Is the Service Provider / Customer Model Flawed?

I’ve been busy of late preparing our recently announced Business Relationship Management Workshop. The workshop programme has set me thinking about many of the practical areas of IT service management and how organisations can make sense of the documented best-practice and successfully adapt it to the benefit of their the employer organisation.

I have absolutely no doubts about the importance of the Business Relationship Management (BRM) role to the successful provision of IT services but I do wonder if the artificial segregation of the business and IT into customer and service provider is the most effective way of handling this critical relationship.

There are numerous other examples of specialist service departments within business organisations: HR, Finance, PR, Estates, and CSR. The heads of these departments would be horrified if they were not considered to be part of “the business”. So why does IT continually place itself at arms-length?

I am reminded of the story of the US politician who visited NASA. A keen gardener himself he was interested in the activity of the man working in the neatly-tended flower beds. Approaching this man, the politician enquired as to what he was doing. “Sir”, came the reply “, I’m helping to put a man on the moon!”

Part of the answer is our attempt to design one model that covers outsourced as well as insourced IT. Part of it could be the sheer size and intensely specialist elements of IT. Part of it could be the attitude of the business itself – not understanding IT and therefore introducing intermediaries to translate business language into technical requirements and vice versa.

A key objective of the IT Service Management Training that we offer is to foster an increased awareness of business priorities within the internal IT service provider staff. Should we not, therefore, strive to achieve the ultimate goal of everyone taking ownership of the business, its mission and goals?

There lies the rub!

I suspect that even if we achieved this magnificent goal, the business would still want to deal with the ‘techies’ at arms-length. It is an imperfect world. This is why we need IT professionals who can bridge the divide. We need IT professionals to fill the role of Service Owners, Service Managers and Business Relationship Managers. These professionals essentially take on the responsibility for continually seeking opportunities to exploit Information Technology to further the aims and objectives of the business.

Until the day dawns when the technology is understood by everyone, when business objectives can be achieved without whole armies of technical staff, we will need these vital intermediaries.

Stuart Sawle

The Real Value of SLAs

It’s really quite remarkable just how many organisations struggle to implement Service Level Agreements (SLAs). They’re documents that lie at the very heart of service management. They are absolutely fundamental. So why is it so difficult? Why are they not given the priority they deserve?

Well, first of all, they are an agreement and that means there has to be a dialogue!

To draw up an agreement between the internal customer and the internal service provider one has to agree and understand what the service is intended to achieve; what business objectives does it help deliver; and to ensure that specific and measurable service targets are agreed, measured and reported on.

A good starting point would be to begin the dialogue with a review of the current de-facto service levels and to gather the information about the business drivers so that the customer is reassured that these are fully taken on-board as discussions continue and the SLA takes shape.

Second of all, the SLAs have to add value to all parties and in particular to the IT service provider. I have seen many instances where SLAs have been written and now gather dust in a filing cabinet unlikely ever to see the light of day again.

Examples of “adding value” might include the ability to respond to interrogations such as: which SLAs are scheduled for review? Which customers are dependent on this SLA? If I have to change an operational level agreement (OLA) or an under-pinning contract, which SLAs will be affected?

In my experience, the greatest value of all that comes from the SLA dialogue is the increased understanding of the importance of the Service Design stage of the service lifecycle. Service reviews often reveal weaknesses in the current service brought about by poor design. The lessons learned here not only lead to improvements in the particular service under review but can lead to improvements in the service design process to the benefit of all future services.

There are few tools out there to support SLA management. We have such a tool (Smart-SLA) in our bag that helps and plans to extend its functionality to include OLAs and under-pinning contracts. Details can be found on our website:

The Mysterious Service Design Package

This week, I went to the itSMF regional meeting held at the Co-op Bank HQ in Manchester. We were privy to two superb presentations from the Co-op team. Ian Macdonald set us thinking about base-lining and benchmarking but, for me, the star of the day was Andy Birds who talked about the Mysterious Service Design package.

Anyone who has been around IT service management for a while will have lamented the lack of involvement of application developers in the overall service design process. For all too long, services are declared “live” even though the operational requirements of maintainability, availability and reliability have not been properly considered. The team at Co-operative Bank has taken this crucial area of service design to heart and embraced the service design package.

Andy was able to demonstrate that by paying due regard to the communication and documentation flow, from service design to everyone else downstream of an implementation, not only was there a considerable dividend in the quality of the implementation but that the total cost of ownership (TCO) was reduced.

Sure, things don’t always go by the book. When other pressures come to bear and incomplete services just have to go live, the Co-op team are not only well able to allocate responsibility but, more importantly, gain acceptance of the risks and consequences at the appropriate level.

There aren’t that many case studies around of successes in service design. This certainly was one that deserves a greater audience.

Stuart Sawle