ITSM

Service Level Management: Tying it Together With SLAs, SLOs, and XLAs

August 20, 2020

Service Level Management: Tying it Together With SLAs, SLOs, and XLAs

Quality service and providing value to service desk users is a sure way to boost employee engagement. In fact, if employees aren’t satisfied with their requests and providers aren’t finding ways to improve their experience, what purpose does the service desk have? Service level management (SLM) holds IT pros accountable for services they’re providing to customers. But a common problem that arises from this strategy is fulfilling the parameters set within service level agreements (SLAs). If you’re not meeting your end of the bargain once the agreement is made, where is the value?

The end goal is more than just fulfilling an SLA, but to deliver quality service by creating internal goals, establishing trackable measures, and reaching targets throughout the entire service lifecycle. Here are the different aspects of SLM that make up the service desk’s value to an organization.

Service Level Agreement

An SLA is a documented agreement that sets business standards to maintain quality of service between the requester and provider. This is an external promise made to the requestor. There may be different levels of formality for the SLA depending on the service, but in the context of IT support, there are often automated actions that take place if the SLA breaches. Maybe it’s reassigned to another technician, or the priority is escalated, or a manager is notified. One way to view this is “This ticket will be resolved in 8 hours. If it isn’t, XYZ will happen.” SLAs should be the structure service desk teams follow to drive resolution.

In addition to creating the SLAs, the organization needs to be able to track and benchmark their quality of service, giving insight into when change and improvements are necessary. The SLAs alone should help drive individual tickets and services toward resolution, but there needs to be broader organizational follow through and evaluation of performance, which leads us to service level objectives.

Service Level Objectives

An SLO is an internal objective for the service provider. This is an internal promise IT teams make to themselves. “What standard as a service technician am I going to be held to? The goal is to satisfy the SLA __% of the time. The team won’t have more than X amount of breaches per month. I’ll answer X amount of calls in under X amount of minutes.” And so on and so forth. SLOs set benchmarks or targets for your goal, taking into account availability, throughput, frequency, response time, and quality of service. They define acceptable performance standards and require service desk leadership to ensure the objectives are met, which helps create accountability around the SLAs that are promised to end users.

In other words, you can create all the SLAs you want—one for every possible type of ticket or breach, but if there is no oversight within IT, they may breach frequently without performance improvement. There’s nothing worse than a help desk with dozens or hundreds of breaches to the point where they are often ignored. That environment will almost always have a negative impact on end users. Going over reports and evaluating regularly with team members can ensure targets are met, and also help determine how valuable these agreements are in delivering your desired user experience.

Incorporating Experience Level Agreements

ITIL 4 notes that SLM includes four skills and competencies, one of them being relationship management. As previously stated, IT pros have a duty to deliver services and improve the customer experience. This is where SLAs differ from experience level agreements (XLAs). XLAs provide insight into how the service was received by the customer, where IT pros use “digital empathy” on top of carrying out what they promised. That experience doesn’t end once the service has been fulfilled, but continues by asking customers what went well and what needs improvement, sending them surveys, following up with them weeks or months later to ensure the service they received is still up to par. The SLA can be viewed as the foundation of the experience level agreement (XLA), and the customer experience envelopes the SLA and SLOs.

In ITSM, service level management is ultimately a strategy to drive a better experience for internal employees with IT. Setting SLAs is a great start, but it’s important to create some avenues for follow through, evaluation, and improvement to better meet the needs of your customers.


Like many IT professionals, Liz’s entry into the tech industry was unconventional. With plans to pursue a career in public relations, Liz’s career quickly took a turn toward technology. She got her start working as a customer success manager with a research platform for the financial industry prior to joining Samanage, now SolarWinds Service Desk. Prior to becoming a SolarWinds Head Geek, Liz served as the technical point of contact for SolarWinds Service Desk customers. In this role, she combined the best of both worlds: her passion for communicating with prospective and existing customers while leaning on her multiple ITIL certifications to provide ITSM best practices to help alleviate pain points, work smarter, and streamline service desk operations. Liz is a formally trained public speaker and is actively involved in the service management community, participating in and hosting podcasts, webcasts, panel discussions, and speaking at large-scale industry events. She attended James Madison University where she earned a B.A. in Communication Studies. She's ITIL 4 certified and has never met a dog she didn't want to adopt.