Throughout the process of incident management, the team needs to ensure that they’re collecting real-time data to develop incident retrospectives and minimize the impact of the incident in the future. 

Data collection begins from the moment the incident is reported. As soon as someone identifies an incident or monitoring tools detect it, alerting procedures contact the people required to begin responding based on the incident’s classification. Throughout the incident management process, the monitoring and observability tools are collecting data. You should be able to access the data in real-time and use it later in retrospectives. 

Step 5: Centralize the Process and Integrate with Third-party Software 

For the incident management process to run smoothly, you need to integrate with third-party tools such as Blameless, Slack, or JIRA and act as a middleman. Switching between communication and other apps is not only time-consuming but you may also miss critical information. An automated incident management tool will make the process efficient by collecting data in the background and updating incidents side by side automatically. Meanwhile, the team can also view reports and events in real-time. 

Challenges in Implementing Automated Incident Management

Implementing automated incident management shouldn’t be regarded as the final simple step to your automation plans. Implementation presents challenges that should be acknowledged in the planning stages to help reduce friction. This includes choosing the right customized third-party solution to facilitate tech stack integration, enable scalability and improve cross-functional communication and security reliability. Educating and involving teams to overcome change resistance and streamlining system upkeep also contributes to implementation success through team buy-in.

1. Integration Complexity

Without strategic planning, integration with legacy systems and workflows can lead to compatibility issues. Your goal is to reduce inefficiencies, improve data accuracy and find the quickest path to resolutions. An evaluation of your current systems identifies weak points, so you know what areas you need to either upgrade or replace. You should also consider:

2. Using easy to integrate third-party systems

Choosing a third-party system that works seamlessly with your current tool stack will reduce disruptions and ensure you maintain reliability in incident management.

3. Mitigate data migration risks

You also have to consider the complexities and issues in the data migration process. This calls for careful planning, addressing the following critical factors:

  • Assessment of the data and platforms involved
  • Risk assessment of each migration method
  • Scope of the project
  • Objectives
  • Data mapping plan
  • Resource allocation
  • Timing
  • Assignment of responsibilities
  • Security compliance
  • Rules of action logging

4. Maintain communication

Incident management also relies heavily on communication, so it’s critical to ensure cross-functional communication capabilities are robust. Teams and stakeholders need to effectively coordinate actions for incident response and create digital runbooks to expedite resolutions and perform insightful postmortems. Programs such as CommsFlow™ allow you to send messages across multiple channels, including email, SMS, Slack, and Microsoft Teams, while streamlining incident communication workflows and ensuring critical information isn’t missed.

5. Resistance to Change

There’s no denying a significant challenge in automation is resistance to change. Employees often associate automation with job loss, which means the process must include effective communication. Whenever possible, involving those whose jobs are impacted by the new technology helps get people on board when they feel their input matters. Involvement also provides teams with firsthand experience with the technology to show them the benefits of automation.

Other strategies include:

  • Prioritizing upskilling and training for team members to stress the professional development potential
  • Explaining how automation will allow them to focus on the more important aspects of the incident management process
  • Focusing on the time-consuming manual tasks the automation takes off their hands

6. Ensuring Data Security

Automated systems can introduce new cyber security risks, including increased data breaches and unauthorized access. This is related to new data and access points that leave openings for bad actors. Prioritizing cybersecurity measures such as more robust access security protocols, data encryption, updating and patching system processes, and enhanced training will ensure you adopt cybersecurity best practices. Paying attention to who has access to what and following the principle of least privilege based on the most finite definition of “need” will help reduce the risks of incidents.

7. Scalability and Customization

Although, at first glance, you feel an off-the-shelf system is the most cost-effective solution, they rarely have the capability to keep up with growing demands and integrate as well with your current tech stack. Customization is your best bet as it allows you to identify the main areas of scale from hardware to services and the number of users to integration. 

You need to integrate your monitoring alerts more effectively, grow your teams and avoid confusion related to changing resource management. A major part of scalability in relation to teams is accountability, which becomes more complex and requires easy ways to expand collaborative entities. The key is to maintain control when managing and resolving outages without disruption despite growth. Customization includes scalability in the solution, so your system is more reliable and relevant as you grow.

How to Choose an Automated Incident Management Tool?

Choosing an incident management tool is a big decision for any organization. The secret to a well-managed incident is using a collection of tools for various tasks. The collection of tools ranges from tools for communication to alerting to managing runbooks. Regardless of its specific use case, every incident management tool has three attributes in common: 

  • Reliability 
  • Accessibility
  • Adaptability

The most important quality of an incident management tool is reliability as we don't want to deal with new issues when there is already an incident on hand. Additionally, the tool must be accessible to everyone across the organization and can adapt to the ever-changing business scenarios and trends. 

How Can Blameless Help with Automated Incident Management?

Without automation, incident management can be a long, complex, and messy process. While switching between and recording information, you may end up missing critical parts. With the Automated Incident Response tool, you can manage incidents confidently and stay focused during those critical moments. The main feature of the tool is offering a centralized location to resolve incidents, which reduces cognitive load and time to resolution. It also captures incident data that can be accessed in real-time or used to develop incident retrospectives. Blameless also integrates with third-party tools such as Slack, MS Teams, JIRA, and others to act as a middleman assistant. Blameless CommsFlow keeps stakeholders up to date without breaking focus for engineers. Sign up for our newsletter below or schedule a demo to learn more about Blameless. 

Book a blameless demo
To view the calendar in full page view, click here.