Tuesday, June 17, 2008

SLA's why are they needed?

Service Level Agreements - SLA's. For those who have been able to develop them with metrics that are meaningful and achievable, they love them. For everyone else, they are a nightmare. What makes a good SLA? In my experience, it takes very little to make a good SLA. First, it needs to be understandable. If you don't understand the commitment of service that you need to perform, then the actions you need to take to improve will be a mystery.
For example, if a person at a fast food restaurant was to get measured on the quality of their hamburg, that is good thought, but what does it mean? It's not like they can change the type of beef or bread or other things like that. So rather than just say improve the quality, the manager needs to put in measures that the employee can affect. Time on the shelf less than 10 minutes, bread no older than 5 days, etc...

Those are factors that the employee can watch and adjust, ultimately improving the SLA. Which brings me to the second factor. It has to be measurable. If you can not measure it you can not manage it. If you can not time the hamburger on the table, the age of the bread, you can not determine it's indication of quality.

If you look at the standard SLA's in place that are not on the nightmare side of the house, they are things like 99.999% up-time. If you asked most IT folks what that meant you would get different answers. Some would say the server 99.999% of the time up over the course of a year. Others might say 99.999% would mean that application services are available to all users for no less than 15 minutes in the course of a year.

1 is very measurable, but not of high-value. The other is extremely valuable but difficult to measure.

So when establishing your agreements to the level of service required it is important to determine what you can do and what the business needs. Then negotiate the middle ground. The more the business needs, then the more IT will need to deliver and the higher the cost. Over promising on an SLA that the IT department can not hit does not help anyone. So it is crucial for IT to establish what their capabilities look like. My next blog will be what a Service Catalog is and why it is needed to have true SLA management.

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