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After-Action Reporting and Why It’s Important


As much as we might wish otherwise, mission-critical emergencies can and do happen. While the initial focus is on correcting the problem, it's also essential to do a postmortem of what occurred. This means you look at what went wrong and determine if the situation was avoidable or inevitable.

If unavoidable, you'll want to work towards drafting an action plan that addresses any insecurities to avoid future emergencies. But if the emergency event could have been avoided, understanding what went wrong and why is critical as a preventative measure. 


What is After-Action Reporting?

After-action reporting isn't unique to the IT services industry. However, it's a critical aspect of post-emergency management for service providers contracted to prevent and manage all types of digital structural integrity issues. After-action reporting means vendors and clients review what occurred during an emergency and examine and rate the response and solutions taken. 

In particular, an after-action report should include all key stakeholders. They should determine if the emergency was avoidable, how quickly a response was triggered, and if the resolution steps taken were practical to return to a functional state. Additionally, a review should be applied to consider if a similar emergency is avoidable — and if so, what preventative measures can be implemented as a safeguard. 

Why This Step Matters

Sometimes emergencies are unavoidable. But, service providers with poor emergency management procedures may find that they frequently face the same situations time and again. This is a sign that a forensic review isn't happening. Instead, these providers are simply reacting to current problems, taking temporary steps to correct emergencies, yet leaving the same vulnerabilities in place for them to happen again. 


After-Action Reporting is Preventative Maintenance At its Finest

When you're in the middle of an emergency, that's not the time to try something new or test unproven methods. This is why after-action reporting is critical. It allows vendors and clients to work together to address inefficiencies and weaknesses and consider new and better ways to address future vulnerabilities. 

While this type of review can and should occur after an actual emergency is resolved, vendors can also implement them by running drills — or faux emergencies where response processes are tested. And many experts would recommend using them with routines to flush out inefficiencies and incorporate new response methods that may be more effective. 


Practice and Review Make Perfect

It's not enough to engage in one review after an emergency and then continue with business as usual. After-action reporting aims to improve processes and remove vulnerabilities that contribute to crises. So, IT service providers should routinely review these reports, looking for trends that can be used to predict future potential emergencies or spotlight areas where improvement can be achieved.

Unlike a public postmortem, after-action reporting takes the review process further by creating a list of action items that must be addressed to improve overall emergency response. More importantly, these reports should be maintained as part of a comprehensive data analysis process that service providers can use to continue streamlining their capabilities. 


What Should Be in Your After-Action Report?

An after-action report is only effective if it contains clear information and callouts. At a minimum, your report should bear the following in mind: 


  • Established intent
  • Outline of key stakeholders
  • Logistical plans for holding the review
  • Guidelines for discussion


The Review Process Explained

Your first step should be determining what happened. What was the nature of the emergency your team experienced? More importantly, what was the original emergency response plan? Be sure to define what resources (if any) were made available to the response team. In particular, determine if the emergency was avoidable, could have been predicted, or was inevitable. 


Incident Review

This is where all stakeholders discuss what happened during the emergency. What challenges were faced, what steps were taken, and what was the emergency and response timeline from start to finish? This is a critical step where team members need to understand that their responses are valued. Comments should be taken seriously and no one's input should be discounted because they're a junior member of the team. 


Incident Analysis

At this stage, it's time to dig deep and determine the effectiveness of the emergency response situation. Did things go according to plan, what aspects worked versus those that didn't, did team members respond promptly, and most importantly, did the predetermined response strategies work? Similar to the incident review step, equal buy-in from all members should be welcomed and encouraged.


Determine Improvement Options

This is the stage where you look for areas to improve. If an emergency was avoidable, what actions can you implement now to strengthen vulnerabilities? If a secondary solution proved more effective for correcting a recurring problem than the pre-existing ones, consider revising your strategies to reflect that. Similarly, if communication breakdowns were to blame for poor response times or slow recovery solution rollouts, determine best practices to improve those areas. 


Preventative Action is the Best Solution to Future Emergencies

Again, emergencies can’t always be avoided. But how you respond when they arise will impact not just overall success, but client retention, and your company’s reputation. Taking the time to effectively review previous emergency management responses will directly impact your ability to minimize service disruptions and boost client confidence. And while emergency postmortems are important, taking a holistic approach to after-action reports that also incorporates drills will ensure that your business is always prepared and flexible enough to address any situation that arises. 

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