The Only Way Is: Essex County Council ITSM

The only way is.... ITSM
The only way is…. ITSM

Essex County Council might not have its own glamorous television series dedicated to the highs and lows experienced on its own personal IT Service Management (ITSM) journey, yet.

But… the organisation has been doing admirable work in this field and helping (to some degree) local government overcome budget challenges

Excellence through ITIL

The council points out that a focus on improving and refining ITSM through the adoption and adaption of ITIL is helping local authorities to meet objectives despite continued financial pressures. A new case study, presented by AXELOS Global Best Practice, outlines how Essex County Council used ITIL to improve services while reducing costs.

As many readers will know, AXELOS is a joint venture set up in 2014 by the UK government and Capita to develop, manage and operate qualifications in best practice.

Local authorities have faced cuts in their budgets in recent years, and this is set to continue.

Councils in England have been warned that they face an average cut of 1.8% in their overall spending power, according to the provisional local government finance settlement for 2015-2016 published in December 2014*.

“Improving ITSM practices is helping councils with budget restrictions to meet service obligations. Councils across the country have seen very strong results – such as England’s second largest local authority, Essex County Council, which provides services to over 1.4m people,” said Kaimar Karu, head of ITSM at AXELOS.

The council’s 200-strong IT function supports around 10,000 staff and is led by Chief Information Officer (CIO) David Wilde, who joined the organization in 2011.

 “When I joined the council the customer base had little or no faith in the IT department and there was a service report full of red Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s). We had silos of knowledge without adequate tools to enable sharing and out of date documentation,” said Wilde. “As the council was and is under continued financial pressure, with aspirations to become a truly mobile and flexible workforce, we needed to standardize our estate, meet our Service Level Agreement (SLA), gain control of the service, get our underpinning contracts into line and capitalize on sensible outsourcing opportunities, such as our networking.”

Wilde had previously worked for the UK Government and was involved in the early design and creation of ITIL, the most widely accepted approach to ITSM in the world. The use of ITIL over the past four years has helped to improve the council’s ITSM, with the whole IT department now trained to at least ITIL foundation level.

He confirms that ensuring everyone is trained to foundation level has really helped to gain momentum and increase awareness and understanding. ITIL provides the right blend of service management, infrastructure management and customer focus.

AXELOS’s Karu added, “The Essex County Council case study highlights how empowering stakeholders in every level of the organization is one of the main factors in the successful adoption of ITIL. David’s experience shows that ITIL plays an important role in successful delivery of services and can help public sector organizations improve service management, even during times of austerity.”

The full case study can be found on the AXELOS website at https://www.axelos.com/case-studies-and-white-papers/essex-county-council-an-itil-case-study

Guardian News & Media: "Our SLA is to ensure the paper is published"

Guardian News & Media

Guardian News & Media (GNM) publishes theguardian.com, the third largest English-speaking newspaper website in the world. Since launching its US and Australia digital editions in 2011 and 2013 respectively, traffic from outside of the UK now represents over two-thirds of the GNM’s total digital audience. In the UK, GNM publishes the Guardian newspaper six days a week, first published in 1821, and the world’s oldest Sunday newspaper, The Observer.

theguardian_rgbGNM is a dynamic and pioneering news organisation across all departments. Amongst all this cutting edge transformation, GNM’s IT service desk has been going through its own upheaval. Over the last year the team has experienced arguably the most transformative change any service desk is likely to face—that of insourcing from a third-party outsourcer and rebuilding from scratch.

So what is life like for IT service management (ITSM) folks at GNM? How do they handle delivery of IT services for one of the world’s leading brands?  How have they insourced the service desk? These are all questions I was keen to ask when I met the team in London.


Note: SysAid commissioned this case study. Thank you to Vicky, Louise, and Steve from Guardian News & Media for being so candid and sharing their views. 


Meet the team

Left to right – Steve Erskine, Louise Sandford and Vicky Cobbett, Guardian News and Media
Left to right – Steve Erskine, Louise Sandford and Vicky Cobbett, Guardian News and Media

Insourcing the service desk

GNM has around 1,700 staff working for them globally. Roughly half of GNM staff work in commercial teams, the other half are in editorial teams including worldwide journalists and bloggers. The 60-member IT team supports 1,200 Macs, 800 PCs and twin mirrored datacentres in London and Bracknell.

The service desk was insourced from the 1st August 2013 when a team of six service desk analysts took over the front line of IT service and support.

The insource meant choosing a suitable solution to underpin its service management processes. Previously, the IT team was provided with technology as part of IT outsourcing contracts, such as Remedy or ServiceNow. With ITSM now firmly the responsibility of the in-house teams, there was a requirement for a smaller system that suited their needs. Flexibility and value for money were key drivers. Following a review of the market, the team chose SysAid.

A GNM version of ITIL

The IT support team at GNM records 600–650 incidents a week, working core hours of 8am until 6pm, with extended cover until 3am to support publication of the printed newspaper.

“We resolve as many calls as we can on the first line, not just log and flog, we try to do as much as we can and only escalate to second line if we get stuck,” said Vicky Cobbett, Service Desk Manager.

Incidents arrive in the way of system monitoring, email, telephone and walk ups. The team has not yet implemented any self-service options with SysAid, as they wanted to build up a reputation and confidence in existing channels first.

Third line teams are arranged by technology stack or competence area, such as business applications, networks, integrations, multimedia, AV, Oracle applications and so on.

“Our technology base is really quite broad,” says Steve Erskine, Technology Supplier Manager. “We are digital first. It’s a very different company than the newspaper I originally joined.”

“GNM is at the cutting edge of the media industry, it means we are constantly changing. We are constantly being brought new things to manage,” added Louise Sandford, Application Analyst.

Like most organizations that refer to best practice frameworks, GNM has cherry picked guidance from ITIL to suit its requirements.

“We’ve adopted a GNM version of ITIL,” says Steve.

“We have a Change Advisory Board (CAB) every Monday and use SysAid to manage all of our changes. If you look at the ITIL book, we’re not quite doing it the way ITIL suggests, we’ve taken the bits that are appropriate for us.”

“For example, we don’t have a change manager because of the diverse teams in our IT staff, but we make sure we follow a change management process and follow ITIL where appropriate.”

“Individual teams get direct calls too. We work in a deadline driven environment so things need to be resolved quickly. Sometimes you need to resolve the ticket before logging it,” said Louise. “We try not to get too caught up in process protocol – publishing the paper comes first.”

Our SLA is to ensure the paper is published each night and that our website remains online

Publishing the newspaper and keeping the website up in total alignment to business requirements was a recurring theme during our conversation. There is no time for navel gazing about service desk metrics at GNM. Its focus is on deadlines and the key priorities of the business seem familiar to the old fable about President Kennedy visiting the Space Center.

It is said that the President approached a man sweeping and said “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?” to which the janitor replied “I’m helping put a man on the moon, Mr President.”

I found their customer focus refreshing. I asked the team: “How do you know if you’re doing a good job? How do you measure success?”

“The newspaper gets printed. The website is always up,” said Vicky.

The team monitors call volumes, call open times and escalates where appropriate – but the main focus of meeting customer requirements is via the personal relationships developed by Business Relationship Managers (BRMs) who go out to the business and listen for requirements, help prioritize projects and develop a medium term plan.

“Success for me is if we can put processes and procedures in place without slowing the business down,” said Steve.

“We don’t get too caught up with measuring statistics. The company knows we work hard to close all tickets as quickly as possible and are focussed on helping the company print the paper and keep the website up,” said Vicky.

“In terms of statistics and metrics and comparing this year with last year – that’s not what we’re about… and I don’t think we’ll ever get to that point,” added Steve.

“We work in a vocal environment, if we’re not doing the right thing people will soon tell us. We also have our BRM team who are going out to the business to ensure we are doing the right thing and meeting their requirements.”

“We don’t really work to formal Service Levels. We might be working on something quite important to one person, but if something happens, which means we can’t get the paper out, everything gets dropped to fix it and that person will have to wait. If we’re going to breach a Service Level Agreement (SLA), we’re going to breach it. We’ve got to get the paper out.”

“Everyone in the company has this focus. It’s our purpose for being here,” added Louise.

Why SysAid?

As Application Analyst Louise is the main owner of SysAid. She has looked after the application since insourcing back in August and works with their account manager Yair Bortinger at SysAid.

GNM learnt from working with previous tools that despite all the bells and whistles on offer they would only end up using a small fraction of the features available. So a reason for choosing SysAid was that it is a smaller system and easier to customize to their own requirements.

“We find it user friendly,” says Louise. “With other systems we’ve worked with you have to stick to the templates or labels issued by the software company. SysAid is a lot more flexible to customize to your own requirements so you can label things the way you want them and in a way the whole IT department will understand. We use the cloud version so we can use it anywhere, we can use it at home.”

A quirky bunch

I asked the GNM team about their experiences with SysAid as a company. They were extremely complimentary. Specifically, the team stated that customer service was their strongest asset.

“They’re a quirky bunch,” said Vicky, “very, very friendly.”

“They are amenable and get back to you quickly,” added Louise.

“Sometimes when you work with software companies, you’ll deal with the salesperson and they are the friendliest person in the world, but once you’ve signed the contract the relationship changes. With SysAid, when we phone them up, they’re as friendly as the day we signed the contract,” said Steve.

“…And that’s not just one person, that’s everyone you speak to, the account management team, professional services, senior management,” said Louise.

“We sometimes ask the professional services team to do something completely random and weird and they say, yeah ok, we’ll do that for you,” said Vicky.

“I hope they don’t get bought and stay as they are. We are doing this case study because they are good not because of some commercial arrangement. We want to give something back in exchange for their great product and great service,” added Steve.

IT Service desk bar

The IT service desk ‘walk up’ desk. Situated away from the main IT department in a central position within the business.
The IT service desk ‘walk up’ desk. Situated away from the main IT department in a central position within the business.

The GNM IT team has built an “IT service desk bar” as a concierge desk for walk-in IT support enquiries. It is situated adjacent to a main stairwell and thoroughfare of the business and is intentionally separate from the rest of the IT department. Three service desk analysts work at the service desk bar, which accounts for around 15% of all incidents.

“It’s meant that we’ve built better relationships within the company. They see IT as having a face rather than being a voice at the end of a phone,” says Vicky

“But around 15%–20% of incidents come from the service desk bar. 50–60% come in via email and around 20–25% are phone calls.”

Customizing to requirements

Louise estimates that the split between in-house customization and development from SysAid is around 70/30.

“I do as much of the customization myself and liaise with Yair and the SysAid professional services team to do everything else,” said Louise.

“One of the great things we like about SysAid is that it’s so configurable and it’s very flexible. It is also quite user-friendly, so without a huge amount of configuration knowledge you can pick it up and use it quite effectively.”

User account creation, which was previously managed in Lotus Notes, is now handled by SysAid.

“That was a custom project they built for us. SysAid is used to automate the account creation of logins for new users. It’s completely out of scope for what SysAid is designed for but they’ve been very ‘can do’ about the whole project. It feels like a partnership,” said Vicky.

Future plans

Having embedded change management, the team aims to look at problem management in more detail and also plans to build an asset register to record laptops and desktops using SysAid. Knowledge management is also on the agenda, done at a steady pace with issues ironed out as they go.

“It’s such a small system in the grand scale of things in terms of all the systems we use. But it’s such an important one,” said Louise.


Guardian News & Media

  • The Guardian first published in 1821
  • Offices in UK, USA, Australia
  • Headquarters: King’s Cross, London, UK
  • Revenue Guardian Media Group Plc. £210M
  • Over 100million monthly unique browsers for theguardian.com
  • 1,700 staff, 60 IT Team staff
  • www.theguardian.com

Overall Review of SysAid by Guardian News & Media

“It’s a great tool, with great service,” said Steve.

Strengths

  1. Customer service from the SysAid team
  2. Ease of use
  3. Customization

Weaknesses

  1. Reporting – doesn’t have the depth we’d like but SysAid is addressing this in Q4 2014.
  2. Reverse customization – when you’ve built something by configuring it and need to undo it, it is not always straightforward. Some elements aren’t as friendly as others. Some of the workflow elements could be improved.

Ratings

  • Customer Service 9.5/10
  • Product 8.5 / 10
  • Reporting 5/10

How to use rapid communications to meet customer service goals using SLAs

teonphotolarge (1)
Teon Rosandic

This article has been contributed by Teon Rosandic, VP EMEA at xMatters.

IT leaders and engineers certainly have their hands full with ever more sophisticated internal customers who are more empowered and easily disappointed than ever.  They are placing greater demands to “get it right” and deliver immediate access to information, products and services.

End users want to know not just that a service or product will meet their expectations, but that IT will deliver first-class, instant customer service.

At the enterprise level, Service License Agreements (SLAs) have long acted as these guarantees of service among businesses – between IT departments and their internal customers or between IT departments and the technology service providers with whom they contract.  Conceptually, SLAs focus on accountability and liability, and over time communication about issues and outages has become the norm.  As issues in IT or service providers become more immediate and directly impact end users, timely communication and transparency is as critical as the service license itself.

It’s a different environment out there now, one where always-on and always-connected businesses depend on cloud-based services. This environment also translates to internal customers in the IT organisation, where such expectations are at an all time high. Imagine your corporate Internet connection went down. Employees would be without email, the web and all the services they rely on, including CRM, marketing automation, financial tracking and much more.

One-third of Service Provider Customers report that just a five-minute outage would cause a large percentage of employees to be unproductive, according to a Cloud VPS  Hosting report.

The scramble to remain productive during an outage would certainly lead to an avalanche of questions, notifications and complaints from employees – exactly the sort of activity that prevents IT from taking action more than helps it.  A more proactive approach that sent notifications from IT to employees would both give IT more time to devote to resolving issues and create better relations between IT and the company at large.

You can’t send after-the-fact communications about down or unavailable services anymore because employees experience these outages immediately and in every area of their work.  They want immediate answers; and if you don’t send them, you’ll get the avalanche.

Upping the Communications Ante

If your employees are hyper-connected now, just wait for the future. Virtually everyone has a smart phone and most have tablets, but by 2020, networks will host more than 30 billion wirelessly connected devices, according to ABI Research.  But a smart phone is one person’s lifeline and another person’s albatross.  It’s not enough to just communicate.  You have to communicate to the devices your audience checks.

With more devices linked to the cloud, employee expectations for superior customer service and SLA-level speed of issue resolution will sky rocket.  IT will have to answer to this demand. It is telling that 82%of consumers count rapid response as the number one attribute of great customer service, according to a study by LivePerson. For clients of the IT organization, time to resolution is even more important because that’s when they can be productive again.

Rapid Communication to the Rescue

Immediate, targeted notification and communication is the key to speedy resolution of IT service issues. The first step is to establish the infrastructure for automated interactions. If companies put this approach in place before any problems occur, then they can activate them instantaneously and communicate in real time during crucial moments.

The real trick to effective communication, even in a crisis, however, is to tailor the messages to specific audiences. It’s important to send the right information to the right people via the right channels. Businesses can and should follow suit, taking the initiative to target customers in the ways that suit them best and then keep them regularly informed throughout the resolution process, even if only to say the solution is a work in progress.

The targeting should be much more specific than just preferred devices. Depending on the situation, maybe not everyone needs to be notified.  So it is a good practice to targeted recipients as well. Targeting recipients will also reduce the number of responses IT is likely to receive. According to the 2014 Zendesk Global Benchmark, IT departments receive an average of 33 alerts per day – on top of routine notifications. Sending too many irrelevant alerts can make people inside and outside IT stop paying attention, a phenomenon called alert fatigue.

So if IT gets notified to fix an issue at one employee’s workstation, it makes more sense to alert the affected employee than it does to notify the entire company. As IT adopts a more strategic role in helping companies achieve strategic goals and meeting financial targets, they need to be cognizant of being more than just a fix-it shop or just keeping the lights on.

To make such SLA-type communications possible, businesses can employ communication platforms to help automate messages and distribute them thoughtfully, through multiple channels, all while monitoring continuously for network and equipment malfunctions. Having all of these functions in one place ensures companies can resolve issues quickly and uphold their promises to keep customers informed.

Executives should be asking themselves – how are my customers’ service expectations evolving in today’s uber-connected world? Is my company prepared to deliver “SLA-quality” service? How can rapid communication help me meet their productivity goals? If one or all of these answers involves the adoption of a rapid communication platform, then they are one step closer to ultimate end user satisfaction.

This article has been contributed by Teon Rosandic, VP EMEA at xMatters.

Implement Enterprise Request Management in Five Straightforward Steps

 This article has been contributed by John Sundberg, Co-founder and President of Kinetic Data.

John Sundberg
John Sundberg

A new approach to service request management is gaining ground in companies around the globe. Called Enterprise Request Management, or ERM, this framework is finding favor with organizations because it allows them to take an incremental and evolutionary approach to centralizing and modifying business processes and service requests across the company.

ERM operates at the intersection of the three levels of IT service catalog maturity identified by Forrester Research:

  • Level one – organizations focused on “delivering IT services to consumers through a standard set of choices and/or requests”
  • Level two – service catalog automating enterprise services
  • Level three – service catalog acting as a “service broker”

Let’s take a look at five steps involved in implementing ERM:

  1. Design your business process;
  2. Involve your stakeholders;
  3. Identify gaps in technology;
  4. Test the processes; and
  5. Refine and build onto the processes.

Design Your Business Process

Every business has request fulfillment processes that employees would love to improve, whether it’s as simple as resetting a password or as complex as onboarding new employees. The first step is to identify and prioritize improvements in these processes in terms of what is both realistically achievable and what has the greatest impact on user satisfaction.

Next, break the process down into discrete tasks. What task is the easiest to improve in the shortest amount of time? Start there before proceeding to tackle the more vexing tasks.

Look at what types of phone calls are overburdening your IT service desk. Are most of them for password resets or are users having problems with software installs? Also, look at which other departments have common support request issues, like paid time off requests in the human resources department, or conference room reservations in the facilities department.

With a service request portal and a back-end process automation tool, ERM provides a simple solution to these types of calls. With an online self-service request portal, users can log and track common service requests themselves while the “back-end” system manages the approval and fulfillment workflow of the request.

It doesn’t stop there, however. The flexible and extensible design of ERM allows you to add more (and more complex) types of requests over time.

ERM is designed to automate most, if not all, of the tasks within the service request management lifecycle – including centralized request management, scheduling, approvals, analytics, Service Level Agreement (SLA) tracking, status, charge back, billing and reporting – by linking to and coordinating with the software systems enterprises already have in place (systems of record) to handle these tasks.

Involve Your Stakeholders

With ERM, fulfillment processes are customer-centric. In other words, they’re designed from the customer’s perspective rather than from what appears to be the most convenient or logical approach for internal service providers.

So, it’s important to involve the appropriate stakeholders by assembling a small project team consisting of a business analyst, a developer, the “owner” of the process, a representative from management, and, most importantly, the users themselves, who can articulate the desired outcome in their own terms.

Keeping the team relatively small is important, since larger teams are more bureaucratic and take longer to get things done.

By keeping an open dialogue, users will be accepting of — and possibly even eager for — the changes that ERM will facilitate in simplifying complicated or broken request fulfillment processes.

Identify Gaps in Technology

As with any project, it helps to take one step at a time. Don’t get mired in the current state of your technology or existing processes, which can be a recipe for inaction. Often you’ll find that if you “think small” by breaking processes down into realistically achievable goals and by building on the momentum from these small victories, your current technology may not be as inadequate as you first thought.

However, frequently new front-end “systems of engagement” and flexible process automation tools may be needed. But make sure they’re designed to interact with back-end systems of record with little or no modification.

Test the Processes

With the ERM approach, it’s easy to create and test processes with very little risk because the core programming code doesn’t get modified. Feel free to make changes as needed and then test again. Once the process is concrete, is can be cloned and modified for other similar needs.

Refine and Build Onto the Processes

With ERM, the best approach is an evolutionary one. Start with the low-hanging fruit — the broken processes that have the greatest impact on customers. Work from these successes and the experiences gained, and then expand efforts wider and deeper into other request fulfillment processes.

After making any desired adjustments, deploy a more efficient way of fulfilling requests by using ERM and determine the next processes that need to be fixed. By learning, iterating and improving, ERM can easily move out of IT and unify service request fulfillment across your organization.

As you can see, the benefits and ease of ERM simply are too good to pass up. After all, who wouldn’t want lower service delivery costs and happier customers? So, wait no longer – now is the time for your organization to join the ranks of those realizing the benefits of ERM:

  • An improved user experience
  • Centralization of business services
  • First-time and automated fulfillment
  • Leveraging of existing systems.

Regardless of your organization’s level of request management maturity, you’ll find that ERM is the “glue” that unifies service request fulfillment across your enterprise. You can learn more about ERM here. 


The ITSM Review are holding a series of seminars this year headed by ITSM superstar Barclay Rae. We will be starting in March with Transforming User Experience – Enterprise Service Management & Self Service. For more information click here

ITSM and multi-sourcing – taking a joined-up approach

"Multisourcing is the disciplined provisioning and blending of business and IT services from the optimal set of internal and external providers in the pursuit of business goals." ~ Wikipedia

Behind the intricacies of ITIL and the various strategies that can support ITSM, the overall aim is to improve service delivery and make the whole organisation more productive. By making sure that processes and teams are aware of what they have to deliver, ITSM can offer better service to end-users and greater efficiency overall.

Well, this is the theory. However, IT within organisations may not be organised in a way that makes this a simple proposition. The growth in outsourcing and cloud services has led to IT often becoming a fractured estate, with different areas of infrastructure, applications and support being handled by teams both inside and outside the organisation. While this doesn’t stop ITSM programmes from being successful, it does make them more challenging.

This trend – often referred to as multi-sourcing – occurs because CIOs are being asked to reduce costs within IT. Cutting out internal resources and using outside services can be an effective route to achieving this, but it can come at the expense of a joined-up IT approach. ITIL gives guidelines on how to manage this kind of environment, but reflecting theory in practice can be difficult to achieve.

Taking a Joined-Up Approach

To combat this, going back to first principles and establishing where services and responsibilities link together is essential. Knowing where suppliers are responsible for providing service, meeting Service Level Agreements and delivering what is asked of them should be at the bedrock of ITSM projects of this kind, but the reality is that many organisations are not as effective at tracking this as they should be.

This can be due to simple human error – from individual tickets being created in the wrong way and therefore not going to the right team in the first place – through to more systemic issues around holding suppliers accountable and making sure that they are delivering on their promises. Whatever problem is being faced, clearing the lines of communication and establishing that processes are being followed is the first step to take.

This is also critical to getting accurate numbers on support and service requests and how they are being handled. This may also require a back-to-basics approach, so that suppliers and internal teams can be compared properly in an “apples to apples” way. Getting this information from suppliers is essential, as otherwise there is no way to prove that the ITSM programme itself is successful.

Following on from this is looking at processes again – are there ways that these can be more automated from the start? This provides an opportunity to speed up service delivery and support requests, while also potentially reducing costs on both the customer and the supplier side. For the customer, greater productivity and lower bills should be the aim, while suppliers should see benefit from reduced cost to serve each transaction and less opportunity for tickets to be lost or mis-allocated.

In order to achieve this level of automation, there are two things to consider:

1. ACCURATE REQUEST ALLOCATION

The first is how users can log requests for support and these tickets are handled through to the right support team, whether this is internal or external to the organisation. This involves more diagnosis at the beginning so that the problem is tracked properly. Users don’t care if their problem is caused by the application itself, the infrastructure supporting that app or the new upgrade that was not released out to production properly; however, the responsibility for assessing the issue and routing it through to the right support team does have a big impact on service speed and quality.

Implementing self-service portals for requests can help here by removing some of the day-to-day issues and automating their fulfilment. For example, a request for a new app to be installed can be automated if the sign-off level of the manager at a certain budget is approved automatically. This does not make the job of diagnosing problems easier for cross-team issues, but it does free up time so that more resource can be dedicated to those more difficult issues in the first place.

2. HOW TO AUTOMATE?

The second challenge is how to automate: most organisations will have a mix of systems themselves, while their service providers may have their own service desks and support tools as well. Passing tickets between systems automatically as well as managing approvals is therefore a big potential hurdle. For companies that are yet to make their choice on suppliers, establishing which systems are in place to check compatibility and integration levels is an option. For those with existing relationships in place, this is not an option to consider, so a different approach will be necessary.

Orchestration

Instead of thinking about tools, the emphasis has to be on workflows instead. Orchestrating processes between different platforms so that information is handled in the right way is the ultimate aim here, so that customers and suppliers can carry on using their tools of choice rather than being restricted or having to rely on manual labour to achieve results.

In a multi-sourcing world where cloud services, infrastructure and support can be managed in so many different ways, there is no one strategy that will achieve success. Each company or public body will have its own situation to consider, as well as that of its external suppliers. However, this makes orchestration and analysis of workflows more important – without this, the job of managing and delivering services is more difficult to achieve.

As multi-sourcing gets taken up by more enterprises and public sector organisations in their efforts to reduce costs, so taking a more joined- up and orchestrated approach to managing workflows will be critical to meeting their user needs as well.

Do SLAs hinder collaborative relationships with our supply chain?

Pretty much all outsourcing contracts in the IT Service Management world rely on, or at the very least, utilise the Service Level Agreement (SLA).

Certainly they are important as they are the physical representation of performance of the contracting party and used as the measure by which trends in supplier performance is understood.

But is there too much reliance on SLAs as a measure of performance and are they often inserted by the eager contract or procurement manager to mitigate risk or provide a means for the insertion of penalty / reward clauses because “that is what is expected in a contract”?

In my personal experience SLAs are often poorly defined or their alignment to the realities of IT service delivery misunderstood.  Because of that, there has been many mitigating circumstances offered as to why an SLA has been failed by the contracted organisation, followed with significant discussion as to whether the mitigation can be accepted.  This has a tendency to suck up both time, effort and therefore money, from both organisations into managing the performance measures, drafting contract change notices and often not looking at the root cause of why SLAs are being missed or in one case I have dealt with perpetually exceeded (plainly in that case the SLAs were too generous or measuring the wrong outcomes).

Problem 1

The vendor will look to win the opportunity and subsequently concern themselves with making the delivery side work (especially when the bid team is not going to be involved in delivery).  They will obviously try their utmost to meet the targets set, but also expect to provide mitigations in the event of failed SLAs.  They have the experience of dealing with a number of clients and so have reference points to support them, whereas the contracting organisation does not have the same level of experience or number of reference points.

A common resolution is the instigation of a continuous performance improvement plan, and when that has been met redrafting of workable SLAs agreed by both parties, or if it fails penalty clauses or litigation.

Problem 2

Poorly defined requirements from the customer.  Either they are unsure what they want, have over / under specified the level of service really needed, they are looking to outsource a problem, or the business units have been poorly engaged, if at all, by procurement through the tender process.  In such circumstances the supplier is almost being set up to fail from the outset (which from their experience they will probably realise) and therefore they will look to manage their way around the issues as they arise.

The common resolution is a redefinition of the SLAs probably with an element of contract renegotiation once the customer has determined the service it expects or requires.

So what should a good SLA really be about?  A well constructed SLA should be seen as an important measure to support a positive contractual relationship, it should also be periodically reviewed for its applicability in light of changing business demand.  However, the SLA should not replace or overshadow the development of the relationship between the customer and supplier.  Rather, the SLAs in place should support a collaborative attitude towards delivering a contract outcome that benefits both parties; the customer receives the service they need, the supplier makes the profit margin they expected and the customer is satisfied with.

Neither party should be wasting time and money negotiating mitigations, instead the time saved can be spent on delivering future value.  Unfortunately developing proper, mutually beneficial collaborative relationships in a business environment is not easy where customer and supplier aspirations are not aligned.