Details of Thesis

Title Incident Management: Human factors and minimising mean time to restore service
Author O’Callaghan, Katherine Mary
Institution Australian Catholic University
Date 2010
Abstract Unplanned IT outages can cost businesses money, as well as lost customer satisfaction, and a variety of additional hidden costs. Incident managers are employed by organisations to restore service from unplanned IT outages as expeditiously as possible. This research focused on two components employed by incident managers in doing their job to determine if particular components, or combinations of these components, result in a shorter amount of time to restore service than do others. The components are the characteristics displayed by incident managers and the problem-solving approaches used by incident managers when working to restore service from unplanned IT outages. The characteristics studied were being authoritative, being communicative, being decisive, being demanding, being entrepreneurial, being facilitative and being pragmatic. The two problem-solving approaches used by incident managers and investigated were a solution-focused approach to solving problems and a problem-focused approach to solving problems. The research further determined whether the particular characteristics or problem-solving approaches or combinations of these in a reduction in the amount of time to restore service compared to others. This research investigates the characteristics of incident managers, the problem-solving approaches they employ when working with others to restore service, and their attained Mean Time to Restore Service (MTRS). It answers the following three questions. What are the dominant characteristics displayed by incident managers when they work to restore service that has occurred due to an unplanned outage? What are the different problem-solving approaches used by incident managers when they work to restore service that has been lost due to an unplanned outage? What relationship exists, if any, between the dominant characteristics displayed by incident managers when an unplanned outage occurs, taking into account the problem-solving approaches they use, and the time to restore service they attain? In addition to identifying the relationship between the characteristics displayed by incident managers and the approach to problem-solving that they use, this research identified the combination of those two attributes that optimise the performance of an incident manager working to restore service from an unplanned IT outage. The research methodologies used in this research included both qualitative and quantitative research. The research itself was performed in two phases. The first phase engaged a focus group comprised of incident managers, technical support team personnel, and corporate managers to provide the researcher fundamental questions to pursue in the second phase of the research. It also provided the researcher a foundation from which to build the incident management questionnaire introduced in this research. The second phase was an empirical study that gathered data from two sources. First, data was obtained from incident managers through the use of an online questionnaire to identify the characteristics incident managers reported displaying and the approaches to solving problems they used when working to restore service from an unplanned outage. The second set of data was the data captured by incident managers about high-impact unplanned outages that were experienced by a participating corporation. This research reveals four key findings. The first shows the seven types of unplanned outages (acts of nature, hardware, human beings inside the affected company, human beings outside the affected company, software, system overload and vandalism) that can be assigned to an unplanned IT outage and, upon assignment, may contribute to activities to perform to restore service when an unplanned IT outage occurs. The second revealed is the two approaches to problem-solving used by incident managers (problem-focused problem solving and solution-focused problem solving), each of which, when complemented by specific characteristics displayed by incident managers when working to restore service from unplanned IT outages, moderate the duration of unplanned IT outages. The third is the characteristics incident managers display when working to restore service from an unplanned outage. These include being authoritative, being communicative, being decisive, being demanding, being entrepreneurial, being facilitative, and being pragmatic. Additionally, this research identified the most effective combination of characteristic-displayed and problem-solving-approach-used by incident managers that results in the most expeditious restoration of service from an unplanned IT outage. That is, the research revealed that an incident manager who displayed the characteristic of being authoritative, with the use of a solution-focused approach to problem solving, attained the lowest MTRS values of all combinations that were investigated. This study represents a valuable step in establishing empirical evidence for directing the work habits of incident managers to optimise their ability to restore service from unplanned outages in an expeditious manner.
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