Incident ManagementIT Governance

What Can IT Learn from an Emergency Room?

Depending on which sorts of TV show you watch, hospital emergency rooms are either the place where brilliant people make life-and-death decisions on a regular basis, or they are the place where models wearing scrubs have steamy love affairs. Let’s assume the former for a couple minutes. In a post for the IT Managers Inbox, Sam Grier discusses what IT might learn from the frenetic pace of the ER.

Pursuit of Healthy Processes

An ER has to be ready for anything, which incidentally means being ready for the small challenges in addition to the big ones. Protocol exists specifically to mitigate risks and to maintain as much order as possible in hectic situations. In some cases, a problem will walk in that has never been seen before, in which case past precedent and an educated guess will have to suffice—but they will still be supported by protocol. The same can be said of IT, ideally. Sometimes teams will have to rely on their ace’s expertise and hope for the best, but everyone else should still be playing a predetermined role.

Another major factor that the ER and IT have in common is incident triage. A nurse will evaluate patients and prioritize them according to how severe their issues seem to be; the guy whose face is missing will probably see a doctor before the guy who swallowed a big wad of gum. Likewise, IT will want to fix the critical network outage before it fixes Daryl’s missing taskbar in Internet Explorer. Grier describes an appropriate IT triage process like this:

  1. Determine what the problem is and document all the circumstances surrounding the problem.
  2. Determine how critical the problem is. This will decide how quickly it must be dealt with.
  3. Route the problem to the department, team or person who can best deal with it.

One more thing to remember about the ER is that doctors have doctor friends. They call other specialists for their additional insights and deeper knowledge on esoteric matters. IT should maintain its own listing of vendors and technical contacts who can help yield those extra critical insights when problems arise.

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