The scratch you can't itch?
For the modern enterprise, digital applications and services are key to daily operations, this is not new. As such that means that the productivity of staff (and ultimately the business) is determined by the quality of IT services.
It makes sense then that the focus for the providers of these IT services, who are held accountable for their quality, is on technical performance, right? As a promise to provide a guaranteed level of quality/service to their customers, providers use Service Level Agreements (SLAs), which are comprised of a large set of agreements between provider and client regarding the expectations of the services consumed and based on technical metrics like response times and server up/down. Arguably metrics that were appropriate for the older, simpler technology of perhaps 10 years ago.
At an operational ‘is it up or is it down’ level, these metrics are still important – let it not be misunderstood that there will almost definitely be a lack/drop in the performance of IT services when the SLA has not been met, or the ‘lights are red’.
However, IT service management (ITSM) professionals will surely tell you that seeing that an SLA has been met is often far from a guarantee that service is satisfactory. This scenario is light heartedly referred to as ‘watermelon reporting’, the SLA will have been met and paints a perfect picture of performance, green all over – but beneath the surface frustrations are boiling over as users see red. In most cases this occurs because the technology is given far more attention than the people who consume it.
Despite this, IT organisations are still relying on these dated SLA models which have lingered around as comfortable box-ticking exercises before moving on to the next task. The risks to the organisation as a result are the behaviours that this reporting encourages. For starters, SLAs fail to align with business goals – blindly adhering without factoring in changing trends and direction of the business leading to stagnated and siloed IT functions. If the SLA is enforced as a KPI in IT teams then, as time-based measurements, agents will tend to act faster but compromise on quality, triaging incidents too quickly and risk missing vital information.
“When a measure is a target, it ceases to be a good measure” Goodhart's Law
This situation is not unique to ITSM. In economics, Goodhart’s law states that “when a measure is a target, it ceases to be a good measure”, which goes some way to suggesting why SLAs do not provide any useful engagements between service provider and client.
A more meaningful approach to service management combines both business and IT objectives, one that reflects human experience and creates a common language between provider and client. This would begin to align with the ITIL principle “focus on value”, enabling the two parties to measure, assess and improve on the outcomes that the client wishes to achieve. ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) is a framework used to guide businesses toward their objectives via optimal provision of their IT services.
A new lens to focus on value
If the traditional SLA were to be remodelled around the human experience of services with a view to achieving business goals, the ITIL framework would recommend re-designing an approach to provide a service and measure its delivery – not availability.
This would mean creating an SLA, or equivalent, that looks at the experiences of services and not just stale numbers. If, for example, a firm's traditional SLA for its video conferencing application were aggregated so that there was a maximum allowance of 1% downtime, would the teams who use it feel comfortable to do so if that 1% occurs during end of month reviews or perhaps when closing a new deal. Probably not – they’re the victims of ‘watermelon reporting’.
To strike a balance between reporting business performance and the technical delivery of IT services, one emerging solution is to create ‘outcome-based service level agreements’ (OBSLAs). OBSLA’s require a collective agreement between every supplier involved in the delivery of a service as to how each one will contribute to the management of the system to reach the desired outcomes for the business.
In its latest iteration, ITIL 4 stresses the need for this heightened level of collaboration between supplier and clients and the importance of transparency and automation wherever possible as part of its mission in facilitating value co-creation through IT enabled services. The new framework also recognises the human behaviour of users and their individual goals and limitations.
This represents a shift from managing IT from the inside-out towards managing expectations in the business and optimising the experience around IT. In the ITIL 4 model, where both internal and external suppliers understand their role in the delivery of digital services, legacy siloed blame cultures transform into relationships that are proactive between IT teams, their providers and the businesses that IT is there to serve.
Taking the initiative
With all that has been said here and that which has been echoed amongst the ITSM community – where can the alternative to the traditional SLA and ‘watermelon reporting’ be found? There is of course still the need for a contractual agreement to do business, but what is required has to go beyond the scope of service level agreements and bridge the execution gap between technology and business outcomes.
At Actual Experience, we are using a new solution to displace troublesome watermelons. Using our powerful human experience management analytics, which quantify wasted time when applications are slow or unresponsive and pinpoints where improvements can be made to mitigate lost employee productivity, we have created a common language for suppliers and their clients to unite under. Together they can now measure, assess and improve on the outcomes that clients wish to achieve so that they may align IT initiatives with the rest of the business.
Taking on the recommendations in ITIL 4 framework, our approach deviates from the traditional tech-metric reporting to focus on the various groups of individuals and their experience expectations. The aim is to enable service providers to demonstrate the value that they bring to their clients, and in-turn – improve the ability of their clients’ employees to do their jobs and for the end customers to transact with the business.
The standard SLA make way for Expereince SLAs (XSLAs) and Experience Performance Indicators (XPIs) – text based, action led status’ as to how employee productivity is being impacted by inconsistent or unreliable experiences. We align XSLAs and XPIs to the differing daily needs of various personas in an organisation, whether that means aggregating remote workers and those in the office or whether that is configuring to the various application types that a persona is more likely to use. The data pertaining to each of these personas' digital supply chain becomes automated by our analytics, reducing the time and effort involved in creating the initiatives that target weak links in the chain to optimise services that are being delivered.
XSLAs and XPIs take Actual Experience’ Human Experience Score and convert it into actionable information where either immediate action is required because employees are simply unable to do their job, or there is work to be done to prevent frustrating experiences. Otherwise an XPI will, unlike standard SLAs, show that employees are able to work effectively with the systems that they are using – where productivity is optimised. A kiwi if you will, green all over.
Our human-centric approach delivers mutual benefit for both service providers and their clients as the former becomes invested in providing better experiences for the latter. Previously this relationship may have been fractious, with systems management reporting being the bone of contention. Now, suppliers can become consultative business partners assisting their clients towards their objectives.
Want to learn more about Experience SLAs and Experience Performance Indicators? Get in touch to find out how you can place human experience at the heart of your digital strategy.