Rapid Response Team: Why Every IT Department Needs One
Whether you’re covering IT support in-house or outsourcing to a service provider, you need a rapid response team (RRT) to handle high-priority hardware and software problems. Your RRT members are the paramedics of your IT department: They should be fast, highly trained, cool in a crisis and available 24/7 to handle emergencies.
Building an RRT is about more than unleashing a cavalry of fixers. It includes:
- Identifying key systems that warrant rapid response.
- Ensuring RRT members have the resources and skills they need.
- Making the group accountable for delivering great service.
- Improving the team’s response times, effectiveness and capabilities over time.
Identify Rapid Response Team Priorities
People call 911 for life-threatening emergencies that put the body’s major systems in peril. The IT department RRT should have a similar mindset. They’re deployed to repair problems that, if left alone, could result in big financial losses, significant downtime and threats to the health of the business.
When identifying what to prioritize for urgent repair, you need the perspectives of people with words like “chief,” “VP,” “senior” or “director” in their job titles. Ask them which hypothetical system failures haunt their nightmares, so you have a better perspective on what functions are most critical to the business.
Ask key personnel in each department to conduct a business impact analysis of their key software and systems. Key questions include:
- What does the software do, and what business process does it support (financial reporting, decision support, operations, etc.)?
- What data does it access and write (proprietary information, personal health information, financial data, etc.)?
- What other departments or systems depend on the software?
- What’s the potential impact of unplanned downtime for this particular system?
- How much downtime is tolerable for the department and other interdependent stakeholders?
Throughout this process, IT should identify what hardware could, if offline, keep key software from functioning as it should. Systems that demand top priority are those that support critical business functions, protect people from harm and ensure regulatory compliance.
Equip the Team
If one of your most important systems breaks, you need to ensure — ahead of time — that your team has the skills and tools they need. If you’re weak in one area (security incident response, for example), you’ll need to invest in training for your team, hire new workers or outsource to a third party. Also, remember that an effective response goes beyond IT repair skills: It requires team members who know how to think on their feet in a crisis. As you build people’s skill sets, don’t forget the soft but essential skills associated with effective crisis management.
Part of equipping your team includes mapping out rapid response processes. Be clear about who notifies whom and who has specific responsibilities. List the preferred steps you want your RRT to take, and be specific about decisions, such as when to suspend remote repair attempts and call in an on-site team. Bear in mind that a full response may require input from outside the IT support team and departments threatened by potential downtime — other stakeholders, such as public relations and regulatory specialists, may need to be part of your rapid response.
The success of your RRT depends on its ability to meet certain metrics for success. These metrics can apply to both in-house and outsourced teams, and they include response time, recovery time, first-time resolution, process adherence (i.e., did the RRT follow the appropriate communication tree?) and customer impact.
If you outsource to save money, ensure that key metrics are written into your service-level agreements. If your service provider doesn’t meet their guarantees or show improvement, it’s time to hire someone else.
Keep Getting Better
As your team faces more crises together, they’ll gain speed, cohesiveness and skill. New problems will reveal opportunities for improvement, and you need to grab those opportunities before you find yourself unequipped for a future crisis.
Rehearse your most critical scenarios, so you’ll be ready when they actually happen. Also, encourage your team to proactively monitor critical systems to address problems before they become full-blown emergencies.
Finally, seek feedback on RRT responses from team members, the departments they serve and executives who were part of the process. And make sure every process, from system repairs to crisis communications, satisfies your customers.