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Understanding IT Ticket Lifecycle Management in 2020

Posted by on June 25, 2020

IT support software

What Is an IT Ticket?

An IT ticket, sometimes called a trouble ticket or an incident ticket, is the basic means of tracking the resolution process for service requests, incident reports, and other work orders that are routed through the IT service desk. When a user needs to request an IT service or report an incident, an IT ticket is created to communicate details about the request to the IT service desk. IT tickets may be organized in a software-based ticketing system that acts as a single point of contact (SPOC) between the IT organization and the business unit.

Why Are IT Tickets Important? 

When it comes to supporting the resolution of IT issues within your organization, IT tickets play two important roles: communication and record-keeping. 

On the communication side, IT tickets are the primary mechanism for reporting customer issues to the IT support team. When an IT ticket is received through the IT organization's ticketing system, IT agents take control of the ticket management process while taking steps toward solving the problem. IT agents may engage with users through the IT service desk to get more information about the incident. A formalized ticket management process helps reduce average response time for tickets and helps ensure the continuous availability of business services that depend on IT.

On the record-keeping side, a ticketing system is used to maintain records of ongoing tickets and resolved IT issues. These records help the IT organization add to its knowledge base and improve IT help desk ticket handling and request fulfillment processes to better meet the expectations of customers.

The Ticket Lifecycle and ITIL

ITIL provides IT organizations with an industry-leading framework of best practices for IT service management (ITSM). The ITIL 4 framework includes several practices that deal directly with IT ticket management and the ticket lifecycle:

  • The Incident Management practice includes guidance for managing IT incidents that are reported through the ticketing system.

  • The Service Request Management practice offers guidance for managing service requests that are submitted through the ticketing system.

  • The Service Desk practice describes best practices for establishing and maintaining an IT service desk as the SPOC between the business unit and the IT organization.

  • The Service Catalog Management practice deals with the establishment and maintenance of a catalog of services that can be requested through the ticketing system.

In ITIL V3, a basic ticket lifecycle process was outlined as part of the Incident Management process. It included:

  1. Incident Detection and Recording

  2. Incident Reporting and Communication

  3. Priority Classification and Initial Support

  4. Investigation and Analysis

  5. Resolution and Record

  6. Incident Closure

4 Different IT Ticket Types 

IT tickets can be used for many types of activities that fall under the scope of responsibility for IT agents or operators. Any task-oriented job for an IT agent or operator can and should be requested with a ticket, a practice that can drive operator productivity while creating and enforcing accountability for results. We identify four different IT ticket types that organizations may adopt:

Event Tickets

An event is a record of something that happened in the IT environment. Events can be detected by network monitoring tools that capture and aggregate application event logs from throughout the network. Events can include service of hardware outages, suspicious user events, planned changes or maintenance, or changes in user behavior patterns.

Alert Tickets

Alerts are generated by automatic network monitoring tools. They can be triggered by anomalous events as well as service-level agreement (SLA) or key performance indicator (KPI)  breaches that are assessed based on benchmark data. An alert might be generated when a user fails to authenticate their network access, for example. An automatic monitoring tool would automatically create a ticket with the event details for further investigation and review by IT operators.

Incident Tickets

ITIL V3 defines an incident as: "...an unplanned interruption to an IT service or reduction in the quality of an IT service or a failure of a Configuration Item that has not yet impacted an IT service..."

Incident tickets are created to report incidents to the IT department for investigation and resolution.

Request Tickets

Service requests for the IT organization are made through the ticketing system, including the provision of routine services like installing software, assigning hardware, or changing passwords or other authentication data.

Creating IT Tickets

The first step in the IT ticket lifecycle is the creation of a ticket. Based on the record-keeping value of accurate ticket tracking, it is advisable that IT organizations err on the side of creating tickets more often than not. The overall value of the ticketing system depends on effective decision-making surrounding the ticket creation process, including when to create a ticket, what information should be included, and how the IT organizations should treat tickets that it receives.

In general, a support ticket should be created whenever one of these conditions is true:

  1. An IT agent is needed to perform a task

  2. An issue was detected that impacts or could impact user productivity/service availability

  3. There is business value in creating a record of something, either to include the record in data analysis or to support future decision-making

  4. An incident or potential incident was resolved through automated processes (without human intervention)

  5. A user resolved an issue or service request with self-service

The 3 Primary Ticket Sources 

Looking at the criteria for when a ticket should be created, it should be apparent that not all IT tickets originate with the customer. Most tickets that enter the IT ticketing system come from one of these three main sources:

System Generated Tickets

Modern IT organizations typically implement network security and operations monitoring software tools that automatically generate tickets in response to anomalies (unexpected network events), KPI violations (some monitored metric or KPI for a system falls below acceptable levels), or when suspicious patterns of events are detected that could indicate a security breach.

User Initiated Tickets 

The majority of IT tickets are still generated by users. Users may submit service requests or incident reports to IT agents through the ticketing system. IT organizations can introduce tools like a self-service portal and knowledge base to cut down on user-initiated tickets and encourage users to resolve issues on their own.

Agent Generated Tickets

Service desk agents may record tickets as a means of documenting work that was done in response to a specific incident that was identified by the IT organization. Agents may also have to generate tickets for requests that are initiated by users outside of the ticketing system. 

Routing IT Tickets 

The effectiveness and efficiency of IT agents is typically measured using KPIs such as average response time, average resolution time, and first-call resolution rate. To perform well on these performance indicators, the IT organization must effectively route tickets to the appropriate person with the right knowledge and skills to deliver a timely resolution. IT agents should be aware of the three typical routing scenarios for incident management tickets:

Routing to Internal Support Teams

Internal routing takes place early in the ticket management process as individual incident reports or service requests are routed towards specialized resources with the capabilities to take action on the ticket. Tickets of greater urgency may be escalated to support teams with greater access to technical approval and the capacity to approve changes more rapidly.

Routing to External Support Partners

If a ticket cannot be resolved internally, the IT organization may have to bring in 3rd-party vendors to assist with the resolution. In these cases, an in-house IT agent works to relay updates between the vendor and the customer throughout the ticket resolution process. Escalating a ticket to external support partners may incur significant costs, so this type of escalation is rare unless absolutely necessary.

Follow-the-Sun Support

Large IT organizations with global support teams may pass active tickets to other teams for further investigation during shift changes. An IT support team finishing a shift in the United Kingdom might hand off tickets to a team beginning their shift in the American West. Follow-the-sun support ensures that the business can benefit from continuous 24/7 support on tickets.

How to Manage Ticket Queues

Effectively managing ticket queues, along with the organization and prioritization of tickets, are among the major challenges faced by IT organizations. Most new tickets enter a ticket queue where they can be prioritized according to the IT organization's chosen method and assigned to the appropriate person that will investigate the issue or provide the relevant service. 

In general, an IT organization can choose to investigate tickets on a first-come, first-served basis, or they may choose to assign higher priority to tickets with more perceived urgency. They may also choose to segment support tickets by type so they can be assigned more efficiently to the appropriate party. Factors that can influence ticket assignment and prioritization include:

  • Subject matter

  • Technical requirements or difficulty

  • Type

  • Service-level agreements

  • Perceived priority or urgency of the issue

  • Location of the impacted users

  • Language requirements

IT organizations should customize a ticket queue management process that optimizes service desk KPI performance by meeting the needs of the business.

How to Manage IT Ticket Escalations

IT organizations walk a fine line when managing IT ticket escalations. On the one hand, escalating an IT issue to the next level of support can exponentially increase the cost of resolution, so cost-conscious IT organizations should always try to resolve issues at the lowest possible support level. On the other hand, IT incidents that have a major impact on business processes or user productivity should be resolved as quickly as possible, even if it means rapid escalation. These factors should be weighed carefully by IT agents when determining when and where to route a ticket for an escalation.

With that stated, there are three situations that should always lead to an escalation:

  1. When the user requests escalation to expedite the resolution of a service request or IT incident

  2. When an agent determines that they lack the skills, resources or access needed to resolve an issue within SLAs

  3. When an SLA target for a given ticket is missed, the ticket should be escalated automatically to minimize any potential impact to business services

The IT organization should develop a formalized process for IT ticket escalations that includes a smooth hand-off process. Effective communication ensures that high-priority escalations are treated with the appropriate urgency as they move up through progressive levels of support.

How to Know If You Need a New Ticketing Software

Your IT organization's ticketing software can empower your team to resolve issues more quickly and accurately than before, but it can also slow you down with inefficient work flows that don't match your desired processes and don't meet the needs of your customers. If you're seeing any of the following warning signs within your IT organization, it could be time to start thinking about a new ticketing software solution.

Sign #1: Inability to Provide Great Service 

If your IT service desk consistently fails to meet customer expectations or KPI targets, your current ticketing software may be sabotaging your efforts to provide a great customer experience. A modern ticketing tool provides automation, ticket routing, and organizational features that can streamline your ticket management process, improve your service desk metrics, and enhance your ability to service customers.

Sign #2: Poor or No Service Catalog

A service catalog details all of the services that the IT organization can perform, including a description of the processes and resources required. On the clients’ side, a service catalog acts as a guide for the services that IT can provide. An IT ticketing system without a service catalog is like a restaurant without a menu: If users don't know about services they can access, it is impossible for the service desk to provide services efficiently.

Sign #3: Lack of Knowledge Base Technology

The purpose of a knowledge base is to reduce the multiplication of effort that results when different members of an IT organization must discover the same knowledge. Knowledge base technology also supports self-service by supplying users with suggestions and directions for resolving their own incidents or service requests. The lack of a knowledge base has a direct negative impact on incident resolution times and self-service rates, driving up the cost of ticket management for the IT organization.

Sign #4: Customization Is Preventing Upgrades

Organizations that build heavy customization options on top of their existing ticketing system may find it difficult to keep up with new patches or updates offered by the vendor. Eventually, patching the system becomes too cumbersome and it may become out of date. If customization is preventing you from upgrading your ticketing system, it may be time to invest in an alternative tool that meets your needs out of the box and therefore requires less customization.

Sign #5: The Tool Is No Longer Supported

Your ticketing software vendor is a valuable partner that can assist with training, compliance, and process optimization for your service desk team. What if your ticket system begins to malfunction? Who will you rely on to provide critical assistance and resolve the issue before you lose the ability to respond to tickets? If your current ticketing tool is not backed by reliable vendor support, application failure could result in a major service outage for your organization.

Final Thoughts on Ticket Lifecycle Management 

IT organizations face significant challenges throughout the ticket lifecycle management process, including during ticket creation, categorization, routing, and escalation—not to mention resolution! To overcome these challenges, IT organizations should deploy a dependable ticketing system backed by reliable vendor support.

Cherwell's IT Service Desk software was purpose-built to meet the ticket management needs of modern IT organizations. With ITIL-compliant support for service catalogs and a robust knowledge base capability, Cherwell provides IT agents and users with the tools they need to resolve IT incidents and fulfill service requests more efficiently than ever before. For organizations that follow the ITIL framework and processes, Cherwell offers out-of-box compliance with eleven of the most critical ITIL practices,  including Incident Management, the focus of the ticket lifecycle management process.

Find out how you can transform your IT service delivery and support today. 

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