When a customer walks into a bakery and asks for a buttered roll and a large cup of coffee with cream and sugar, the expectation is that within a few minutes, the person behind the counter will respond with a small white bag and a cup with a lid on it. In the bag, the customer will expect to find a sliced roll with butter. In the cup, the expectation is that the coffee contains the right combination of sugar, cream, and water.
With much larger bakeries, such as Panera Bread, the process is more systematized. The corporate parent outlines how much milk and how much sugar is added to coffee. And a measured amount of butter is added to the roll, so that the overall company can operate more efficiently.
But for a "mom-and-pop" bakery, there are fewer, if any, processes.
Processes for the small IT shop
In the IT world, the situation is similar, at least concerning the issue of Service Level Agreements (SLA) and Service Level Management. Most, if not all, large enterprises have SLA/SLA Management in place. From the CEO down to the receptionist and from servers to laptops, the IT department is clear on what the priorities are, how much time they have to service particular ticket-types, and when they have failed to abide by the SLA.
And more and more, IT SLA/SLA Management is seen as strategic to a company's operations. After all, the more efficient IT servicing is, the more efficient the company will be as well. So even for managers as high as the CIO level, SLA/SLA Management is given significant attention, as it will impact the overall performance of the company.
However, for smaller companies, it's less likely that any form of SLA/SLA Management will be in place.
So why is this the case when it seems that there is no downside to a company being equipped with SLA? After all, SLA is designed to make the company more efficient in how it handles any issues that may arise concerning IT. And SLA Management helps the company understand whether the priorities it has put in place are correct and whether the company is benefiting as a result.
Why smaller companies don't implement SLAs
There are two key reasons that small to mid-sized companies generally do not implement SLA/SLA Management. First, these companies may believe that they are not large enough to gain the efficiencies that an SLA/SLA management has to offer. If the company has 300 employees, perhaps everything takes place on such a small scale that SLA/SLA Management may just get in the way.
The second, more prevalent reason why these companies do not employ SLA/SLA Management is the belief that the economic and resource cost of implementing such a program will simply be too significant. A company with one IT administrator will not be able to follow through on its SLA if there is a significant sudden increase in the number of service requests. If that same company decides that IT is important enough, perhaps it will hire a couple more IT technicians, but then it has its profit line to be concerned about, due to the new cost of two additional employees. This is the situation, even though the CEO knows that judgment of prioritization is likely to be impacted negatively for his or her company in such cases.
As a result of these two factors, the current paradigm for mid-sized companies is not only that SLA/SLA Management is not employed, it's not even considered part of "Running a Business for Dummies."
The obvious question is, "OK, if that's the case, then why consider SLA/SLA Management if I'm the CIO (or CEO) of a 300-person company?"
There are four simple answers, which add up to one large simple one.
- Every company should know how well its IT resources are working.
- Without standards of acceptable service, there is no motivation to improve.
- Without analysis of service requests and their responses, the CIO (or CEO, for a smaller company) remains in the dark about potentially growing IT issues.
- IT is becoming more strategic to every company (bakeries aside, perhaps), given the level of business activity that now takes place in a computer environment.
The overall answer is that, given how strategic IT has become for most companies, it must be treated in a strategic fashion. A sales-oriented company would never cut corners concerning sales approaches. A research-oriented company would never skimp on R&D plans and processes. And a service-oriented company would do almost anything before reducing its attention to service.
But all companies today must pay attention to IT, because IT drives almost any type of business today.
So given the very real financial and resource constraints that mid-sized companies have, how can they implement SLA/SLA Management without breaking the bank?
The answer is that just as IT is much more prevalent for any organization than it was even ten years ago, the approach a company can take to fulfill the need for SLA/SLA Management has evolved as well.
While SLA once meant employing a full team of IT specialists, several of whom would be responsible for directing traffic and ensuring that all activity and response was consistent with the SLA in place, today the situation is different.
Automated SLA/SLA Management, which utilizes the power of IT to simplify the traditional approach, means that the IT resources can be used only for service request response, meaning that IT as a whole will be run in a more efficient manner, and then the SLA in place will be smooth as well.
I may be biased, considering that SysAid has built SLA/SLA Management capabilities into our IT help desk product, but nevertheless, I encourage all companies, regardless of size, to introduce an SLA/SLA Management program, especially given the automated and simple options out there. It will help your company's IT. It will help your company's performance, both in the short and long term.
But most importantly, it will give you peace of mind to know that your organization runs according to SLA Management. And with that level of comfort, you can afford to take a few minutes to enjoy a buttered roll and a cup of coffee once in a while.
Oded Moshe is the Director of Product Management of SysAid Technologies Ltd., a leading global provider of IT Service Management (ITSM) and Customer Service Support (CSS) software.