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15 December, 2011 Service Management ITIL ITSM

SLM – The heartbeat of ITSM

SLM – The heartbeat of ITSM

This was my recent presentation topic at the itSMF UK event on Service Level Management held on 7th December. For me it’s a huge topic at the moment, particularly as it’s an area I know well, but also because there seems to be such a demand for basic information, knowledge, and guidance in this area.

My reference to ‘heartbeat’ is aimed at showing that what SLM does is provide a living pulse to the rest of the ITSM processes and working practices we all know and love (or maybe hate..). In other words, SLM is both a driver and regulator of what we do and deliver. Without the living business mandate we get from defining services and SLAs, our ITIL/ITSM processes have little direction or value – certainly to our customers and also to our staff, who need to see a clear relationship between what they are doing and the businesses that pay their salaries.

In IT we like having systems and models, methodologies, frameworks, and lots of acronyms – ITIL gives us plenty of that. What we seem to miss however, is the simple fact that we need to start by talking to and working with our customers, to understand what they need from us and then build our models, etc around this – not the other way around. I know that’s not the intention or the stated content in our ‘best practice’, but that’s the way it often seems to be interpreted and used. So the message is getting lost in the methodology.

Many organisations are still resistant to the whole idea of SLM, SLAs or defining services, often using the excuse that the ‘business isn’t interested’. No wonder, if the nature of any previous SLA project has resulted in IT-centric techno-babble and what IT thinks or judges to be important or interesting… Often this is seen by customers as arrogant and patronising. See my previous presentation on value from IT – are SLAs a waste of time?

However, if you are going to do proper SLM then it’s essential to start by engaging with your customers and investigating and agreeing on what their important outcomes and ‘moments of truth’ are – i.e. how and when the technology is needed to deliver. We then work back from there to build our ITSM processes and structure – or in reality re-adjust our existing structure to support this.  I’ve recently written more practical guidance on this in a white paper on Service Catalog, (sponsored by Hornbill Systems).

I’ve had conversations recently where SLM/SLAs have still been rejected by the IT department, yet they also want to improve the quality and value of their reporting and how they are perceived by their businesses – there’s a direct connection there…! What I do also see, fortunately, are many more organisations now waking up to the reality that SLM is vital to their success and how they can demonstrate their value – pity this has taken so long.

One reason for this is that SLM is (rightly in some ways) perceived as being low-level and operational – i.e. how we respond to things going wrong. The introduction of BRM (Business Relationship Management) into the framework at a more strategic level is therefore a positive move (although the concept of good account management has been around for many years).

However both BRM and SLM to me should be seen as the central nervous system of IT and ITSM – otherwise, we are simply running complicated corpses rather than fully functional beings.