Understanding a Major IT incident

What is a major IT incident?

So what is a major IT incident exactly? An easy way to remember is that a major IT incident is a problem so serious that you need to switch away from your usual procedures for handling problems. It usually combines two separate characteristics: urgency and impact. To avoid panic and minimize damage, you’ll need to plan ahead so that you can deal with the problem effectively and rationally.


In some cases, such as when you use outside help to manage your IT and your service plan includes a promise of faster help in the case of a major IT incident, you need to use a specific definition.

The most commonly used definition is that a major IT incident is one that is at the highest level for both impact and urgency. Impact is about the scale of the problem, which can be measured using criteria such as how many users it affects or what percentage of a system is out of action.

Urgency is about the effect of the problem on your business. For example, a problem that meant everyone’s email had a ten-minute delay would have a big impact but wouldn’t be urgent. A problem that meant you couldn’t accept online orders would be urgent.

A major IT incident doesn’t necessarily involve a website going down or an office network losing connectivity. For example, imagine if a company that distributes fresh fish found the software used to print its mailing labels had crashed. The problem would have a high impact because it could affect every order for the day. It would also have high urgency because the orders couldn’t be delayed and it could mean losing a day’s revenue and important customer goodwill.


The combination of impact and urgency means a major IT incident usually becomes the top priority as time constraints become a major issue. This often means whoever handles your IT needs to break from the standard procedures for handling and prioritizing IT tasks. For example, you may normally batch related tasks and perform them outside of office hours to maximize efficiency and minimize disruption. With a major IT incident, you may need to act immediately.

Successfully Handling A Major Incident

While every business or IT service provider will have its own approach, some of the keys to a successful major IT incident response include:

  • Quickly assessing what needs to be done in order of priority.
  • Having a clear structure so everyone knows who is in overall control and who is responsible for what elements of the response.
  • Keeping the business or customer informed so they have clear expectations of what will be fixed when and what non-technical steps they may need to take to minimize the impact.
  • Resolving the problem then assessing any knock-on effects from both the problem and the solutions before exploring what steps will reduce the risk of the problem reoccurring.


Responding to a major IT incident is far more effective when you have clear plans and procedures in place beforehand. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help make sure you’re ready.

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