Service level agreements must not be technology-led if you are to get the best from them, says Philip Yarnall.
A report from research group YouGov earlier this year revealed that 21% of businesses do not use service level agreements as they are considered too difficult to negotiate and too time-consuming to monitor. But in their current form SLAs are largely irrelevant to businesses as they are technology-led rather than business-centric.
After all, an IT metric is not a true reflection of the value of an IT system as it does not address the impact to the business of good or bad service.
Market commentators argue that better SLAs can be realised by managing the performance of IT systems more comprehensively but many IT directors find that the more complex an SLA becomes the more unwieldy and irrelevant it becomes.
What suppliers and users are looking for are SLAs that are simpler and more relevant to business processes. This can only be achieved if suppliers are prepared to take the time to understand how a business process depends on IT.
There also appears to be a high level of cynicism at board level towards suppliers. It is arguable that this exists because suppliers have failed to understand their role in the business and, as a result, have consistently failed to support the objectives of their customers' businesses.
In many cases businesses are deriving 80% of the benefit from 20% of their systems. Understanding this 20% and getting it right is far more important to the business and should be the priority for reporting.
In fact, the key dependencies for many IT directors are straightforward. For example, a user may identify five key transactions in an SAP implementation for which response time is critical. Measuring performance on these transactions is what matters to the company so a business-centric SLA should prioritise them specifically.
But if suppliers need to adapt their behaviour, customers need to change too. Far too often users do not understand their own end-to-end business processes sufficiently well.
Five years ago very few organisations had a business process plan but this is changing and companies are becoming more self-aware as can be seen by the growing endorsement of best practices and the number or firms which are aligning processes with Information Technology Infrastructure Library guidelines.
Only once this level of self-awareness has been achieved can there be a common understanding of objectives and business goals and the business process can be mapped onto technology appropriately.
Phil Yarnall is strategic marketer and head of product management at IT services company PinkRoccade UK