I've written in the past about the difficulty in creating appropriate SLAs in outsourcing agreements and how an over-emphasis on SLAs can often be counterproductive. Turns out many of the same issues can put a strain on the relationships IT staff have with their business colleagues.
According to a recent study by Forrester Research, the main reason for missing SLAs is that business units have unrealistic expectations. The inflated expectations can be attributed to the old IT/business divide, according to a Techworld story about the research. Forrester found that most IT departments use IT-centric metrics like server or network availability, despite the fact these metrics mean little to business units.
According to the research, IT departments fail to meet SLAs 26 percent of the time. Forty-one percent of respondents say they possess only basic insights into service levels and don't regularly provide SLA information to executives. Perhaps most worrisome, 40 percent of them acknowledge that their service level reporting lacks information requested by business executives.
Says Michael Allen, European director of IT service management at research sponsor Compuware:
... an SLA is supposed to be an agreement reached by both parties to the same thing. So one wonders how they can say that. It is down to IT measuring the success of business objectives. Technical metrics, network and server uptime, etc., which are important to businesses, are not really important to end-users.
For some tips on closing the IT/business divide, I tracked down a blog in the archives that advises IT to position itself as a business service supplier rather than a technology supplier. Divide IT activities into service portfolios based on infrastructure, users, projects and management, then express all IT costs in service-to-business terms, suggests the Cutter Consortium. Assess performance, budget IT and charge business units for services in business terms, as well.
Another piece of advice is to involve business leaders in technology governance, a strategy employed to good effect by Bill Piatt, the CIO of International Finance Corp. who was featured in a recent strategy+business article about "practical visionary" tech execs.
Another issue highlighted in the Forrester survey is a lack of feedback from end users. Although 87 percent of respondents say they employ end-user experience monitoring tools for at least some business-critical applications, 64 percent of them admit that they typically know end users are experiencing performance or availability problems only when users register a complaint with the help desk.
Fifty-three percent of respondents find it challenging to monitor end-user experiences, and 86 percent of them say users report problems when infrastructure monitoring lights are green, notes Allen. He says:
IT is often monitoring its silos, checking the server is up and running, and therefore traditional monitoring is not sufficient.
The end user is "the ultimate judge of IT and business alignment," says Forrester analyst Jean-Pierre Garbani. He condenses the three major points of the research:
- SLAs often have little business value.
- Measuring the quality of service is not as automated as it could be.
- Most enterprises probably don't understand end-user monitoring or the monitoring software that is currently available.