The service level agreement (SLA) model has always served as a guarantee of a service in the IT world.Traditionally, SLAs have sought to measure what is perceived as quality of service by IT organizations using traditional metrics based on IT infrastructure and applications, such as “server up/down” or response times of an IT software application.
While this may have worked for technology that was less complex, it is not viable in today’s times.
IT and IT service management (ITSM) have always been highly influenced by SLAs, influencing behaviours, prioritizations of resources and steerage of relationships. Unfortunately, SLAs have largely created a negative culture between IT organizations and service providers.
The construct of SLAs is the main reason IT departments are not perceived as innovative and strategic. IT organizations are often seen by the business as underperforming, disconnected from the needs of the business and simply a “commodity” rather than a partner. One of the major factors is that IT continues to design and report on metrics that have little to no value and do not demonstrate how IT is contributing to an organization’s business outcomes.
“Watermelon reporting” is a common phrase often attributed to a service provider’s performance reporting. Typically, these SLA reports depict that the service provider has adhered to the agreed service levels and met all contractual service level targets. It looks “green” on the outside, just like a watermelon. However, the level of service perceived by the business does not reflect the “green” status reported (it might actually be “red”, like the inside of a watermelon); and this is regularly a source of annoyance to the rest of the organization.
For instance, a typical SLA model might state that there can be no more than four priority 2 incidents within an agreed measurement window. Surely, once that target is met, the service provider is now motivated to focus on another customer’s priority 2 targets. Conversely, service providers are typically reluctant to agree to binding service levels for priority 3 and 4 incidents; these are typically agreed as “best effects” to restore services with KPIs (which attract no financial penalties). The result is that priority 3 and 4 issues take forever to get fixed and become the bugbear of IT users!
Unfortunately, IT organizations and ITSM frameworks continue to use this outdated SLA model because it’s what they are comfortable with. In my experience, service level agreements are not typically negotiated or fully consulted with representatives from the business (the people that actually use the IT service); negotiations with service providers and the design of service levels is usually a procurement function.
Procurement teams sometimes make proud statements about negotiating an agreement of “99.8% availability” with a service provider without articulating what this actually means. While suppliers measure availability differently, its relative meaning needs to be closely examined. In the past, it meant the server was up; today, there are so many components, integrations and different suppliers enabling a business process that the meaning has changed irrevocably.
A meaningful use of SLAs includes measuring business processes mapped to business outcomes. In line with the ITIL principle “Focus on value”, outcomesare what matters more than outputs. Measuring business outcomes also takes serviced consumption into consideration, not only service delivery. This is what ITIL describes as the “co-creation of value through service relationship” in which “customers are an essential element in the process of creating value”.
Considering the example of an airline, it’s now possible to report the availability of business processes, for example, check in passengers, provide the correct meals for special dietary requirements and allocate seats on a flight. This certainly sees a far more customer focused measurement than the previous SLA that measures whether the system overall is available/unavailable.
To arrive at this understanding, it’s necessary to decouple the service and look at what you’re measuring. In the airline business, for instance, you recognize that the real value of an SLA is enabling customers to complete their journey. Whether the IT system is “up” for 99.8% is irrelevant.
ITIL®4 talks about facilitating value co-creation via a service value system: different components and activities working together to facilitate value creation through IT-enabled services.
There are different types of end users including front-line staff and operational people and they all have different motivations, limitations and environments.ITIL®4 humanizes the guidance across the board.
Applying design thinking to ITIL is more about understanding human behaviour of users. ITIL process owners often make erroneous assumptions about human behaviour, springing from a poor understanding of users’ environments, motivations and their inclination (or disinclination) to call the Service Desk.
ITIL 4 emphasizes the importance of collaboration, transparency, automation where possible and working holistically.
The dream SLA model of the future is an outcome-based agreement by which external or internal service providers understand their role and how they collectively contribute to an organizations’ business outcomes. This approach changes the model from a silo-based, “finger pointing” culture to a more proactive and strategic partnership between IT, their service providers and the business which IT is there to serve.
Without this approach, IT will continue to address the issues inadequately and generate reports that offer very little use to anybody. Effective IT organizations must change how they measure in order to be innovative and show the organizations they support how much they’re contributing to business outcomes.
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *
The best part to jump to the bandwagon of informat... Read More