Why Alleviating Alert Fatigue Should Be a Priority for Enterprises

Alert fatigue isn’t just a buzz phrase, it’s a major challenge for IT departments who must deal with thousands of alerts each day. In such an environment, employees become accustomed to false positives and may fail to respond appropriately when a real problem occurs. If an enterprise is unable to promptly recognize issues because of an excess of irrelevant alert “noise”, the likelihood of a serious outage increases. How do you make sure your organization avoids this trap? First, it’s important to identify why alert fatigue can be a significant problem for enterprises. When IT management teams are constantly bombarded with alerts, many of which are false alarms, they ultimately suffer from a degree of complacency over time. They may see the same alert about taxed resources a dozen times a day and, in each instance, it’s not indicative of anything serious. Weeks down the line, however, such an alert may be an early warning sign of a more serious impending issue. Once technicians get in the habit of ignoring a given alert, they may fail to respond at a time when it signals a real problem. This is the essence of alert fatigue: repeated similar events blur together, so it becomes easy to ignore them. For something to stick out from this muddle, it has to be increasingly alarming – yet if an engineer only discovers a problem once something serious has occurred, it’s too late.

On a simple level, that’s the problem with alert fatigue: it desensitizes your staff to certain alerts and causes them to ignore or gloss over the repeat messages. The alerts cry wolf over and over again – but one day the wolf may be real and IT technicians may ignore it. In cases of security alerts about hacking or other data breaches, this analogy is even more apt. This is not a problem regarding a technician’s attention or skill, but of system design. When data is not analyzed and organized efficiently, it makes technicians and engineers less effective at their jobs.

Alert Fatigue is Indicative of Larger Problems in IT Management

Alert fatigue is a symptom that also indicates problems at the core of IT. Since solutions are available to help prevent this situation, falling into the alert fatigue trap indicates a reactive approach to IT and an unwillingness to keep up with the current trend which stresses predicting problems in advance. When competitors are minimizing downtime and are able to make significant system changes with limited hiccups, any organization that isn’t able to do so is at a competitive disadvantage.

Over the years, the number of different management platforms available to IT departments have increased. Some departments have tried to consolidate the information these platforms generate into a central management solution. In many cases, though, the end result is an excess of data being directed to a few point people within IT. Alternatively, for those organizations that haven’t tried to bring IT management data into a single dashboard, decentralized data and incompatible tools make root cause analysis and issue resolution far more difficult. In either case, responsiveness to issues is much slower than it should be, and reports of average time to identification and repair suffer consequently.

Alert fatigue can also be a sign of inadequate systems planning and an ineffective management approach. A poorly designed alert structure leads to difficulties determining the cause of issues. In a situation like this, the IT department’s strength is tested. When a root cause is not immediately clear, it can lead to finger pointing, while any existing communication problems will further slow down issue resolution. In an environment of rapid change, such delays are unacceptable. This whole process can serve to reveal other weaknesses in IT, so it’s important not to get to this point.

The Wrong Kind of Visibility

Ironically, alert fatigue is typically a result of trying to do the right thing: combatting outages by collecting more data. IT leaders want to get as much information as possible from their tools to make sure they have total visibility – yet too much visibility can, in the case of alert fatigue, be blinding.

When technicians are bombarded with data and alerts, it’s difficult to parse what’s important from what’s not. Issue alerts can be repetitive, and some alerts may mean different things at different times. Very high CPU usage in the middle of the night could be a sign of effective maintenance, while during the business day it could be a sign of an imminent outage. Context matters when it comes to alerts. However, many legacy management tools don’t effectively provide this. A system of simple thresholds and filters will no longer be effective in today’s environment, when business partners want issues fixed before they affect key services. Alert fatigue means IT isn’t prepared to operate at the expected level, and this can slowly weaken the entire enterprise.

The Path to Alleviating Alert Fatigue

To alleviate alert fatigue and address issues before they affect business services, an IT team must move to a proactive approach, which includes better planning, improving communications and deploying a more effective centralized management solution. The most effective IT departments are proactive in managing their alert structure and strive for a predictive approach in which a possible outage is identified and fixed before business services are interrupted. In such cases, IT provides service predictability. How do IT teams get to the point where they are functioning on this level?

In combatting alert fatigue, IT departments must recognize the weaknesses that are causing it. This starts by ensuring that you have full visibility into all IT functions. As mentioned earlier, many enterprises try to consolidate their data into a central monitoring platform. The design of such a tool, though, determines how effective it will be. Seeing all the data in one place may bring a sense of security, but it doesn’t mean that this data can be efficiently analyzed. If you’re still relying on simple thresholds and filters, then you’re not leveraging the latest technology necessary to cut through all the noise. In order to get actionable alerts, enterprises should turn to dynamic thresholds that take into account normal business patterns and how they affect services. If a business sees a spike in network usage every day at 3pm and this is normal, there shouldn’t be an alert – but if such a spike occurs at 1pm, when it’s not expected, there should be one.

A prioritization system for alerts is also valuable. This should include the threading of similar alerts, the removal of duplicate alerts and ranking of alerts based on what is most impactful. This helps to produce actionable data that leads to quicker cause identification and repair times. This can be achieved by automating part of this process using an effective alert management engine. Automation can also help with incident communication and escalation, making sure that alerts end up going to the right person, instead of time being wasted on manual routing. By targeting the person who can fix a particular issue, the speed at which it will be fixed will increase.

One final component that helps with alert fatigue is to ensure that your management tool is capable of correlating events. Instead of seeing 30 separate alerts, such tools will indicate with a high degree of likelihood which event is the root cause that led to the other ones. Instead of troubleshooting every alert, you can target the one responsible for the event and solve the underlying issue faster.

Benefits of a Holistic View

Enterprises who recognize the direct line from alert fatigue to service disruptions and bottom line impacts are better equipped to solve it. By investing in better IT management solutions, increasing collaboration, and automating some alert, root cause and escalation functions, an enterprise can move toward a more proactive model that improves functioning and solves issues before they impact key services.

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