How to Agree an SLA when There Is No Customer

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There are situations, when it is difficult to agree an SLA because... there is nobody to talk to. There seems to be no ownership of the subject on the business side. Everyone uses the service, but nobody really feels he or she is the customer. Just users everywhere; no decision-making power. They seem to have varied and undocumented expectations and they rightfully complain when they are not met. How to avoid failure?

No Customer? How Is This Possible?

This specific problem with agreeing an SLA is mostly experienced for company-wide services. No single department feels the ownership of the business requirements. Everyone uses them, right? No department can make decisions for the rest of the company.

In theory this could be resolved on the board level. Sometimes it is. Often, however, the topic of email SLA (to use it as an example) is not the favorite subject of board meetings. For some reason, they tend to prefer sales strategy, cost control and other similar subjects. Email has to work. Order processing too. From the board perspective, all of that should be hands-off operation. Sounds familiar?

Customer Segmentation

Divide and conquer strategy has been utilized effectively throughout centuries. You do not have to become Caesar or Napoleon of ITSM, but it still has a lot of use for you. It can be applied to this situation by dividing your customers into distinct segments, and addressing them individually.

Talk to the manager of each department within your company. That is the starting point. It will help you understand what steps to take next. After that, you have two options:
  1. Service-based SLA with multiple service tiers
  2. Customer-based SLA
Service-Based SLA

This type of SLA focuses on a service (obviously). The trick in this specific situation is to build into it multiple tiers of service, e.g. gold, silver, copper. You could make them different particularly by the level of response to incidents. Knowing the requirements of all the departments, it should be possible to add additional factors that will differentiate each of the service offerings.

The next step is to agree, who within each of the departments will be eligible to each of the service levels. Each of those users should be marked appropriately in the ITSM tool. I would recommend a healthy proportion of 70-20-10.

Notice, that in this approach you define service levels and group them into standard offerings. The focus of the discussion is who is eligible to each of them, not what they are. The what has been standardized. The catch here is to have the gold service be very close to the higher end of business expectations. This way, you will make it clear that it is being offered, but only to a limited subset of the users.

Customer-Based SLA

An alternative approach would be to go for a customer-based SLA. It is focused on a particular department and addresses a group of services used there. It automatically creates clear accountability on the business side.

One clear benefit of such approach is higher level of involvement from the business side. The department head will be the sole decision maker which will make him much more interested in the results of the process. The key thing to keep in mind in this case is to focus on one SLA per department and include all relevant services in it.

Your Turn

Think about some of your services and their SLAs. Did you have such issues? How did you solve them?


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