Tuesday, 25 June 2013

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?

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Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Service Management CSI Journey

I recently began to reflect on my Continual Service Improvement (CSI) contribution to my organization as I moved into a new role which focuses on Service Delivery. It began almost two years ago when I joined a company that was continuing its transformation into a large organization through acquisition, and ultimately a corporate rebranding. In the beginning I was hired as an IT Service Management Specialist to primarily work as a Change Management process owner. Although through interview process when I had identified some other “responsibilities” which were listed in the job posting which looked out of place for a change management role, I realized that there might be other activities from an improvement standpoint.

While our IT community had agreed that we already had processes for incident, request, asset and change management, the question that needed to be answered was “Where were we on a maturity scale?” After taking an honest look there were several processes where we could make improvements to maturity from a stage which was repeatable, to one which was more defined.

The initial reaction from IT stakeholders was that while they were glad to be reviewing these processes, they did not want to add any unnecessary bureaucracy (and work) to the team’s already busy day. They key here was to market the future state of what the benefits of the process improvements to the next level maturity meant for them, how it would empower them to improve their services in ways the older processes could not.

Identifying current state and the scope for the improvements was critical for success. What I realized quickly was that no one process will have a high maturity level so long as the other processes are at a low maturity, there is a symbiotic relationship for the two. Identifying which process to review can be daunting when there is no obvious business case or need to do so.

As we made progress on each process we made sure to take time to reflect on the current state and identify where the next set of gaps in our processes existed. It is important to take these quick wins and build on them, after a time people will look back and say “How did we get from there to here?”

While even today we continue to review our processes, these internal IT alignments allowed for us to lay the groundwork for our customer interactions as a part of Service Delivery.

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Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Island of Service Management

Service Management Island is not a prequel to “Pirates of the Caribbean”, it can be more of a reference to a place where practitioners find themselves when they feel out of contact with their key stakeholders. You may have found that some best practices are being adhered to solely because senior management has deemed that they are required for compliance, and still others (while valuable) are left in the weeds. Normally this might occur in the initial stages of CSI (Continual Service Improvements). However, what happens when your organization restructures in a way where you seem to slip in a backwards direction?


Recently in my organization there was change within IT leadership where our highest promoters of the IT Service Management program left due to a re-structuring (layoffs etc.). The challenge that I was left with was that the champions who brought the program to the forefront were gone and I have been left on the “island” alone. Since the only previous method of communication with the mainland (business) before was though these champions, when they left so did the dialog conduit.

When to go and Weather

The weather can be rough, and starting to get things moving in a way to get you “out there” may take a few attempts. I have found the best way to start is to let your audience know what is working well. There is always something positive that your best practices are accomplishing right now. Leverage those and then decide which areas that you can focus on next for the improvements. Once you have a couple of simple ones determine how you will take action on them.

Getting There and Around

Someone once said that “getting there is half the fun”, well in this case getting away from this island living is the direction which will produce the most positive environment. The challenge is “how to do that?” You need to look at this activity as “brand marketing”, which is something that IT doesn’t always do particularly well, no time like the present time to improve that skill. Firstly ensure that the IT department are aligned with the activities you are undertaking. Are you going for some ‘quick wins’? If so, how will they improve the life in your IT department? The key to this is put yourself in the shoes of the target audience. Figure out what the outcomes are and you can tailor your marketing around that.

Practical Information

Communication and actions will allow you to build on the discussions you have begun with your stakeholders. Try different avenues for communication. While senior leadership is generally chosen for these discussion points don’t forget the key word in Service Management – Service.

Ultimately you are there to provide service to your customers. There are good points of dialog that can be had with the people who utilize the service every day. Create touch-points from them as well to ensure that you are on track to leaving Service Management Island for good.

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