This documentation supports the 21.05 version of BMC Service Level Management. To view an earlier version, select the version from the product version menu.

Approaches to managing service levels

Use any of the following commonly used approaches for managing service levels.

Tactical approach

The tactical approach to managing your service levels is the least developed of three models. This approach focuses on the immediate needs of IT by monitoring and collecting individual metrics, which provide little or no compliance measurements. Companies employing this model normally have an understaffed IT department whose members spend a majority of their time fighting the daily problems.

Organizations employing a tactical approach find themselves totally focused on a few of the most critical services to their business. The service level metrics consist of a wide variety of infrastructure and possibly some service support Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). To please users and business owners, some members of the IT department believe this set of measurements delivers a good picture to determine the health of their business services. Unfortunately, this approach to managing service levels ends up being not much more than another IT monitoring tool, and does not satisfy the requirements for the ITIL process of managing service levels.

Bottom-up approach

The bottom-up approach is a more traditional way to manage your service levels and is more comprehensive than the tactical approach. A bottom-up approach focuses on managing service levels from an IT point of view, rather than a business view. IT is the focal point for how service levels are designed, deployed, and administered.

Most IT departments are divided between teams tasked with delivering a service and teams that provide support to the service. This division between service delivery and service support can create interesting points of conflict, as each group has a different view of what managing service levels means and what should be done to fulfill these service levels. The service support team focuses on how well user issues are serviced, how well questions are answered, and any changes in the supporting environment. The service delivery team focuses on the infrastructure itself, addressing transactional throughput and response; network, system, application and database performance; and infrastructure uptime, as being critical to a business service's success. Both approaches are correct, and each is an important part of delivering an end-to-end business service. However, these teams rarely coordinate their efforts.

IT silos develop in the bottom-up approach, and this separation is re-enforced by the different viewpoints. The service delivery group purchases tools to track and report on the metrics they think are important, and the service support group takes a similar path. In the end, business owners are left to struggle and make sense out of the multiple service level reports received from each of the teams, detailing how well each silo met customer expectations. In times of service outages or degraded performance, blame between the teams can happen, creating confusion and ultimately, dissatisfied customers. In some companies, service delivery might not be a single harmonious group but might consist of many different teams that are organized around infrastructure layers such as network, servers, and applications. A similar story might unfold with service support teams aligned with different service support processes, like incident, problem, change, and asset management.

The bottom-up approach is very IT-centric, where Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are in silos based on IT teams, service type, or geographic region. These SLAs are often represented in terms well understood by IT but rarely translate into any true business need.

Top-down approach

Unlike a tactical or bottom-up approach, implementing a top-down approach is driven by the needs of the business. The idea of a top-down approach is not a new concept, but process definition and best practice guidelines, such as ITIL and Cobit, have provided a strong framework that corporations have recently used to make fundamental changes in the way IT conducts itself in alignment with the business.

The top-down approach begins by understanding the company's current and future goals and objectives. The IT department usually has a good idea of the current and near-future business model and ideas of what is to be expected in the near-term. However, future business objectives are not usually distributed outside the realm of the business owners. Future business objectives are a critical piece of the plan, especially if big changes are forthcoming. Pursuing a top-down approach requires a lot of up-front work and coordination between business owners and IT. Research is required that involves the collection of detailed information about your business goals, services, and the various service offerings both currently available and planned for the future. The main objective of the top-down approach is to understand your business and align IT with the business strategy. This approach allows the business to drive the actions of those that deliver and support the business critical services.

There are many things to do when implementing a typical top-down approach to managing service levels:

  • Identify all of the major services that support the organization. Your list should include services delivered for both internal and external users. Internal services can include email, telephone service, business applications, and requested services. External services would include services delivered to users or customers outside your organization.
  • Define the service offerings based on customer expectations. A business service can be delivered to various user communities, and these communities might have different needs. Gather supporting financial information, including potential revenue and additional IT expenses where applicable. Some of this information can be maintained in a service catalog application or simply in a spreadsheet.
  • Identify all responsible parties for the business services and their service offerings. Responsible parties include representatives of the service user community, those supporting the service, service owners, and business relationship managers.
  • Assemble all information that defines contractual agreements between the responsible parties. These agreements might be well documented or could be a simple unwritten expectation of the users.
  • Review the agreements to make sure they make sense to the customer receiving the service, as well as the IT providers. An example of a poor financial match is where the customer expects sub-second response times for an application but might not be able to afford to pay for the infrastructure required in order to meet their expectations.
  • Quantify a per minute or per hour cost associated with the unavailability or degradation of each service offering. Understanding these cost calculations helps later in the process to prioritize IT staff actions.

After you have documented each of these topics, you are on your way to aligning your service providers to your business. Understanding the needs of your business, the users you are serving, and the future business direction are all critical to establishing a solid strategy around managing service levels.

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