The Service Level Management Gap


    In yesterday’s blog entry, I referenced an online Network World article that discussed the terms of SLAs. Today, I’m going to feed you results from a survey done by Oblicore, a company that sells a service level management solution. Although the report they’ve provided online here doesn’t reveal all the survey results, there’s plenty there to think about.

    The survey results come from the responses of 396 people. Service providers made up 53% of respondents and client organizations made up 46%.

    Here’s what stands out for me among the responses from client organizations.

    The SLAs they deal with aren’t just with external service providers. Many of them are in the position of providing internal services or other parties. Nearly 90% of enterprises have SLAs with internal departments and business units, 34% with external customers, 37% with partners, and 64% with external service providers.

    Three-quarters of those respondents say their companies proactively monitor SLAs to ensure compliance. And 42% over-deliver or over-provision services to meet SLA requirements. That’s the same number that report that problems in complying with SLAs may result in the outsourcing of at least some of their organization’s IT functions.

    A third of companies believe that service delivery problems are reducing financial and operational performance.

    Nearly six in 10 respondents report that they have found the effort of proactively monitoring SLAs more time consuming and complex than expected.

    So how are companies monitoring their SLAs? For the data coming into the systems, 72% rely on system monitoring tools, 66% use help desk tools, 65% use network management tools, 57% use application monitoring, 37% use end-user monitoring tools, 32% use business applications, and 28% have proprietary systems.

    Yet, in evaluating the incoming data, 52% of enterprises use a manual process involving spreadsheets and word processing documents. Another 42% have a “homegrown reporting application.” Just 8% use a commercial management tool, such HP OpenView Service Desk, Peregrine Service Center, Tivoli, Remedy or Oblicore Guarantee.

    As we all know, the use of tools also requires the use of people. Forty percent of companies said they employ one to three people in SLA management. Eleven percent have more than 20 on the top.

    The methodologies they use vary, though ITIL and Six Sigma were both cited.

    So let’s see. There are wide variety of places where SLAs should probably be implemented — to monitor internally delivered services, services delivered to partners, as well as those coming from service providers in outsourcing relationships. A third of respondents believe that service delivery problems are hitting the bottom-line performance of their organizations — and even more expect that problems in complying with service levels could result in more outsourcing of those services. Many over-deliver to make sure the numbers are hit. Management of service levels is hard to do and labor-intensive, yet few companies use dedicated reporting tools or methodologies highly applicable for the job.

    There’s a gap there that doesn’t need to exist in many organizations. Companies are making a “best effort,” an approach “based on hard work and good intentions,” as the report concludes. That means IT and its managers are being “heroes” — people who will do whatever it takes to make things work out, rather than applying their ingenuity. Miracles aren’t a sustaining approach. Maybe it’s time to return that message from the Oblicores and like software publishers of the world the next time they call.