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How to implement effective SLAs

Phil Hearsum | Aug. 5, 2014
Successful service level agreements are founded on a clear comprehension of the outcomes the business wants from IT service management


Before getting anywhere close to discussing the concept of service level agreements (SLAs) in IT service management (ITSM), there is one time-worn debate to straighten out.

Some might consider the debate was settled long ago, but it's still worth reiterating that IT and ITSM are an integral part of a business. They are not disconnected from the enterprise, somehow looking on from the side lines with their own isolated purpose.

Once that symbiotic relationship between IT and "the business" is recognised and understood, the necessity of SLAs to define and agree measureable service targets for what ITSM provides to its customers makes complete sense.

Effective SLAs are founded on a clear comprehension of the outcomes the business wants from ITSM.

Identifying these relies on service managers discussing outcomes with their various customers and tailoring the associated services to fit around them. But no SLA can be set up without the tacit understanding, commitment and agreement of the business.

Some of the areas where service levels need to be stipulated might involve looking at capacity and demand management, when the critical/peak and off-peak times are in the business cycle and creating an ITSM process for what's needed in those situations.

For example, if a company's payroll system runs on the final Friday of every month, that is a critically important point when IT service levels can't afford to be less than superlative.

But if ITSM is providing an essential service to meet business outcomes, shouldn't the expectations of the business always be satisfied?

If 100 per cent availability of an IT system is needed, that can be guaranteed if you can afford to have countless ITSM professionals poised, waiting for something to go wrong.

Clearly, it's up to the organisation to decide what it needs and therefore has to provide the resources needed in order to achieve that. It becomes a balancing act between the available resource and the desired outcomes, which needs agreement on the key services and levels required.

Once agreement is reached, it's necessary to specify the measurement criteria and focus on continuous improvement through detailed discussions with customers about what's gone right and wrong at any point.

The dynamic of SLAs and managing the expectations of ITSM customers is an ongoing negotiation, part of which is about service managers qualifying the value of the services provided.

Only this way can the wider organisation have a clear understanding of the impact of crucial IT systems malfunctioning. This leads to better decisions on what service levels are needed across the organisation and where they're needed most.

Understanding the business drives to set SLAs

The most effective ITSM and best practice framework that supports it, such as ITIL is not just a series of processes and policies: it feeds into the culture and driving factors of a business or organisation.


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