Service Level Management – From Best Effort to SLA’s

Depending on your organization there will be some agreements, formal or otherwise, regarding the availability of service for your customers. What are the business drivers to have formalized agreements to ensure service availability?

Let’s work our way through the degrees of these agreements


Best Effort

In some organizations there are no formalized agreements to deliver a particular level of service. But let’s face it, it is always implied that we shoot for the stars on service delivery. From the customer perspective they have services which they expect are available whenever and wherever they need them. Unplanned outages and maintenance (scheduled outage windows) have likely not been discussed in any degree


Operational Level Agreement (OLA)

Definition: (ITIL Continual Service Improvement) (ITIL Service Design) An agreement between an IT service provider and another part of the same organization. It supports the IT service provider’s delivery of IT services to customers and defines the goods or services to be provided and the responsibilities of both parties.


This agreement may not pertain to the customers directly but does give us the vehicle to manage the services in a more formalized way in IT. The question here is that “do we have a formalized agreement for the inner working between IT support teams?” or is this basically a glorified best effort model. While the formal agreements may not need to be extensive there needs to be an understanding of what is expected and who is accountable for what and should be documented in a place where all IT stakeholders can view it. This should also reviewed regularly as business needs change and the structure in IT may change as well.


Service Level Requirement (SLR)

Definition: (ITIL Continual Service Improvement) (ITIL Service Design) A customer requirement for an aspect of an IT service. Service level requirements are based on business objectives and used to negotiate agreed service level targets.


This is where we have identified a particular service that the customers require and have also have some understanding on what is required from an availability standpoint. As the definition lends to, we can leverage this to make the next step to the SLA. From an IT perspective we should have our management of the services from a process standpoint locked up.


Service Level Agreement (SLA)

Definition: (ITIL Continual Service Improvement) (ITIL Service Design) An agreement between an IT service provider and a customer. A service level agreement describes the IT service, documents service level targets, and specifies the responsibilities of the IT service provider and the customer. A single agreement may cover multiple IT services or multiple customers. See also operational level agreement.


Once we have defined the service and all its moving parts we need to agree with the customers on the availability for the service which we are discussing. This will include availability, hours of service, level of support as well as any required maintenance windows and when they can be leveraged. These documents can be fairly simple (in the form of a charter) or extensive, with many vested parties signing off. Depending on the type of SLA and the way your organization uses them there may also be different types of penalties invoked should the SLA be breached. A key challenge which needs to be ironed out will be clarity on what the SLA means. Both IT and the customer need to be talking about the same things. Another challenge that may arise is when you gather metrics for the service what you perceive as uptime may not be what the business sees. For example if your monthly stats suggest 100% uptime and the business indicates that there were 2 outages last month you will be able to identify process gaps quickly if issues are not reported. You will also need ways to quantify and work with the customers to stream line the process. Remember though to keep the discussion customer focused as they likely have little interest in the process which supports their service. They just want their stuff to work

Despite a want or a need to be able to provide a particular service agreement we also have to take a closer look at how we in IT can support these agreements from a process standpoint. Obviously a mature Service Management structure will enable us to better support this but what implications are there if out Processes are not as mature? If our process is lacking we could still have SLA’s, but what challenges will that pose for us.

What types of agreements does your organization leverage and why? What challenges do you face?

Definitions can be found at