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The Key to Quality Service Level Management

Aug 15, 2005

ITSM Watch Staff

By Karsten Smet - Page 2

Operational Level Agreements
Now we understand where the agreement comes from and how IT can meet their customer's requirements. Operational Level Agreements (OLAs) are internal agreements within IT, and do not rely upon services from an external supplier nor include the internal Business Customer to meet their SLAs.

To ensure a successful SLA, it is imperative that multiple functions and processes within IT work in tandem. A vital piece of Service Level Management and must be conducted prior to the SLA negotiation is the review of any OLA and UCs that are directly responsible for that service. What is the point in creating a SLA, when internally, between support teams, there are no agreements?

An OLA follows a very similar (if not identical) structure to a SLA. It can contain the same requirements such as hours of service, responsibilities, and support details etc., however the internal support groups inter-dependencies are very different to those outlined in the SLA which encompasses the business perspective. This means the focus and language used in OLAs will usually be more technical than in SLAs.

It is acceptable to have OLAs that do not focus on typical SLA items such as Availability and Service Hours but are merely a set of statements agreed between IT areas because there is no specific Service to measure. A good example is between an IT department and IT procurement where there is no IT service, but the IT request has to be purchased in time to support SLAs somewhere else in the business.

A common misconception is that every SLA has a specific set of OLAs in place. This would result in departments having multiple, potentially duplicate, OLAs and would be unmanageable and impossible to measure. An example of an OLA that every IT organisation should have in place is between the Service Desk and the support groups. This is vital in restoring service and hence part of meeting all SLAs.

OLAs are notoriously difficult to get in place, as some internal departments often feel more pressure than others do. It begins an interesting internal IT battle and it is important that the Service Level Management team be empowered to make decisions.

Underpinning Contracts
Underpinning Contracts (UCs) are contractual agreements with third-party suppliers of IT support to your IT Organisation. It is vital to keep these up to date and ensure that the third party will provide required levels of support as necessary. This is different to an OLA and a SLA because it is contractual. Once agreed upon, these targets MUST be met and failure to do so may well result in legal action.

The UC will be full of legal jargon so will be larger and more complex to read than an SLA or OLA. The important thing to remember when writing and agreeing on an Underpinning Contract is to ensure you aim the objectives at the correct level. For example if your normal Service Hours are too long the Contractor may charge more for their service, if they are too short an Organisation may incur large costs for out of hours support. This is a fine balance and one that is the responsibility of the Service Level Manager and their team to manage accurately.