Expectations with service-level agreements

PALM DESERT, CALIFORNIA (03/10/2004) - A service-level agreement is a lot like a two-way street. When a written agreement is in place, partners on the business side can articulate their requirements. At the same time, IT can hold those business partners to specifics about their volume, availability and performance needs.

"The kernel of service-level management is to push the question of, 'Should they understand each other's needs and requirements?' The key benefits are to both parties," said Daniel Kaberon, IT director of computer resource management at Lincolnshire, Ill.-based Hewitt Associates LLC, a human resources outsourcing and consulting firm with some 15,000 employees worldwide.

In a speech to a packed room at Computerworld's Premier 100 IT Leaders conference here in Palm Desert, California, this week, Kaberon described the benefits of these agreements, which satisfy business partners' needs for deliverables and accountability and force them to specify the level of service they're willing to pay for.

Without those expectations clearly defined, said Kaberon, IT runs the risk of providing more service than is needed, which can be expensive and wasteful. Or it might provide less than what's required and fail to meet the business's need. As the requirements change, such agreements can document those changes.

Service-level agreements provide resource management and regulation and maintain cost control within the operation. By managing the expectations of both business partners and IT, such an agreement sets the general operating framework for dialogue about service-level changes, said Kaberon. But these agreements shouldn't restrict IT's ability to go the extra mile for the client.

A 19-year veteran of Hewitt, Kaberon has been working with SAS Institute Inc. and using its IT Resource Manager software to collect data daily and tie it into SAS's new IT Service Level Management software. "It's not just metrics, but contracts embedded in the tool," said Kaberon. "It's all under one roof."

Because the right number and focus of measurements will always be indefinite, Kaberon described service-level management as more of a journey than a destination. And doing honest work with service-level agreements can be the basis for a more business-oriented and successful IT group.

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