Creating Business Value through HelpDesk Service Level Agreements

HelpDesk software and service level agreements (SLAs).

The concept of service level agreements (SLAs) has received a lot of attention over the last decade. In part this was fuelled by the need to monitor the performance of IT service providers in outsourcing deals. When spending thousands, millions or billions of dollars to someone else to manage your IT, there has to be some measure of performance. Metrics used in devising SLAs can range from the detail of individual issue resolution times to the overall performance and availability of a particular IT function such as email. The help desk is important to SLAs in two respects –

a) as a source of information on IT performance and issue resolution, and
b) the means by which any issue or problem is dealt with as effectively as possible to minimise the impact on service and on the service parameter being monitored.

With their value clearly understood in helping monitor value from outsourced service providers, SLAs have been increasing adopted to help direct and monitor the performance of in-house IT. SLAs are developed to monitor the provision of core functions (as mentioned above with email) but has become particularly popular for measuring the success of one of the most visible elements of IT, the user support helpdesk.

Segmenting IT HelpDesk customers and issues

SLA’s can drill down to any level of granularity, and a well thought out SLA scheme should take into account the impact on business of the activities being monitored. Not every function in IT has the same criticality, and criticality for any function may vary within each month or quarter. Access to the CRM system is constantly highly important, while invoicing in the second week of a month might be less vulnerable to a few hours outage than on the 30th.  Similarly, the potential commercial impact of downtime will be higher for some users than for others. Loss of a VoIP connection for the VP Sales in the middle of a key negotiation could warrant commercial priority over a purchasing agent looking for best price on paper clips.

A good SLA architecture will allow an organization to build a matrix of categories of problem and categories of user, and every cell within that matrix can have a SLA level assigned. Gold, silver and bronze are the usual quoted examples, but without an adequate architecture to categorize events, they might as well be nickel, tin and lead.

IT HelpDesk issue escalation – controlled by SLA

IT helpdesks are almost always equipped with escalation mechanisms based on combinations of event and time triggers. The parameters used to control this process need to be linked to the service level under which an issue is being processed. This is how you can ensure that appropriate resources are in play. The loss of VoIP connection for your VP Sales (above) needs diagnosis in seconds or minutes. That may involve routing the issue to a technical specialist, and may involve bumping an active issue until the VP’s VoIP session is restored – or at least until diagnosis indicates how the issue is going to be fixed. The point is that escalation and SLA level need to be related for every issue processed.

IT HelpDesk SLA and Issue Resolution Reporting

Every helpdesk solution today provides some level of SLA reporting, usually with percentages of issues fixed within parameters for each of the gold, silver and bronze levels. Where SLAs have been defined for entire functions such as email, the task of keeping them running does not usually involve the helpdesk directly. The helpdesk may receive the call that indicates a problem has occurred, but resolution of the problem will then fall to a specialist group, and that group will be responsible for measuring and reporting their performance under the email SLA.

Where an issue is managed solely by the helpdesk, the performance against SLA is the sole responsibility of the helpdesk. It can be very useful to all parties to have a clear record of how an issue has been handled, and this is something that Vector HelpDesk does particularly well, with actions, call records and email threads combined chronologically into a single audit trail for the issue.

 For more detail of these and other important helpdesk features, see the functionality available in Vector’s core web-based Issue Tracking engine.

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