Sat by the pool during my holiday this summer, a member of the waiting staff handed me a watermelon smoothie, writes Karen McLaughlin, VP EMEA Services, Insight.
Apart from its refreshing qualities, the drink’s vivid red colour really struck me. Thinking about it, watermelons are quite misleading – green on the outside, but red on the inside. This is perfectly acceptable at the poolside, but in the world of business promising one thing and providing another can seriously damage customer relations.
Where do watermelon SLAs come from?
The term “watermelon SLAs” was created to reflect the concept that IT service-level agreements may not reflect the actual service that is provided, or the service experienced by users.
The watermelon analogy comes from the fact that they might appear green on the outside, suggesting everything is running to schedule but are in fact red on the inside, where challenges or obstacles are being overlooked.
This problem originates from an era when businesses were heavily reliant on outsourcing their IT operations. Consequently, outsourcers would look to bring together similar processes in order to create repeatable procedures and solutions. Over time this approach was aimed at reducing costs, with SLAs in place to outperform fierce competition.
Often regarded as a measure of service quality, SLAs can provide a misleading measurement of success. Green dashboards may lead the IT department to think they’re doing a great job, but clients who are not receiving the experience expected are only seeing red.
Spotting the warning signs
By their very nature, watermelon SLAs are not all they seem, so identifying them could prove a difficult process. There are four warning signs that can help you identify and execute them to ensure the focus is on setting SLAs that drive the best possible customer experience.
This is where the provider has a whole host of SLAs for different elements of the service. For example, often there will be different SLAs for applications and infrastructure. However, from the client perspective, they are interested in the experience they receive, so measures should relate back to user experience. Finding shared measures and documenting accountability will clearly allow segmentation without fragmentation.
ITIL processes (Incident, Problem, Change) can often be viewed as a journey, from an incident being is raised, to how progress is communicated and the issue is resolved. By taking a step back to think about these measures, and how they relate to that journey, you can ensure clients get what they need. This means time needs to be taken to build a thorough understanding of why the problem occurred, its root cause, and ensure preventive measures are taken to resolve the issues. SLAs that make it difficult to find and solve issues can cause a major problem.
You must have the right measure, for the right channel, at the right time. Using the wrong channel to get work done can prove wasteful. For example, somebody waiting in A&E for a medic to treat their ear ache, rather than going to see their GP. The key is to use metrics to drive the right behaviours across both consumers and suppliers.
SLA schedules are often meticulously designed by teams on both sides to ensure they are not giving anything away. The delivery team is then left to manage a difficult relationship, where a number of parties use SLAs to beat suppliers while others try to hide from their accountabilities. These measures, which are often complex mathematical equations, have a sliding scale of penalties for set failure levels.
However, you need to question whether this drives the right behaviour for users. By keeping things simple and automating where possible, all sides will be able to track progress via dashboards, having a reasonable idea of how the services are performing. This results in focus on the improvement of customer experience, rather than putting time and effort into tracking SLAs.
No More Watermelons
Regardless of whether they’re buying exotic fruit or checking progress against SLAs, people expect to be clear on delivery – at all times.
Watermelon SLAs can get in the way of the truth – so organisations must be wary of the four warning signals and work to eliminate fragmentation, dissociation, differentiation and complexity from present and future SLAs. Implementing this will allow them to focus on driving a positive customer experience, which in time will prove a real differentiator against the wider market.