Kevin Turner, Digital Workplace Strategy Lead at Unisys

Member Article

Beyond SLAs: Rethinking end user experiences with XLAs

by Kevin Turner, Digital Workplace Strategy Lead at Unisys

Many IT departments and organisations have been using Service Level Agreements (SLAs) to manage their relationship with internal customers for years. After all, SLAs can be a great tool to articulate expectations from a service provider, ensuring service targets can be agreed upon upfront and can be measured, meaning that the IT provider can report if targets have been met or not. It’s also possible to make clear contractual agreements on payment and penalties based on these quantifiable service targets. In essence, SLA’s are an outline of “what to do”.

However, with the rapid transformation of the digital workplace comes new levels of complexity. Managing this complexity can be aided by listening to employees and customers to understand the quality of their digital experiences. In order to track user experience, SLAs and traditional surveys are simply not enough, providing no value when it comes to ‘how well did we do it?’.

As a result, new experience-oriented scoring systems are becoming indispensable in modern working environments, in which the emerging need for Experience Level Agreements (XLAs) is booming – pivoting from managing IT services to providing meaningful employee experience, helping to drive business value.

Traditional SLA’s have little connection to the actual experience and are not aligned to modern methods such as continuous delivery that requires constant adjustment based on experience and results or outcomes. We also know from the 2018 Unisys Digital Divide report, within enterprises who invest in their workforce experience, workers are four times more likely to stay in their jobs.

SLAs are tick-box contracts

On the face of it, many businesses may appear to have smooth running service desks, with glowing performance management statistics – however, when digging further there is likely to cause for concern regarding employee satisfaction, which can drastically impact productivity and halt business growth. This is described as ‘The Watermelon Dashboard’, typically you may have green KPIs, but the sentiment of the community you are serving is actually very red. There is a big dichotomy of everyone telling you that things are ok, but every other sensory perception is stating that everything is far from OK. We want to move to a kiwi, green on the outside and the inside.

For IT to work, SLAs are essential as they turn vague concepts like uptime, system availability, and application performance into measurable outcomes. While SLAs are a key aspect of successful IT support, they don’t try to measure what employees are experiencing from their IT usage. Email might be available 99% of the time, but if email performance is terrible for 20% of that time, that doesn’t bode well for employees being productive and happy with their experience.

Since IT success is usually measured against service levels, it’s clear that IT will focus time and money on meeting these. SLAs are in essence a safety net to ensure issues are solved relatively quickly, providing a constant minimum level of service. While that’s really important, and certainly shouldn’t be overlooked, what they don’t do is proactively look at how to improve IT to avoid those issues in the future, or consider how to better provide employees with a great IT experience.

But what if IT was motivated and rewarded differently, in a way that places the focus on the people who are your organisation? This would place a priority on improving employee experience. Such behavioural changes could have a vast impact on businesses for the better, driving growth, generating brand loyalty, enriched employee engagement and much more.

An XLA is a commitment

An experience Level Agreement, or XLA, on the other hand, answers the question “how well did we do”. Starting with a desired experience ambition, XLAs empowers organisations with visibility into their employees’ experience with the provided technology. It shifts the focus from contractual service reviews and penalties to continuous service and improvement, using employee feedback and hard data to drive ongoing improvement and boost overall satisfaction.

By deploying XLAs that are directly tied to the organisation’s experience ambition with closed loop feedback cycles, data on how employees’ interactions with IT services make them feel, drives ongoing improvement to boost overall satisfaction. What’s more, instead of meeting arbitrary targets, XLAs measure both hard and soft data to discover how happy customers and employees are with IT services.

Of course, KPIs are still required in order to define what to do and how well to do it. The magic of augmenting with these with XLAs is the insight provided to businesses on how well they delivered. Businesses would do well to ask themselves how happy are their employees and customers with the services provided.

The speed in which companies address the needs of clients is all-important in today’s digital playing field. It’s important to remember that XLAs don’t replace SLAs. However, done right, XLAs augment and improve the insights you gain from KPIs.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Unisys .

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