ITIL : Reactive vs Proactive

In IT, being reactive and acting proactively are perhaps the most common words thrown in emails and meetings, especially when they are used in the context of IT services.

Managers and leadership teams whenever they address their employees emphasize on being proactive. They make it sound as though pro-activeness is all about positivity, like preventing a crime from happening and reactiveness as negativity, like conducting an autopsy and investigating to find the killer. Is it really true that pro-activeness is on the positive side of the spectrum and reactivity on the other extreme?

We are talking about balance today, and by now, after going through the earlier three balances, you would have assumed that you need to be somewhere between reactivity and proactivity. Yes indeed, that is where organizations need to stand.

Reactive organizations typically do not act unless there is a trigger. The trigger could be services going down which is nothing but an incident, a customer complaining about IT services, and when the customer comes in with new business requirements.

On the other hand, proactive organizations are always on a lookout to improve their services, organizational skills, and other customer service components. They do not wait for the customer or the monitoring tool to tell them what needs to be done, but instead, they find ways to identify new requirements through trending or finding out bugs in the system before it causes incidents.

As I mentioned earlier, the proactive approach is considered positive and I agree. It is indeed positive but extreme positivity is expensive. You might introduce a change into the system that is not needed. On the other hand, being reactive is like being laid back. You don’t do something until somebody tells you to.

Being reactive does not make the customer happy, and by being reactive, there is every chance that the customer SLAs are not met – like meeting the target up time in a month. But, in a reactive organization, employees know how to take the pressure and how to handle the difficult situation during firefighting.

In a proactive organization, the need to handle erratic pressure as is the case with reactiveness does not arise, so if a situation such as that arises, there is a good chance that they may crumble under the pressure.

To reiterate, an organization that is highly reactive may not support the business strategy by not keeping up to the commitments. And an organization that is highly reactive may introduce a change that is not really ended. As we discussed earlier, changes are expenditures and these go out from the IT organization’s pockets.


So, in an ideal organization, the balance must be more towards pro-activeness and a decent measure attributed towards reactiveness.

It is also a fact that newer organizations tend to be more on the reactive front due to the lack of operational data and the knowledge of handling services that comes from experience. Older organizations in the service industry tend to be a lot more proactive than the newer ones.

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ashlesha June 30, 2014 at 2:34 PM

Hi Abhinav ,

I am unable to find a job in incident manager with 5 years of exp.
Please advise if i need to do more of certifications. I have ITIL V3 certifi.


Abhinav Kaiser June 30, 2014 at 7:21 PM

Ash – With 5 years experience and ITIL V3 foundation, you should be in a good position to get incident manager role. You are probably not trying out with the right organizations. Also, for an incident manager, communication skills and command exerted over technical teams and customers is important. Make sure you work on these and apply with the right companies like IBM, Accenture etc.


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