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The Service Agreement

The next critical ingredient in every service is the service agreement (SA). This is also commonly called a Service Level Agreement or SLA. From a customer perspective, the SA defines the essence of service quality and the perception of ITSP performance in relation to that. This is where the art of negotiation with the ITSP is important. In terms of the business bottom line, the SA can have a great positive or negative impact to the business if it is unclear, ineffective, not followed, or breached regularly. Chapter 6, "The Service Agreement," is devoted to the detailed content and negotiation of the SA. It is important before you negotiate the terms of a SA, that you understand the ITSM terms and how they relate to the SA in order to be sure that the SLA you agree to is achievable and will work in practice.

  • Service Desk—A service desk is a single point of contact for all your service needs. By having a single point of contact with your ITSP, you eliminate the need to troubleshoot problems yourself to determine the possible cause, and then know who to contact for help. A central premise of ITSM is that the customer should not have to troubleshoot a technical problem. This is the role of the ITSP, and the customer should only have to contact the ITSP to start the process. Every ITSP should offer a service desk. Many ITSPs will offer a variety of ways for making contact; via telephone, web, and fax are common.
  • Incident—This is the term used to describe an unexpected occurrence with a service. The customer is experiencing something unusual. This could include not being able to access a program, a service is not responding as it normally does, or something has broken. Every ITSP must have an established process for managing incidents that should include conducting an initial investigation by having the customer describe the symptoms and determining the best means for dealing with the incident. This will often be done by the service desk agent either on the telephone, or using remote support technology to physically take control of the equipment.
  • Problem—This is a term an ITSP uses to identify that a service has experienced multiple incidents of the same type for which the underlying cause is still unknown. Generally a problem is a recurring service issue that is still being investigated to decide how to fix it. Customers are helpful in reporting each incident they experience because it will quickly uncover a trend and might actually prevent a major service outage from occurring. Your ITSP should use a problem management process.
  • Service Request—This is a process used by an ITSP for managing ad-hoc or predefined requests by the customer. These could include such things as moving computer equipment, creating a new user account, or buying new equipment.
  • Availability—This term refers to the service being available for use by you. Generally, this will be documented within a service level agreement or service report and expressed as a percentage (98.0% available during a time period) or a period during a cycle (9:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday to Friday). This is important to you because most service quality issues stem from a lack of availability or unpredictable period of down time.
  • Capacity—This term relates to the ability of a service to meet the size or volume needs of the customer without degraded performance. An example of this is an email account that is sized for 6 GB of storage. There is a direct relationship between capacity and cost. The ITSP should use a capacity management process to predict, based on your business usage and growth projections, what levels of capacity are needed, and when, before you suffer a service failure for lack of capacity.
  • Demand—This term is used in two ways by an ITSP. First, it is used as a trending pattern of how business customers use services. This will generally be measured over a typical business cycle. Second, it is used in a technical way to measure and monitor business activity patterns against service capacity and potential uses for additional services or customers. It is a key element in capacity planning and service costing.
  • Service Level—Likely one of the better-known and important terms for the customer, this term refers to the parameters of service quality the customer pays for and the ITSP ensures. Often, this will be expressed in a variety of ways, consistent with how service quality is viewed by the customer, such as response time for incidents or requests, hours of service availability, targets for measuring quality or satisfaction, parameters for making changes, and costs for the service.
  • Service Agreement—This is commonly referred to as the SA and is the documented terms of the service levels for each service. An SA can include multiple services or a single service. There are industry practices for what should be included in the SA. The SA is often a quasi-legal document between the ITSP and the customer that stipulates how breaches of service are reported and dealt with.
  • Utility—This term refers to the usefulness of a service for the customer. It refers to how fit for purpose a service is and is measured against the business need. It should be defined during the design stage and not after the fact.
  • Warranty—This is the term used to describe the way a service performs against its intended design. It refers to how fit for use a service is.
  • Service Improvement Plan—This term refers to how an ITSP prepares to improve service quality through a cycle of measuring performance, looking for opportunities to improve upon them, or to address a deficiency noted and agreed as such.
  • Service Portfolio—This refers to a form of managing services that uses a strategic approach to viewing services as assets and investment strategies. Services are viewed as a whole and exploitation of assets for enterprise return on investment benefits.
  • Service Catalog—The service catalog is part of the service portfolio that is a tiered view of the services offered to customers for use. The tiered view offers a technical view of how service assets are combined in various service models, as well as packages for exploitation across single or multiple customers. The service catalog will often be the platform for customer self-service portals.
  • Service Change—This is anything that alters a service from its current state or needs to perform maintenance on a service. A service change can be requested by a customer or the ITSP. There is a cost involved for most changes. Your ITSP must use a change management process. Unauthorized and poorly planned and tested changes are the number-one cause of service failures and unplanned costs and lost revenue for the business.
  • Service Target—This term refers to a level of measure for a service that is an agreed level. This can be applied to availability, reliability, time between failures, length of change windows and maintenance periods, response time for incidents, and service requests. Almost every facet of a service measure will have a target. The service target is the base against which actual performance and metrics are applied to determine overall performance of the service and the ITSP.
  • Escalation—Periodically, a need for escalation will arise. This describes an established and agreed pattern for who should be involved and when. Escalation can be applied to service incidents and problems most commonly but also to most other service facets as well. Escalation generally identifies who, when, what, where, and how each level of escalation progresses.
  • Continuity—Discussed briefly in Chapter 2, "ITSM: The Business Asset," service continuity refers to the planning and agreement of the impact to the business in the event of a catastrophic service failure and will have a detailed plan about how continuity is managed. Every ITSP should have a continuity plan for services.
  • Reliability—This term generally applies to the level of stability that a service is expected to provide. A common metric for reliability is the average time between service incidents. It is used to measure overall performance of a service against the expected norms.

All of these terms are part of the IT service practices layer of ITSM and are where the meat of daily ITSM activities occurs. The list is a partial one that contains the more commonly used terms and those needed for dealing with ITSPs. You can find a full list of ITSM terms freely available on the web.

In the next chapter, we will begin looking at the anatomy of the ITSP. This is a good time to summarize a few key pieces of ITSM knowledge, as follows:

  • ITSM is made up of governance, strategy, compliance, audit, and daily service practices. They are applied within a service lifecycle and are mainly a collection of interrelated processes, procedures, activities, roles, and responsibilities.
  • ITSM looks slightly different in every organization, and the key is adapting best practices to fit your business needs.
  • ITSM is as important to your business as it is to the IT service provider. It saves money, reputations, and even entire companies.
  • Services are reflections of business needs that are driven by desired outcomes and managed by the ITSM lifecycle activities.
  • The service portfolio is the collection of services strategically planned for investment and value returns, including present and future services. Think of it as "what you want."
  • The service catalog is how the details of services are portrayed and a key item of understanding and communication between the business and the ITSP. Think of it as "how you want it."
  • Service levels are the terms and conditions that measure how you get what you want and how you want it. They are the formalization of expectation and delivery between the business and the ITSP.
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