SLA’s and CSI – A Two Way Street

The other day during a #itsmbig4 twitter chat the subject of SLA’s as they relate to CSI came up, which got me to think about this topic a little further.

The first question I found myself asking “are SLA’s for the most part provided by IT?” It might be more common than not to hear IT tell the business, “We will provide service uptime of 99% or some degree of 9’s.” In some cases there may be no negotiation/agreement at all. IT may on some level decide that the business needs a certain degree of service level and based on the ability for IT to support the service, a service level is generated. This provision may occur whether the business has signed off on it or not, in fact they may not even be aware that such a service level even exists. Being in a position to even have an agreement requires that there is more than one party present. This discussion point is a two way street in which you need business input. I already know what you are going to say. “If you ask the business they will say that they need all services up all the time.” Again this is where the dialog and agreement part come into place which we will touch on down below.

So where does this tie in to CSI? As the name suggests we are always looking to improve service but in order to start doing this effectively we need to discuss where we are today with all our stakeholders in IT and the business. To simplify this discussion on some level let’s look at this from 3 basic stages in SLA maturity; No formal SLA’s, SLA’s established in IT and formal SLA’s established with the business.

No formal SLA’s

In this stage of the game IT has services which they are supporting, likely with a best effort mentality. The level of service to your business may be considered adhoc as there is no direction on how best to provide support for a multitude of services. From a CSI perspective you really need to understand which service(s) is critical to the business in an effort to prioritize them from a support perspective. Just because there is no formal SLA established, doesn’t mean that there isn’t one in existence on some level. Your support teams may just ‘know’ that the corporate website is a critical service and treat it as such. I would imagine that the business has some expectation either way that the service is going to be available for them to utilize. Even if you initially have no agreements, building a framework of dialog will allow you to improve delivery to service through an understanding of what the business needs are.

SLA’s established within IT

The challenge here is that the SLA is an IT assumption on what they believe the business requires. There may be an expectation from IT that all services require a standard uptime of 99% for example. This may be valid to a degree however the challenge is that we still are making assumptions on what the business needs without engaging them directly. Being able to do that will allow IT to adjust their OLAs to ensure effective service delivery.

Once you do that you can better position yourself looking at what support to services will ultimately cost your IT organization, and ultimately the business. Remember earlier when I mentioned that the business wants 100% uptime. Positioning yourself to understand the cost of service will allow you to communicate what 100% would cost.


Formal SLA’s established with the business

In some cases we may have formal SLA’s set up with our business. The challenge here is that we ensure not only that we manage these in a balanced way but that they are constantly reviewed to remain valid over time. A balance support means that it can become very easy to bulk up on your incident management to ensure that issues are resolved as quickly as possible but make sure that you are looking at the cause of these issues in the first place. As I have mentioned before issues which repeat themselves can have a negative impact to the business even if they seem small and insignificant. Ten repeat issues which last 10 minutes are the same as a major outage which lasts 100 minutes. When you have a strong understanding of the service and are supporting it in an effective way you will be better able to agree to terms of service with comfort that you can cover what you agree to. All too often we set an arbitrary target for some level of 99% and we tend to coast once we maintain that level. The CSI question should ask what we are doing to continually improve our service delivery. We should think about reviewing the SLA’s with the business on a regular timeframe as their requirements of the service may change.  

The overall theme is to stop assumptions of what the business needs. Begin a regular discussion with them on the delivery of their services so that continual improvements can be made. As time goes on review where service delivery shortcomings are and deal with them in a way which is not necessarily incident focused but also drives out repeat issues, perhaps through problems. At the end of the day regularly discussing what is working well with your business will enable you to continuously improve your service delivery.