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Challenges, Critical Success Factors and risks. One challenge faced by SLM is that of identifying suitable customer representatives with whom to negotiate

One challenge faced by SLM is that of identifying suitable customer representatives with whom to negotiate. Who ‘owns’ the service? In some cases, this may be obvious, and a single customer manager is willing to act as the signatory to the agreement. In other cases, it may take quite a bit of negotiating or cajoling to find a representative ‘volunteer’ (beware that volunteers often want to express their own personal view rather than represent a general consensus), or it may be necessary to get all customers to sign.

If customer representatives exist who are able genuinely to represent the views of the customer community, because they frequently meet with a wide selection of customers, this is ideal. Unfortunately, all too often representatives are head-office based and seldom come into contact with genuine service customers. In the worst case, SLM may have to perform his/her own programme of discussions and meetings with customers to ensure true requirements are identified.

On negotiating the current and support hours for a large service, an organization found a discrepancy in the required time of usage between Head Office and the field office’s customers. Head Office (with a limited user population) wanted service hours covering 8.00 to 18.00, whereas the field office (with at least 20 times the user population) stated that starting an hour earlier would be better – but all offices closed to the public by 16.00 at the latest, and so wouldn’t require a service much beyond this. Head Office won the ‘political’ argument, and so the 8.00 to 18.00 band was set. When the service came to be used (and hence monitored) it was found that service extensions were usually asked for by the field office to cover the extra hour in the morning, and actual usage figures showed that the service had not been accessed after 17.00, except on very rare occasions. The Service Level Manager was blamed by the IT staff for having to cover a late shift, and by the customer representative for charging for a service that was not used (i.e. staff and running costs).

Care should be taken when opening discussions on service levels for the first time, as it is likely that ‘current issues’ (the failure that occurred yesterday) or long-standing grievances (that old printer that we have been trying to get replaced for ages) are likely to be aired at the outset. Important though these may be, they must not be allowed to get in the way of establishing the longer-term requirements. Be aware, however, that it may be necessary to address any issues raised at the outset before gaining any credibility to progress further.

If there has been no previous experience of SLM, then it is advisable to start with a draft SLA. A decision should be made on which service or customers are to be used for the draft. It is helpful if the selected customer is enthusiastic and wishes to participate – perhaps because they are anxious to see improvements in service quality. The results of an initial customer perception survey may give pointers to a suitable initial draft SLA.

Don’t pick an area where large problems exist as the first SLA. Try to pick an area that is likely to show some quick benefits and develop the SLM process. Nothing encourages acceptance of a new idea quicker than success.

One difficulty sometimes encountered is that staff at different levels within the customer community may have different objectives and perceptions. For example, a senior manager may rarely use a service and may be more interested in issues such as value for money and output, whereas a junior member of staff may use the service throughout the day, and may be more interested in issues such as responsiveness, usability and reliability. It is important that all of the appropriate and relevant customer requirements, at all levels, are identified and incorporated in SLAs.

Some organizations have formed focus groups from different levels from within the customer community to help ensure that all issues have been correctly addressed. This takes additional resources, but can be well worth the effort.

The other group of people that has to be consulted during the whole of this process is the appropriate representatives from within the IT provider side (whether internal or from an external supplier or partner). They need to agree that targets are realistic, achievable and affordable. If they are not, further negotiations are needed until a compromise acceptable to all parties is agreed. The views of suppliers should also be sought, and any contractual implications should be taken into account during the negotiation stages.

Where no past monitored data is available, it is advisable to leave the agreement in draft format for an initial period, until monitoring can confirm that initial targets are achievable. Targets may have to be re-negotiated in some cases. Many organizations negotiate an agreed timeframe for IT to negotiate and create a baseline for establishing realistic service targets. When targets and timeframes have been confirmed, the SLAs must be signed.

Once the initial SLA has been completed, and any early difficulties overcome, then move on and gradually introduce SLAs for other services/customers. If it is decided from the outset to go for a multi-level structure, it is likely that the corporate-level issues have to be covered for all customers at the time of the initial SLA. It is also worth trialling the corporate issues during this initial phase.

Don’t go for easy targets at the corporate level. They may be easy to achieve, but have no value in improving service quality or credibility. Also, if the targets are set at a sufficiently high level, the corporate SLA can be used as the standard that all new services should reach.

One point to ensure is that at the end of the drafting and negotiating process, the SLA is actually signed by the appropriate managers on the customer and IT service provider sides to the agreement. This gives a firm commitment by both parties that every attempt will be made to meet the agreement. Generally speaking, the more senior the signatories are within their respective organizations, the stronger the message of commitment. Once an SLA is agreed, wide publicity needs to be used to ensure that customers, users and IT staff alike are aware of its existence and of the key targets.

Steps must be taken to advertise the existence of the new SLAs and OLAs amongst the Service Desk and other support groups, with details of when they become operational. It may be helpful to extract key targets from these agreements into tables that can be on display in support areas, so that staff are always aware of the targets to which they are working. If support tools allow, these targets should be recorded within the tools, such as within a Service Catalogue or CMS, so that their content can be made widely available to all personnel. They should also be included as thresholds, and automatically alerted against when a target is threatened or actually breached. SLAs, OLAs and the targets they contain must also be publicized amongst the user community, so that users are aware of what they can expect from the services they use, and know at what point to start expressing dissatisfaction.

It is important that the Service Desk staff are committed to the SLM process, and become proactive ambassadors for SLAs, embracing the necessary service culture, as they are the first contact point for customers’ incidents, complaints and queries. If the Service Desk staff are not fully aware of SLAs in place, and do not act on their contents, customers very quickly lose faith in SLAs. Critical Success Factors

The main Critical Success Factors for the Service Level Management process are:

  • Manage the overall quality of IT services required
  • Deliver the service as previously agreed at affordable costs
  • Manage the interface with the business and users.

The risks associated with regard to the provision of an accurate Service Catalogue are:

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