Should the incident be reopened or a new one logged

By ITIL® from Experience©

When we think the incident is resolved we close it. Of course, according to ITIL® the user confirmed its resolution and accepted its closure1 . However, from time to time we miss the mark. The user calls back because the issue came back or was not resolved. In this situation we can either:

  1. Re-open the original incident or,
  2. Log a new one.

ITIL's guidance fluctuates in this regard. In ITIL® v2, a tip was provided whereby “If a closed Incident is reopened, it is important to record the reason and adjust the workload values assigned if further work is required - if not, a new Incident should be raised and linked to the original one.”2 . The 2007 Edition of Service Operations simply indicates that the rules for reopening must be are clear. "For example, to agree that if the request needs to be reopened within one working day then it can be reopened — but that beyond this point a new service request must be raised"3 . However, this guidance was moved in the 2011 Edition to the Request Fulfillment section4 . As a result ITIL® no longer provides guidance for reopening incidents.

Given this void, two common reasons for logging a new incident will be reviewed. Then we conclude with an explanation why, most of the time, the incident should be reopened

Logging a new incident because "Every Call Must Be Logged"

Some organizations log a new incident because the Service Desk’s Call Center has a policy that "every call must be logged." Since the user called back, a new incident is logged.

However, scattering work notes across several incident records makes it difficult to quickly review its chronology. Collaboration is harder when escalating5 since multiple records must be consulted and reconciled. It is true that records can be linked in most ITSM tools. Nonetheless, if the Call Center Agent forgets to link/associate related incidents, or if the IT Specialist does not notice the linked incident(s) troubleshooting is started again which is inefficient and increases resolution time. Consequently, the I.T. specialist may inadvertently frustrate the user by asking questions previously answered and to perform procedures already tried. Needless to say that I.T.’s credibility would also be affected.

To address management's need to measure calls received by the Call Centre, reports can be generated from the Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) thus, this policy can then be adjusted to state that “all work must be recorded.”

Logging a new incident to avoid breaching the SLA

Some ITSM Tools calculates SLA breach based on the time elapsed since the incident was logged while others calculate the total time the incident was open. As a result organizations may be tempted to log new incidents to avoid breaching their Service Level Agreement (SLA).

Let’s say for example that the SLA target resolution is four hours and that the incident was logged Monday morning at 8:00 a.m.. That incident is then closed two hours later well within its four hours target resolution time. When it is reopened the following day, the SLA automatically breaches because I.T. was unable to resolve the issue within four consecutive hours. On the other hand, other tools calculate the SLA by counting down the allocated time. Thus, in our example two hours would be left when the incident is reopened and would not breach until all of the allowed time elapsed (i.e. 4 hours). As a result organizations with the aforementioned tool would be inclined to log a new incident to avoid breaching their SLA.

Regardless of how the tool calculates the SLA, some organizations log a new incident as it gives I.T. a new resolution target. This is good for I.T. but not good for the user. Moreover, caution is in order since people may prematurely close incidents simply to avoid breaching the SLA given that they get more time by logging a new one. Of course, breaching SLAs is not something to aspire to however, breaching provides an important metric.

Reopening for Metrics

Calculating the number of reopened incidents is an excellent performance indicator of the Incident Management process. Looking at why incidents were re-opened may indicate a need for additional training, revised procedures, new knowledge base content or better release regression tests. Breaching the SLA because the incident was reopened is an indication that something unusual happened causing I.T. to miss its commitment. Moreover, systematically analyzing the root cause why incidents have been reopened or that the SLA breached is a good Continuous Service Improvement method.

In conclusion, reopening incidents not only centralizes work notes in one record, it also avoids "playing" the breach avoidance game. Moreover it provides an excellent measure of the Incident management process’ quality. All these metrics are lost when a new incident is logged. However, even though the user called back for what appears to be an unresolved issue, a new incident may be required when in fact a new issue is reported even though it may be related to the original one. Consequently, as ITIL® says, the rules for reoepning must be clear.

"If we don't set priorities, fate will."

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ITIL Process > Incident Management

1 "The Service Desk should check that the incident is fully resolved and that the users are satisfied and willing to agree the incident can be closed." ITIL® Service Operations, 2007 Edition, Section Incident Closure, p. 53
2 ITIL® Service Support (2000) Section 5.6.5, p.86
3 ITIL® Service Operations (2007), Section, p. 53
4 ITIL® Service Operations (2011), Section, p. 94

Escalation: (ITIL® Service Operation) An activity that obtains additional resources when these are needed to meet service level targets or customer expectations. Escalation may be needed within any IT service management process, but is most commonly associated with incident management, problem management and the management of customer complaints. There are two types of escalation: functional escalation and hierarchic escalation.
Source: ITIL® glossary and abbreviations, 2011 https://www.axelos.com/Corporate/media/Files/Glossaries/ITIL_2011_Glossary_GB-v1-0.pdf (PDF)


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