SLAs: A CIO's Guide to Success

Today's service level agreements are distinguished by clear, simple language and a tight focus on the business. For IS groups that use them, the benefits can be substantial.

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Internal IT groups do not have a true arm's-length relationship with the business like an outsourcer does, says Scott Maddern, vice president of sales and marketing for Integris, a Billerica, Mass.-based outsourcing company. IT will still have to send someone to the CEO's office at a moment's notice to do whatever is necessary to get the computer working again. "The reality is that the SLAs get thrown out the window in these kinds of situations," says Maddern.

Monitor the Use of Resources as Closely as You Do the SLAs.

Resources such as staff time are an important part of SLA negotiations and the performance measurement process, says Maddern. By setting resource allocations for each SLA—1,000 person hours per month for desktop PC support, for example—IT can monitor the amount of resources applied to the particular SLA and a particular department. The goal is not to limit resource commitments but simply to make it clear who is gobbling up resources, he says. "The CIO is usually forced to spend the extra money to serve the needs of X business unit [no matter what the SLA says]. But then when you go back and discuss costs and services with the business, there's a tighter correlation between the two."

SLAs Require Constant Vigilance and Maintenance.

At a big company like Sun, the power and relevance of SLAs ebb and flow with the level of focus that business and IT management devote to them. Over the last two to three years, for example, management's focus has moved to other things, and the SLA effort has fallen off commensurately. Quinn says that as CIO he has to force SLAs onto the agendas of top business executives at Sun to bring their attention and support back to SLAs and avoid the perception that Sun is "done" with SLAs now that they have been implemented. "We're at a stage where SLAs are accepted and understood," says Quinn. "But they don't maintain themselves. It's something you have to continually reinforce and maintain."

Copyright © 1998 IDG Communications, Inc.

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