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What is Incident Response?

Incident response (IR) is a process used by ITOps, DevOps, and dev teams to address and manage any sort of major incident that may arise. The main goal of IT incident response is to organize an approach that limits damage and reduces recovery time and costs — and prevents it from happening again. Incident response generally includes an outline of processes that need to be executed upon in the event of an IT incident.

An incident response process is something you hope to never need, but when you do, it’s critical that it encompasses all the steps necessary for the response to go smoothly and seamlessly. Normally the knowledge of how to handle incidents within your company or organization is built up over time and gets better with each incident. Many times, the knowledge of how to conduct thorough incident response is lost when a team member leaves, making it ever more crucial to have a documented process.

Nailing your incident response and learning how to deal with major incidents in a way which leads to the fastest possible recovery time is vital to the success of any team. Generally, your incident response documentation will outline not only how to prepare for an incident, but what to do during and after an incident. It is intended to be used by on-call practitioners and those involved in an operational incident response process.

Steps for successful incident response

For successful incident response, you must not only have a holistic view into the health of your IT infrastructure, you have to prepare your team to know just how to respond and what roles they must take on — allowing you to orchestrate the right response to resolve incidents faster and reduce your mean-time-to-resolution (MTTR).

Monitoring your IT infrastructure health by implementing different monitoring tools to appropriately monitor disparate and new systems, you can gain full-stack visibility. There needs to be a way to normalize, de-dupe, correlate, and gain actionable insights from all this data, and all the events generated by these monitoring tools must be centralized in a single hub, from which they can be triaged and routed to the right on-call engineer.

Before all else, it’s crucial for your team to have established guidelines for what to do when a major incident occurs. Incident response documentation that outlines a process for going on-call, what to do when an incident arises, how to communicate with teams, and what post-mortem process to follow after an incident is crucial. If you need help getting started with establishing your own incident response process, check out PagerDuty’s incident response documentation for guidance.

All this sets the stage for being able to streamline the incident response process when an incident does occur. When a major incident does occur, be sure you:

  • Assess
    When a major incident does occur, assess the situation and call in the right stakeholders as needed. Collaborate with subject matter experts if need be, otherwise work with your incident commander, deputy, and customer liaison to assess the damage.
  • Resolve
    Once a plan of attack has been formulated, incident resolution begins. Determine what needs to be shared with the public, employees, and customers.
  • Learn
    Learn is arguably the most important step in the incident response process. It’s in the aftermath that your team is able to look and see what went well or what didn’t go so well, and what you can do to prevent things from happening again. Incident post-mortems are a great way for teams to continuously learn and serves as a way to iteratively improve your infrastructure and incident response process. Check out our incident post-mortem template and handbook to get started.

Roles in Incident Response

Every organization typically has their own custom roles and responsibilities, below are some of the most common incident management roles:

  • End user. This is the stakeholder who usually experiences the first sign of an outage or disruption and will flag it to initiate the incident management process.
  • Tier 1 Service Desk. Typically the first point of contact when there is an incident ticket or request incoming.
  • Tier 2 Service Desk. Comprised of technicians with primary knowledge around major incidents involving applications, infrastructure, and systems management.
  • Tier 3 (and above) Service Desk. Specialist technicians that have advanced knowledge in extremely specific regions of the company’s infrastructure. Usually these professionals are brought in for complex maintenance and remediation.
  • Incident Manager. A key stakeholder in the incident management process that drives the entirety of the lifecycle from diagnosis to resolution.
  • Process Owner. This person typically moderates the incident lifecycle, analyzes the process, and points out areas of improvement to make the management lifecycle more efficient for teams.

While the process of incident response can grow to be quite complex, you can break down the stages into these seven main categories:

  1. Incident identification
  2. Incident logging
  3. Incident categorization
  4. Incident prioritization
  5. Incident assignment
  6. Task creation and management
  7. Incident Lifecycle
    • Diagnosis
    • Escalation
    • Investigation
    • Resolution and recovery
    • Postmortem

Modern incident response lifecycle

Organizations are investing in many monitoring solutions to get visibility into their IT infrastructure so they can better deliver on rising customer demands. Making sense of the event data and taking action by automating the incident response lifecycle for your environment—from assess, to resolve, and learn — is critical. Knowing what do when a major incident does occur is vital to the success of your team and your organization,

Learn more about incident response and the incident response lifecycle, which encompasses everything from assess, triage, and resolve – to learning and prevention to support developers as they move towards owning their code in production.