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Step 2 - Analyzing and Prioritizing Risks

Risk analysis builds on the risk information generated in the identification step, converting it into decision-making information. In the analyzing step, three more elements are added to the risk's entry on the master risks list: the risk's probability, impact, and exposure. These elements allow operations staff to rank risks, which in turn allows them to direct the most energy into managing the list of top risks.

Risk Probability

Risk probability is a measure of the likelihood that the consequences described in the risk statement will actually occur and is expressed as a numerical value. Risk probability must be greater than zero, or the risk does not pose a threat. Likewise, the probability must be less than 100 percent, or the risk is a certainty-in other words, it is a known problem.

The following table demonstrates an example of a three-value division for probabilities.

Table: Risk Probability Ranges

Probability range Probability value used for calculations Natural language expression Numeric score

1% through 33%




34% through 67%




68% through 99%




Risk Impact

Risk impact is an estimate of the severity of adverse effects, the magnitude of a loss, or the potential opportunity cost should a risk be realized. Risk impact should be a direct measure of the risk consequence as defined in the risk statement. It can either be measured in financial terms or with a subjective measurement scale. If all risk impacts can be expressed in financial terms, use of financial value to quantify the magnitude of loss or opportunity cost has the advantage of being familiar to business sponsors. The financial impact might be long-term costs in operations and support, loss of market share, short-term costs in additional work, or opportunity cost.

The best way to estimate losses is by a numeric scale: the larger the number, the greater the impact to the business. As long as all risks within a master risks list use the same units of measurement, simple prioritization techniques will work. It is helpful to create translation tables to convert specific units such as time or money into values that can be compared to the subjective units used elsewhere in the analysis, as illustrated in the following table. This particular table is a logarithmic transformation where the score is roughly equal to the log10($loss)-1.

High values indicate serious loss. Medium values show partial loss or reduced effectiveness. Low values indicate small or trivial losses. The scoring system for estimating monetary loss should reflect the organization's values and policies. A $10,000 monetary loss that is tolerable for one organization may be unacceptable for another.

Example of a Translation Table

Score Monetary loss


Under $100










$1,000,000-$10 million


$10 million-$100 million


$100 million-$1 billion


$1 billion-$10 billion


Over $10 billon

When monetary losses cannot be easily calculated, it may be possible to develop alternative scoring scales for impact that capture the appropriate services affected. The following table illustrates a simple example.

Example Alternative Scoring Scale

Score Criterion Schedule impact Technical impact



Slip 1 week

Slight effect on performance



Slip 2 weeks

Moderate effect on performance



Slip 1 month

Severe effect on performance



Slip more than 1 month

Mission cannot be accomplished



Unable to deliver

Mission cannot be accomplished

Risk Exposure

Risk exposure measures the overall threat of the risk, combining the likelihood of actual loss (probability) with the magnitude of the potential loss (impact) into a single numeric value. In the simplest form of quantitative risk analysis, risk exposure is calculated by multiplying risk probability by impact.

Exposure = Probability x Impact

Sometimes a high-probability risk has low impact and can be safely ignored; sometimes a high-impact risk has low probability and can be safely ignored. The risks that have high probability and high impact are the ones most worth managing, and they are the ones that produce the highest exposure values.

When scores are used to quantify probability and impact, it is sometimes convenient to create a matrix that considers the possible combinations of scores and then assigns them to low-risk, medium-risk, and high-risk categories. For the use of a tripartite probability score where 1 is low and 3 is high, the possible results may be expressed in the form of a table where each cell is a possible value for risk exposure. In this arrangement, it is easy to classify risks as low, medium, or high depending on their position within the table. The following table is an example showing probability and impact.


The advantage of this tabular format is that it is easy to understand through its use of colors (red for the high-risk zone in the upper-right corner, green for low risk in the lower-left corner, and yellow for medium risk along the diagonal). It also uses a well-defined terminology: "High risk" is easier to comprehend than "high exposure."

Risk analysis provides a prioritized risk list to guide IT operations in risk planning activities. Within the MOF Risk Management Discipline, this is called the master risks list (described previously in Risk Lists). Detailed risk information including condition, context, root cause, and the metrics used for prioritization (probability, impact, exposure) are often recorded for each risk in the risk statement form.

Best Practices

These best practices will be beneficial during the risk analysis and prioritization step of the risk management process.

Risk Factor Charts

A risk factor chart helps the group quickly determine the exposure it faces for all general categories of risk. One line of such a chart might look like the row in the following table.

Table: Example Risk Factor Chart

Risk Indicators of High Exposure Indicators of Medium Exposure Indicators of Low Exposure

When a hard disk fails, its data cannot be recovered from tape backup.

No one is formally accountable for performing backups. Only one operator has been trained on the new version of the software. The backup operator who has been trained cannot be reached except during his/her shift.

Managers ensure that backups are made every day, but making them is a low-status job assigned to operators with the least seniority. All backup operators attend a one-hour class, but that training covers only the backup software User's Guide and it has no hands-on exercises.

Each week's tapes are sampled and restored to verify integrity. Two backup operators are on shift at all times. Only backup operators who have vendor certification are allowed to make backups without supervision.

Settle Differences of Opinion

It is unlikely that all IT operations staff will agree on risk ranking because staff members with different experiences or viewpoints will rate probability and impact differently. To maintain objectivity in the discussion and to limit arguments, be sure to decide as a group how to resolve these differences before starting this step. Options include a majority-rule vote, picking the worst-case estimate, or siding with the person who has the longest experience dealing with the situation in which the risk event actually occurs.

Measure Financial Impact

It is often helpful to roughly estimate impact in financial terms and record this in addition to the impact's numeric estimate. If several risks have the same exposure value, then the financial estimate can help determine which one is most important. Also, the financial data helps in the planning step to ensure that the cost of preventing a risk is lower than the cost of incurring the consequences.

It might seem that the financial estimate is preferable and could be used in place of a numeric value. In practice, however, financial impact values tend to be a much more labor-intensive way to produce the same top risks list.

If you decide to use a monetary scale for impact, use it for all risks. If a particular risk's impact uses a numeric scale and another's impact uses a monetary scale, then the two cannot be compared to each other, so there is no way to rank one over the other.

Perform a Business Impact Analysis

You should perform a business impact analysis-for example, by using a questionnaire that the users of the service fill out, estimating the importance and impact of service outages. This can help IT understand the service's perceived value, and this might be a factor to consider when ranking risks.

Record the Impact's Classification

Some IT groups find it useful to categorize the nature of the impact, such as security, capital expenditure, legal, labor, and so on.

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