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Building an Effective System for Urgent IT Alerting

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In IT operations and DevOps, something as simple as differentiating critical incidents from non-urgent issues can drastically reduce incident remediation time. It allows teams to understand priorities and fix the most important problems first. While both urgent and non-urgent incidents need to be resolved quickly, urgent IT alerts are typically for customer-facing issues that hurt the business’ bottom line every second they’re active.

So, it stands to reason that you need a plan. Every efficient engineering and IT team needs a system for urgent IT alerting and collaborative incident response. A holistic strategy for urgent IT alerting and incident management will include everything from alert routing rules to maintaining documentation to methods for communication.

In this post, we’ll walk through how you can define what constitutes an urgent IT alert and then how you can use that information to build a strategy for improved real-time incident response.

Defining urgent IT alerts

Clearly, an urgent IT alert is, well, urgent. First and foremost, critical IT alerts should inform the team of incidents that affect customers and prospects. When laying out the prioritization of alerts, you’ll also need to determine the importance of each of your system’s individual components. Which services are imperative to maintaining uptime and which dependencies are critical to the performance of your system? Defining the key elements of your system will help you decide how to organize your monitoring and alerting tools.

Urgent alerts should be acknowledged and escalated before any other less severe alerts are touched. By defining the core components of your architecture, classifying incident severity and setting up alerts for those components, you can use automation rules to rapidly surface urgent IT incidents to the right people.

As you continue to maintain an agile CI/CD pipeline and deploy faster, incidents will continue to pop up. Creating an actionable plan for real-time, collaborative incident response and automating the identification and classification of urgent IT alerts will lead to more reliable applications and infrastructure.

Alert routing and escalation

So, as you might expect, effective alert routing rules and escalation policies are imperative to building a comprehensive system for urgent IT alerting and incident response. Getting notifications to the right people at the right time will drastically reduce MTTA/MTTR and improve customer experiences. Automation, improved visibility and collaboration will allow teams to actually work on fixing problems instead of spending time getting urgent IT alerts to the right person or team.

On-call incident response and management tools like VictorOps can create a single source of truth for urgent IT alerts. It can parse out critical alerts from non-urgent issues and surface these to the right people in real-time. And, through incident automation and an intelligent rules engine, teams can immediately serve these alerts alongside useful remediation instructions, runbooks, logs, charts and other helpful resources.

Efficient alert routing and escalation leads to an ability to strategically handle incident response and remediation in real-time. Instead of assessing issues, updating tickets and maintaining documentation – you’re actually able to spend time fixing problems and building more awesome services. And, the best part is, you’ll continue to maintain an accurate, up-to-date incident history for critical IT problems without interfering with productivity and incident remediation time.

How to Make On-Call Suck Less

Taking action on IT incidents

In addition to automatically routing alerts to the right people and keeping up on documentation, your system for urgent IT alerting should also make it easy for teams to take action. By integrating your on-call schedules and collaboration tools with alert automation and routing functionality will lead to a holistic system for incident management. Not only will you immediately serve alerts to the right person or team, but you’ll serve up a platform for human collaboration and incident engagement.

If you can only inform on-call responders of urgent IT alerts, then you’re only doing half of the job. The responders then need to know how they can act on the information, fix issues faster and continue developing new services – continuously improving and driving business value.

Post-incident reviews

After the remediation of urgent IT alerts and incidents, the team needs to conduct thorough post-incident reviews in order to learn from their past. Again, by centralizing alert and incident information in a single system alongside communication history, you can see the entire picture of what happened during an incident. This allows you to conduct more detailed post-incident reviews and see exactly how both your system and your people respond to pressure.

Only by taking the time to analyze past incidents and learn what worked well and what didn’t can you take action and continuously improve processes and tooling. Were urgent alerts routed to the right DevOps or IT team? Is one single person managing a number of critical alerts, leading to slower remediation time and more downtime? How can you improve real-time communication or alert routing to help the team take action on critical IT alerts faster?

Much of a well-conducted post-incident review depends on the questions you ask and the data you collect. Then, what do you actually do with that information to improve the process for next time an urgent alert pops up? Don’t skimp on post-incident reviews. If you don’t take the time to conduct detailed post-incident reviews, the negative effects on your people and systems will continue to add up. But, on the contrary, if you do take the time to hold post-incident reviews, the reliability and speed of your teams and technology will improve exponentially.

Bolster collaboration and transparency

If you take away nothing else from this post, remember that collaboration and real-time incident transparency are two of the most important tools for an effective IT alerting system. When urgent IT alerts and incidents come into your system, you need a plan to surface context to people quickly and allows them to collaborate in a seamless manner.

Learn from post-incident reviews and use your knowledge to bolster collaboration and transparency across your incident management processes and the rest of the software delivery lifecycle. Take a poll across your DevOps, SRE and IT teams – learn what information they’re missing when responding to on-call alerts and incidents. Understand any blockers the team may have in communicating quickly and accurately and any issues they may be having with getting alert context to the right people.

Quite simply, you need to continuously improve on collaboration and transparency workflows. As long as you continue to take action on the problems you see as you scale and improve delivery speed, you’re taking the right steps toward improving urgent IT alerting, incident response and maintaining a reliable CI/CD pipeline.

See how you can centralize IT alerting and incident collaboration into a single source of truth with VictorOps. Sign up for a 14-day free trial or request a free, personalized demo to learn more about centralizing alert data, reducing MTTA/MTTR and making on-call suck less with VictorOps.

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