How an ITIL differentiates an Incident and a Problem

An ITIL concept which many of us find is difficult to understand, is how to differentiate an incident from a problem. Incident management and Problem management are part of the fourth stage of ITIL lifecycle – Service Operation, which is accountable for an organization’s Business-as-usual (BAU) activities.
What is an Incident?
An incident is an unplanned event that causes or may cause discontinuity or interruption to the service delivery or quality. It can be a single and a unique issue impacting a single customer or similar issue impacting number of customers. Depending upon the criticality of the issue an incident needs to be resolved to limit its impact.
A planned outage or scheduled maintenance service is not an incident. But if it exceeds the planned schedule time, then it becomes an incident.
Objective of Incident management:
An incident management is a group (Service desk, Technical support, hardware/support team) responsible for resolving an incident as quickly as possible so that the agreed service level agreements (SLA) are met. If unable to resolve the issue permanently they provide a temporary fix or a workaround.
What is a Problem?
An incident can raise a problem, if it is happens again and again. According to ITIL, an incident is changed to problem to perform root cause analysis. A problem though not an incident, but may cause an incident, if not resolved. It is much more serious than an Incident and needs to be analyzed and followed up separately.
A problem can be raised and linked to a single or number of incidents for the root cause. A problem becomes a ‘known error’ once its cause has been identified.
Objective of Problem management
Problem management supports the incident management by doing a root cause analysis of an issue and take necessary steps to ensure that the issue doesn’t occur in the future.
Incident Vs Problem
ITIL encourages an organization to distinguish between an incident and a problem because they are handled, responded and resolved differently. An incident can be a temporary fix, but solution to the problem is a permanent fix.
To differentiate this further, let us take an example:
Suppose there is a telephonic conversation going on between you and your friend. All of a sudden the call is dropped due to no coverage. This results in an incident as it has disrupted the service. You fix this either by restarting your phone or trouble shooting all available options. Once the conversation starts again, the incident is closed. But now, if the issue occurs again, you have a problem. To fix this problem, you need to either call the mobile service provider for the disrupted service due to low network signal or need to change the mobile phone.
An effective Incident management of an organization ensures that all the interrupted services are handled, responded and restored as per the agreed SLA timeframe. On the other hand, an effective problem management of an organization actively responds to the incident so that they don’t reoccur. There are significantly more processes and resources involved and take a bit more time to fix the issue permanently.

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