Let’s talk – defining our current service agreements and planning for the future

The topic of this blog is really Service Level Agreements or SLAs for short. SLAs record a common understanding between service providers and customers about services, responsibilities, performance timelines, and a number of other things depending on the SLA. Some think of an SLA as a legal contract between a service provider and a customer. I am going to try and convince you that SLAs are a good thing and not a boring tedious process of back and forth negotiations that leave people feeling exhausted and ready to kill each other.  

There are a number of verbal agreements in place between IST and the faculties and between IST and the academic support departments. The people that made these verbal agreements have since left the University. The first phase of IST’s SLA initiative is to document the current state of IST’s services provided to each faculty and to each academic support department. This should be pretty easy, and it is likely that the current state isn’t the desired state.

IST is working on different types of SLAs. One is focused on client service. Another SLA covers IST’s core infrastructure (i.e., the servers that run the applications you use and the networking hardware (wireless and wired) that connects computers to these servers and to the Internet.  There is another type of SLA and that is for core applications which include things like Quest, Home, Learn, and many others.

IST has staff assigned to help in most academic support departments and faculties. We have called these staff IST liaisons in the past, and now we are calling them account representatives. Right now the account representative role varies by the area. Maybe someday, the account representative role will be the same no matter what the area, but probably not in my working career. In some universities the account representative role is purely a business analysis role, meaning the account representative doesn't actually do any IT support but rather finds someone who can. This is not how we define the account representative role here.

IST will have meetings with the main stakeholders in all academic support areas and the faculties. These meetings should not be confrontational or stressful. Think of these meetings as communication opportunities. Remember that we first need to agree on the current state. The current state may not be the desired state, and I am guessing that will be the case for most areas. An important purpose of these SLA meetings is to document the desired state, which will allow IST to document the gaps between current and desired. IST Executive will meet to review these gaps and determine which ones can be acted upon in the short term, which ones are long term, and which ones are not going to happen with the current resources and funding. You should think of the SLA as a living document. It will change. They will be reviewed on an annual basis. Preferably the SLA review meetings should be held semi-annually, but we are looking at a minimum of 60 meetings each time and that’s one heck of a lot of meetings.

In closing, I am hoping the SLA process will be an opportunity for IST and the faculties and academic support departments to do a better job to stay in touch. IST is committed to improving services, and would like to add new ones. In order to improve services, IST needs to collect more metrics and we are working on ways to do that.

When I tell people that I have worked in IT at the University of Waterloo for 35 years they often say “you must have seen a lot of change in those years”. Yes, a lot of changes, and a lot more are coming. 

Thanks to our guest blogger, Bob Hicks.

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