Service Level Management - Service Level Agreement
A service level agreement is a document which defines the relationship between two parties: the provider and the recipient. This is clearly an extremely important item of documentation for both parties. If used properly it should:
- Identify and define the customer's needs
- Provide a framework for understanding
- Simplify complex issues
- Reduce areas of conflict
- Encourage dialog in the event of disputes
- Eliminate unrealistic expectations
Specifically it should embrace a wide range of issues. Amongst these are usually the following: Services to be delivered Performance, Tracking and Reporting Problem Management Legal Compliance and Resolution of Disputes Customer Duties and Responsibilities Security IPR and Confidential Information Termination
Although an SLA is an excellent expectations-managing mechanism, it's important to manage your own expectations of what it can realistically accomplish. Unfortunately, some people view an SLA as a complaint-stifling mechanism or a quick fix to a troubled relationship; however, using it for such purposes creates more problems than it solves. Instead, think of an SLA as:
- A communications tool. The value of an agreement is not just in the final product; the very process of establishing an SLA helps to open up communications.
- A conflict-prevention tool. An agreement helps to avoid or alleviate disputes by providing a shared understanding of needs and priorities. And if conflicts do occur, they tend to be resolved more readily and with less gnashing of teeth.
- A living document. This is one of its most important benefits. The agreement isn't a dead-end document consigned to the Forget Forever file. On a predetermined frequency, the parties to the SLA review the agreement to assess service adequacy and negotiate adjustments.
- An objective basis for gauging service effectiveness. An SLA ensures that both parties use the same criteria to evaluate service quality.
The most common way to create an SLA is to use a template. The most well known of these is The SLA Toolkit. This includes a template, but there is far more to it. For example, there is a guide to take you through the template itself, a checklist/questionnaire to review existing agreements, as well as a training presentation to explain concepts and background.
A service, within the context of an SLA, is collection of IT capabilities that combine to make a business process possible. The service is used by the end user in the business to support the user's job or the objectives of the organization. It is not a specific IT thing, rather it is a collection of IT resources that make a business process possible.
For example, email is a service that is offered to the business to support various com-munications functions. It makes business communications possible in the modern world and underpins a majority of business transactions. The service is comprised of hardware, software, networking, end-points, training, and support, all of which helps allow the business to effectively communicate internally and externally. Many of the components that comprise the service - like network infrastructure - are shared across multiple services. However, the individual components are not a service in themselves. Rather, each is just one of many parts that comprise the service.
When defining a service it is critical to understand and define the service in the context of the business process it is supporting. By defining a service from the business-use perspective, the SLA will be more relevant and will help ensure that the service pro-vided supports the current and future needs of the business.
The level in an SLA defines the specifics or performance criteria of how a service is delivered and should behave. The details of level are very important because they define how to measure and manage the service and ensure that the service delivered is actually facilitating the business.
Continuing with the email example, a level for email can include the size of an email inbox or the maximum time for delivering a message. When defining levels, it is criti- cal to consider the needs of the business user. If these needs are not considered, organizations risk misaligning the service with the business need. Quality discussions with business users will help in defining meaningful level requirements.
IT organizations tend to define level in terms of things that can be easily measured, such as server uptime or application response time. While system availability is a con- cern to business users, IT-centric metrics are only part of what makes a service mean-ingful to the business. IT organizations need to challenge themselves to identify the elements of level that are the essence of what makes a service meaningful to the business.
The agreement in an SLA happens when business users and IT concur that the service and the level at which it is provided meet a business need. With agreement, IT organizations can make definitive decisions on architecture, support models, and deployment. Agreement allows business users to assess and plan for the timing, volume, and effectiveness of their processes. Most importantly, agreement makes the IT services relevant and aligned to the needs of the business.
As mentioned previously, organizations are rapidly evolving from a world based on physical processes to one based on virtual processes. If the business is going to have confidence in implementing these changes to the virtual business processes, agreement on service and the way it supports the business will be key. Agreement gives the business confidence that the service will support the business and key processes, with controls in place to ensure that their new virtual factories will be stable, quality-driven resources for the long term.
Other ITIL Processes
- Configuration Management
- Service Desk Management
- Incident & Problem Management
- Change Management
- Release Management