6 Signs Your Incident Response Steps Are Working

Although IT incidents have always been a concern, the increase in customer-facing technology adds the cost of a bad customer experience to the cost of responding to and remediating an incident. While, in a perfect world, you’d be able to prevent incidents from happening in the first place, the reality is they do happen—more often than you’d think.

A more realistic goal is to evaluate and improve your incident response steps. This includes determining what measures allow you to assess the effectiveness of your incident response processes and pinpointing the key performance indicators (KPIs) of incident response effectiveness. You need to understand what you’re doing today and make improvements for a better incident response tomorrow.

6 Ways to Evaluate Your Incident Response Steps

Incident response is a complex process involving multiple areas of an organization. Incident response steps need to address development and testing process flaws, as well as configuration, database, and network issues. Customer service and even investor relations teams may also need to handle concerns that negatively affect customers.

To completely understand if your incident response steps are working, you need to consider a variety of measures. Some indicate how the overall system is working, while others enable you to thoroughly explore your incident monitoring, communications, and development processes.

1. Determine Your Uptime

Uptime indicates the percentage of time your services are available and working properly. Determining uptime permits a quick overview of system status and can uncover areas that need attention.

When you know your uptime, you have a point of reference to understand if your incident response steps are working. Low uptime indicates your steps are not working, while high uptime means they likely are working.

However, while uptime provides a metric for the big picture, it doesn’t tell a detailed story. You need to turn to other metrics to gain more actionable insights.

2. Calculate Your Incident Response Metrics

Several metrics focus on incident response effectiveness, including mean time to detect (MTTD) and mean time to acknowledge (MTTA). These measures enable you to gauge the effectiveness of your systems and processes that employees (or automated systems) use to respond to the incident.

Representing how much time passes between the start of an incident and its detection, MTTD allows you to track how long it takes to identify incidents. MTTA represents the time that passes between a system alert and the actual incident response. Together, MTTD and MTTA help you evaluate how quickly and efficiently you recognize problems and begin to act.

Mean time to resolution (MTTR) is also a vital measurement of how long it takes to resolve (diagnose and repair) an incident after it’s reported. MTTR is the total time that the system remains compromised (including the time it took to detect and acknowledge the incident). MTTR impacts your bottom line because, in addition to the cost of resources to fix the problem, it affects customers trying to access the system. The incident can cause reputation and sales losses.

While MTTR tells you the average time it takes to recover, the mean time between failures (MTBF) helps you understand how often these failures happen. MTBF works hand-in-hand with MTTR to help you understand the impact of incidents. For example, incidents may happen frequently but are easy to fix, or the reverse could be true.

These four metrics provide you with overall measures of how well you respond to incidents and get your capabilities back on track. However, other measures provide you with additional information on how well your processes are performing and how to prevent incidents in the first place.

3. Analyze the Incident Backlog

The incident backlog metric helps you understand how well tickets flow through the system. You should analyze your ticketing system’s backlog to determine what types of problems make up the backlog.

Does the backlog comprise minor or significant problems? Are minor issues always pushed to the back of the line because major incidents require the team’s immediate attention?

You want to keep backlogs to a minimum, but analyzing backlog data in detail helps you understand the nature of backlogged items and where you can avoid problems. Additionally, it allows you to understand the impact that incident response has on development teams, such as delaying new functionality rollouts.

4. Appraise the Cost Per Incident

The cost per incident (CPI) metric includes several factors, some of which are easier to calculate than others. It’s relatively easy to calculate the cost of worker time spent to recover from the incident. Calculating the cost of losing the service is more challenging, as this loss takes on a few forms.

For example, customers may lose confidence in vendors with faulty systems. This loss of confidence could result in lost sales or, even worse, lost customers. And, if customers—or former customers—take their dissatisfaction to social media or incident details hit mainstream news, negative publicity could prevent future customers from considering the vendor.

Opportunity cost is also part of the cost per incident. Incident response takes time away from the primary mission of the personnel responding to the incident. Whenever developers spend time fixing issues, they aren’t spending time building additional products and features. There’s an opportunity cost in releasing services at a slower rate as teams spend their time responding to incidents.

Evaluating the total cost of an incident or the average value of each incident ticket is vital for understanding how your incident response strategy affects the business’s bottom line.

5. Inspect the Escalation Rate

Escalation rates track how often responders need to escalate the issue to higher-level team members. Excessive escalation slows incident response time. It also calls into question the incident response steps.

Are response teams triaging incidents correctly? Or are people or systems incorrectly identifying or communicating incident characteristics, prompting the wrong person to respond to the incident?

You need to pay attention to escalation rates because each escalation slows the response process and adds extra cost. You may need to take action like assigning team members with more appropriate skills to particular incidents.

6. Examine Incident Reoccurrence

Finally, you should examine the recurring incidents metric to evaluate your incident response effectiveness. Effective incident response shouldn’t resemble a game of Whack-a-Mole. You want to analyze the incident’s root cause and prevent it from happening again.

An effective postmortem identifies root causes of incidents and provides ways to avoid them in the future. The postmortem team needs incident details to conduct deep analysis. Postmortems should focus on improving processes rather than finger-pointing.

Efficient incident response minimizes the number of recurring incidents. If similar incidents continue to recur, it’s usually a strong indicator of ineffective repair and recovery or a lack of postmortem follow-up to address the incident’s root cause.

How to Improve Your Incident Response Steps

Incident response metrics provide essential tools to monitor the effectiveness of your incident response processes. These six measures provide you with multiple views of these practices so you can identify areas to improve.

But to improve your incident response steps, you need tools that meet your needs. Some tools automate metrics calculation, while automated incident response tools minimize the response time. Also, you need tools that provide information, such as chat summaries, to improve your postmortems and mitigate similar incidents in the future.

Service reliability platforms like xMatters help DevOps, service reliability engineers (SREs), and operations teams automate workflows, ensure infrastructure and applications are always working, and rapidly deliver products at scale. Explore xMatters to learn how to automate your incident response steps to help achieve a superior customer experience.

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