By Matt Arnold

Before organizations can effectively implement service level management (SLM), they must have a clear understanding of the business initiatives. They must also understand how IT can support these initiatives by enabling the effective integration of technology so that the information necessary to make decisions is produced and presented in real-time.
Service level agreements have become quite common. In fact, some IT organizations have entered into SLAs that cover just about every aspect of their business processes. Service level management encompasses the responsibility to demonstrate that your expectations have been met and to supervise how an SLA is working within your organization. Business does not want, or need, a myriad of SLAs across the various units of IT. They need a few comprehensive SLAs that further define the deliverables of the IT organization in terms meaningful to the business.
Like any set of key management processes, successful SLM requires a commitment at the highest levels of management. Although the rigor of adopting and implementing new management practices may not seem very appealing, the alternatives could prove to be even less appealing to those who are charged with delivering IT services to their respective companies. You must be able to measure what you have management responsibilities for. If you can’t measure it, you can’t effectively and efficiently manage it.

The payoffs
The bottom line is this: IT should have a holistic, business-focused attitude about the management of service levels. This will pave the way to effective service level management and produce two critical results:

  • A higher return on investment in IT expenditures: By using the needs of the IT customer to specify the capabilities and behavior of the IT infrastructure, costs and business benefits are understood early in the cycle.
  • IT meets business needs more consistently: The business users’ needs become known by working with them during requirements development and planning activities. This way, IT analysts can help them understand whether their expectations can be met within the fiscal constraints of the IT organization. As a result, they become part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

When functionality and usability demands are combined with performance requirements, business and IT are more closely aligned on the expectations of a particular application. It is important to look beyond functionality and usability.

If the performance requirements are not met, cost and inefficiency are built into the process rather than removed. By using rational design and measurement requirements that are planned, built, and managed by business and IT, expectations are set, and IT is able to more effectively support and enable the business.

The pitfalls
Common SLM implementation pitfalls can be easily avoided when you know what to look for. The most common problems tend to fall into two categories:

  • Destined to fail:This involves treating SLM as just another service level agreement exercise, tool purchase, or way to measure the technology environment.
  • Falling short of potential: This occurs when your organization lacks a holistic approach to SLM that fails to realize the full benefits that effective SLM can offer.

With direct input from the business, and by using a holistic approach, a well-planned and well-executed SLM will help control IT expenditures and reduce failures that result from missed expectations—allowing IT to get down to business.

Matt Arnold has consulted with multiple Fortune 500 companies on major IT project implementations, including call and problem management, knowledge management, and service level management. Throughout his career, he has done extensive theory and research in small group communication and provided guidance, leadership, and training on the subject. His experience as an author includes Synet Service Corporation white papers, as well as writing and contributing to articles that have appeared in The World Class IT Service Management Guide and Human Capital Strategies & News.

With service level management growing in importance, what trends do you predict within this discipline? Which tools have been the most helpful to you so far? Post a comment below or send us a note.