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Machine Learning / Operations / Software Development

FAQ: What Is Automated Incident Response?

Diagnosing the most high-impact issues with automated workflows can mobilize the right people at the right time and reduce system downtime
May 24th, 2023 6:04am by
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When things go wrong with your organization’s infrastructure and systems, it can have a huge impact on employees, customers and brand reputation. It’s important that you can quickly and effectively resolve problems.

Manual incident response relies on people as the first line of support, but this usually takes them away from other important tasks to respond. Automated incident response changes this, using machines to shoulder some of the burden. Automated incident response helps to improve operational maturity. It means not only a better response to critical incidents when they occur, but also the ability to prevent issues before they happen.

Q: Why do organizations need to improve incident response?

Almost everything we do today relies on digital workflows and infrastructure. If you’re a worker, chances are you’re spending less time in the office and working remotely — accessing data and systems from home, the coffee shop — anywhere. And as consumers, we’re all choosing more digital channels to spend our money and access services.

But there’s a conflict. Digital infrastructure is becoming more important, yet the support available to run it is being stretched. IT teams are expected to manage increasingly complex systems, including a huge shift toward the cloud, but with fewer people and outdated tools. These problems mean organizing a response can be problematic and riddled with toil.

It’s why many organizations are looking at improving digital operations maturity, not only looking at how to speed up incident response but also understanding how taking a more proactive approach can prevent issues before they can have an impact.

Q: What’s the difference between manual and automated incident response?

When a major incident is happening, there are often manual steps a responder needs to run through while the world is “on fire.” Things like creating a Slack channel, spinning up a Zoom conference bridge or subscribing stakeholders. These steps are tedious, easy to forget and add to the already heavy cognitive load of responders. And that’s not a great use of their time. In fact, these manual steps often distract responders from doing the thing that is important, which is resolving the incident.

Automated incident response is about using machines to take away some of the toiling and remove people from that first line of defense. With the right infrastructure, you can automatically detect and diagnose disruptive events, and mobilize the right team members at the right time across your digital operations. You can resolve issues quickly and minimize the impact on customers and employees.

Our latest State of Digital Operations Report found that in organizations running manual processes, 54% of responders were notified of issues outside normal working hours. This slows down issue resolution, leads to exhausted teams and makes it hard to generate working efficiencies. Moving to automated incident response can have a hugely positive effect on your operations and on team morale.

Q: What does a “gold standard” incident response process look like?

The biggest factor by far in successful incident response is aligning the whole organization on what the response should be. There’s a lot to cover within that, but organizations should start with three key areas:

  1. Define what an “incident” is. This sounds obvious, but sometimes it can be hard to distinguish between a day-to-day minor incident and an issue that affects customers. So you need to make sure you allocate this task to the experts in each product area and give them all the same framework for triaging, for example, priority 1 to 5 or severity 1 to 3, etc.
  2. Define clear roles for people involved in the response. Then they can jump straight in when called, which speeds up the response and improves outcomes. You can also allocate roles by the type of incident. A priority 1 or 2 issue might need a dedicated incident commander, for example, while the responder for priority 3 to 5 issues could fulfill that role.
  3. Own the tools. You must have the right toolkit at your disposal, and it needs to bring monitoring and observability, private and public cloud infrastructure, systems of record, etc., together in one place, along with your people and processes.

Q: What are the steps in a typical incident response life cycle?

There are six steps. The process starts when you detect an issue and ends with absorbing the learnings to improve next time.

  1. Detect. Issue detection could come from anomalous behavior spotted by a monitoring tool or a call to the customer services team. Either way, you would bring all the data about the issue into your centrally available incident response tool.
  2. Prevent. Preventing excessive noise and alert storms enables people to concentrate on the issue at hand. You can do this by silencing unimportant alerts or enabling auto-remediation, where your software takes charge of fixing the things it can.
  3. Mobilize. Once it’s clear that a person is required to do something, you need to find the right people and equip them with the right processes. A service-based architecture enables you to always know who is responsible for the affected service and to loop them in seamlessly.
  4. Diagnose. At this stage, having information at the tip of your fingers is essential. For example, with AIOps, people can quickly access past and related incidents, with process automation enabling diagnostics and reporting with one click.
  5. Resolve. The longest and most demanding phase, at this point responders are expected to be fixing, but also communicating and updating stakeholders. It’s invaluable to have your incident response integrated with CollabOps tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams and to have a channel for automated customer updates.
  6. Learn. Incorporating learnings into the response process can help improve the response for future incidents. Learning goes beyond tools and systems. It needs to be an organizational commitment. The right incident response tool will have the analytics and reporting to make it happen.

Q: How can organizations integrate toolchains?

In practice, you just need the right operations management tool, one that can manage any urgent or unplanned issue.

Firstly, you should probably be looking at a cloud-based tool. Organizations are increasingly moving essential platforms to the cloud, and it’s no different for operations management. Choosing a cloud-based platform enables you to benefit from the power of cloud processing, but also makes it easy to integrate your other cloud business services.

Secondly, your digital operations tool should offer a wide range of integrations and APIs. The more core business systems you can connect to your operations cloud, the more you can collaborate and automate. The right system will enable you to integrate everything, from your monitoring and observability tools to security and DataOps solutions, and even your customer service and chat/collaboration platforms.

Q: How can organizations reshape their incident response processes?

Your customers and employees are increasingly relying on your digital services to work well, and it can cause significant damage to your business and reputation when they don’t. But despite this, many organizations don’t have robust-enough incident response processes to keep pace in the digital era.

In today’s operating environment, you need a companywide commitment to incident response, ideally with a single tool that can seamlessly manage all the urgent and unplanned work across the business. This will help you move away from reactive manual interventions to proactive — and in many cases, automated — remediation.

When you can quickly and effectively detect and diagnose the most high-impact issues, with automated workflows that mobilize the right people at the right time, then you can reduce system downtime and help people to do more with less.

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TNS owner Insight Partners is an investor in: Resolve, Pragma.
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