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Business as usual vs. major incidents

Responding to enquiries or requests for help Top

Day to day incident and request communications should be managed by the IT Service management tool, through its notifications. Emails should be sent out when the incident/request is logged, then assigned, updated and then resolved. It is good practice to ensure that your staff include their name in all customer facing communication to ensure that the service is personable and friendly.

Telling people about your services Top

There are natural points in the year when you’ll need to tell staff and students about your services, for example at the start of the academic year. There will also be new services or products to launch. In fact, sometimes in can be hard to keep track of what to communicate and when. To communicate proactively and in a systematic way, it’s useful to create a timetable of messages you want to send out, the text you want to use and an agreed list of who will send or upload what. You may also want to consider automating this process, for example by setting up timed Tweets.

Service updates Top

Service updates will normally come through CAB (Change Authority Board). Each change should have its own communication plan, explaining who it affects and why the change is happening. These should be sent out like so:

Audience Message type Responsibility Frequency
1 High Level Email IT Services Once
2 Business service owners Email IT Services Once
3 University staff or affected department Email/Staff notice board IT Services/Internal comms Once/Then when updates are available
4 University student community Social media/IT Bulletin Board/ Student notice board IT Services/Internal comms Once

Planned maintenance Top

IT Services sometimes has to perform system upgrades and maintenance. Communications should be sent out with good notice to key stakeholders and business owners to allow for feedback and queries about the impact this will have on key departments, i.e. enrolment, clearing etc.

Audience Message Type Responsibility Frequency
1 High Level Email IT Services Once
2 Business service owners Email IT Services Once
3 University staff or affected department Email/Staff notice board IT Services/Internal comms Once
4 University student community Social media/IT Bulletin Board/ Student notice board IT Services/Internal comms Once

They should also be carried out on agreed days and times.

Planned maintenance process diagram
An example process diagram for planned maintenance

Major incidents Top

“Communication with customers during a major IT incident is just as essential as fixing the underlying issue. A major incident communication procedure should be established to outline roles and responsibilities for IT staff and to ensure that customers receive a consistent response. A reliable approach to major incidents is vital to gaining customer trust and building a positive reputation”

Sarah Peace | Head of Desktop and Printing Services, IT Services, University of York

Major incidents are those where the impact on the business/organisation is extreme. A definition of what constitutes a major incident should be be agreed locally however these are usually defined as an unplanned interruption to, or reduction of quality of, an IT service.

Each university and college will have their own processes for dealing with major incidents. Perhaps one of the most important thing for the IT department to ensure is that as well as the methods and processes being agreed in advance of a major incident, that delegated authority has been given for senior staff within the IT department to send out major incident messages (to all staff and students where necessary) on behalf of the institution, rather than needing to wait for sign off or approval on each occasion.

Diagram of the major incident process followed at University of the Arts London
University of the Arts London’s major incident process

Once the impact of the outage has been determined, more specific communications can be sent to the relevant departments and business owners outlining the impact the outage is having. IT Services will then require the assistance of these departments to communicate with their user base.

It’s a good idea to have standard text and templates ready for when here is a major IT incident so that you aren’t starting from scratch when, for example, recording a message for the service desk answer machine (to indicate that you are aware there is a problem), or updating your service status page, or having template tweets ready to copy and paste.

Here are some examples of major incident comms plans:

University of the Arts London
University of Manchester
University of York