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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

It seeks to appreciate, for example, the "pinch points" of the enterprise and why it's a problem if, for example, the email service goes down.

For CIOs, understanding the business drivers begins at the point when business strategy is set and consequently how the IT function is going to support that.

Once a service is live covering any number of functions from accounts to wages SLAs need to be in place in order that the ITSM support can prioritise its activities.

If a dozen different requests hit the service desk at one time, SLAs should make it clear what's a business priority and what's not.

If an SLA is in danger of being missed there are two approaches: either it's unacceptable and needs addressing to prevent it happening again or there are valid reasons for it and the service manager enters the world of managing expectations.

The business will accept breaches in SLAs if there are valid reasons, as long as proactive, clear and timely communication is undertaken and the customer is aware of the reasons for the breach and where the shift in priority lies at that moment.

But gaining this acceptance is possible only through ITSM professionals building relationships and trust with other business units, which are essential to manage the fall-out from SLAs that breach.

Setting the SLAs and their metrics

Service management should tread carefully when it comes to measurement of SLAs. It's not advisable to dictate to the business what the metrics are; rather, the business should be allowed to specify what it wants to see.

What the organisation might want to view is how many incidents have happened, how long were the services down and how many were fixed within or outside the terms of the SLA.

Whatever makes sense and is relevant to the business is what service management should be measuring. It's no good producing endless, impenetrable pie charts and statistics if nobody understands them, however interesting they might be to the ITSM department.

Allocating the right resources

Clearly, it's vital to fit resources around what's important to the business or organisation. In its simplest terms if having systems uninterrupted in the afternoons is more important than mornings for a particular department, then there should be more people available on the service desk during that time period.

The problem arises when everyone says afternoons are most critical and need a severity 1 category of response. Enter the service level manager and a discussion about whether it's possible and the availability of resources that will be affected.

Ultimately, ITSM becomes a truly value-added service when it supports the most essential services in the business value chain; then, and only then, is it perceived to be more than just a cost.


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