Bringing A Business Focus To IT

Business executives are now demanding maximum results from IT investments. What are yougoing to do about it? Used effectively, Service Level Management (SLM) is a means to thatend. And, while most IT managers are familiar with SLM as a concept, few IT departmentsare taking SLM to the highest level, which means:

  • Going the distance to define the specific Service Level Objectives necessary to sup- port mission-critical business operations
  • Implementing specific Service Level Agreements (SLA) to support defined objec- tives achieving and maintaining required levels of IT service
  • Monitoring performance levels and reporting performance vs. expectations on a regular basis.

BOTTOM LINE PAYBACK

The payback is clear: IT is elevated beyond its traditional function as anoverhead-laden cost-center into the strategic role of a critical business unit relied uponto implement technology to support business objectives. This links IT as a contributor tobottom line productivity.

Regardless of the business, each year executives must create a formal business plan.Throughout the year, reports are generated to measure performance related to goals. SLMfollows the same premise.

Based on the business plan, SLM is used to identify and define business goals andtranslate that information into specific ways in which IT can support those goals (servicelevel objectives). Specific service level agreements push the objectives a step further byidentifying the performance needed from individual IT devices (servers, routers, etc.) andpersonnel required to support the objectives. For example, if e-mail is critical to makinga business objective happen, a company's service level objective may be to have thate-mail available 98% of the time. Other objectives might be to ensure that the e-mailsystem is capable of downloading or sending 1MB files at any given time, within a specifictimeframe -- five seconds, for example.

THE ABCS OF SLAS

Next, specific SLAs are designed to facilitate these objectives. For example, acompany's server may need to function at "X" capacity, while the network routermust function at "Y" capacity. In addition, the Ethernet links, or morespecifically its serial wide area links, must not run at more than 40% utilization. Allthese agreements are lined up in support of a specific business objective. Then, reportsare created regularly to monitor progress vs. expectations.

Whether a business selects HP tools such as the OpenView ITSM suite of products forinternal IT management -- or elects to use the services of an outside solutions providerfor remote systems management (which can also effectively be built upon ITSM) --implementing the SLM component is key. Without it, businesses may be reactivetroubleshooters, but they will not move to the higher level: the proactive,business-oriented approach to managing all elements of IT.

While most IT managers understand the concept of SLM, few are moving forward to definethe specific service level objectives and agreements. By implementing a formalizedapproach to SLM, IT will be elevated from the traditional role of "overhead"into a business center that contributes to the bottom line.

-- Daniel J. Gallagher spearheaded the development of ITWatch, Forsythe'sremote systems management service offering. He earned the title of Cisco CertifiedInternetwork Expert (CCIE) in May 1998.