Service level agreements and service level management
Service level management and SLAs are key parts of the ITIL® approach to service management, although they are now becoming more and more commonly deployed outside the service management and ITIL arenas.
In general, service level agreements are commonly used for setting out how two parties have agreed that a specific service (usually, but not necessarily, IT-related) will be delivered by one party to another party, and the standards or levels to which the service will be delivered.
Service level management on the other hand deals with the monitoring and reporting on service levels. It ensures that the service levels within the SLAs are monitored and, if they are not met, the relevant processes are informed so that they can take the appropriate actions.
Why are service level agreements used?
At a simplistic level, network and internet service providers use SLAs as a means to describe the minimum service to which they are prepared to commit themselves. At a more useful level, SLAs are used between independent organizations, as well as between divisions of the same organization, as an effective means of setting out the planned relationship between the two.
The key word in 'service level agreement' is 'service'. It relates, in other words, to services, not to products. Product specifications and supply requirements are efficiently dealt with through traditional procurement arrangements.
SLAs must contain clearly defined levels of service; these levels must be capable of measurement, and they must be directly relevant to the effective performance of the service supplier. An SLA that doesn't contain meaningful, measurable levels of performance is not worth the paper it's written on.
Finally, the SLA must be agreed. They are not a weapon for one organization to beat another with and they are not therefore a panacea to all the ills of poor existing service. Those poor performance issues have to be resolved, and a clear future level agreed, before an SLA can be drafted and agreed.