WRITTEN BY JON PANELL – SALES & COMMERCIAL DIRECTOR AT DIGITAL SENSE
As Sales & Commercial Director at Digital Sense, I have regular discussions with multiple parties about service levels, from opportunities won and lost to contract negotiations and re-negotiations. These service levels cover a range of products and services, from existing services to “what’s next” for products and solutions, and in-service management situations – good and bad. All this makes me think long and hard about service levels.My view is that there are many decisions, desires, and outcomes which would make anyone question what value service levels hold. How much do business leaders or technology decisions makers and advisors consider what service levels mean? Let me put to you some of the scenarios and conversations I’ve had, and observations I’ve made, over the last few months.
This is not to suggest that Digital Sense has no failings, we are a growing business with our own problems and pains – but I do believe our ethos, our culture, our goals and our journey are different. At Digital Sense, we must aim to be different, to be the best and to have relevance in a highly competitive world.
For those with intimate industry experience, it’s clear that a multi-cloud, private to SaaS – and everything in between – is the right strategy. However, I do see that the evaluation and ongoing assessment process isn’t always as complete as is deserved by the businesses these decisions are being made for.
It’s my hope that my experiences can help others when considering Service Level Agreements (SLA).
There is a significant misunderstanding between service level responsibility or accountability – financial or otherwise – between service providers and customers. For the most part, the largest providers make it your responsibility to achieve availability, performance and often recovery – “Durable is not Recoverable”. Sure, a component has an SLA but often a failure is only measured as a whole; the onus is on the customer to prove the event, and the scope of accountability is mostly limited. Is that what the business executive or customers understand and expect?
Decisions of assessment and advice often seem to be made without this consideration. To paraphrase some potential customers, regardless of better service levels, “when X service from a hyper-scaler is down, everyone is down. I won’t lose my job for that”. This claim is the “I won’t get fired for buying blue” mentality of years ago and surely isn’t good enough? Does size matter or does it have to do with accessibility?
The Faceless Disconnect
Does familiarity, or in this case accessibility, breed contempt? Are customers’ expectations of Service Provider capabilities and service levels different because customers can see the face of the Service Provider? How can a service delivered with an anonymous swipe of a credit card compare to that of a local service provider?
Being local, being someone the customer can see, talk to and strategise with is something to be celebrated, yet, many view locality and accessibility as a weakness, not a strength.
Is it because customers can’t easily talk to the large, anonymous Service Provider that they are okay with swiping their credit card and accepting the risks?
Do they let the Service Provider get away with providing less service for a higher cost just because they can’t see them or talk to them?
As an example, would you ask the Hyper-scaler what servers they use on the backend to house your data? Of course, you wouldn’t. What do you think the Hyper-scaler would do if you sent them an email saying you weren’t going to use their cloud services unless they could guarantee that they used a specific Hardware? I doubt they would even read your email let alone respond. And, there is nothing you can do about that. But customers believe they can make these demands of local Service Providers. It doesn’t make sense. Customers and Service Providers should focus on the value derived from the service, not the underlying architecture that drives that service.
There seems to be a different approach to assessing and holding accountable service providers from legal, compliance, risk, commercial and executive stakeholders. I’ve been in negotiation situations where the legal departments have been asked how they have implemented a desired service level and/or commercial penalty with their SaaS or Hyper-scaler. A flurry of internal discussion generally follows this question, no doubt exacerbated by “the tail wagging the dog” in terms of the business side-stepping normal process in seeking agility. This situation is interesting to observe, and I think it deserves some attention.
Customers want and need service levels that target the experience of their internal and external customers, not the infrastructure- even if the customer is after an infrastructure only solution. Customers are looking at new infrastructure because they want something from the new systems that their current ones are not providing. It isn’t about the infrastructure; it is about what the customer isn’t getting. It may be less relevant when a workload is born of the new world, but many customers are moving traditional applications which aren’t built for the new world onto next-gen infrastructure designs. I 100% agree that these requirements are ultimately the right thing, and organisations like Digital Sense should and can address them, but to achieve this requires a partnered approach that many providers can’t and won’t provide. Additionally, the transition steps and the cost to transition aren’t well understood and accepted.
Complications of Perspective
When determining what they want from a solution, customers need to question the motives of those tasked with advising them: self-service or self-serving? How reliable and unbiased is the advice given? How transparent is the advice? Anyone in our industry knows that influencers, advisors, consultants, and integrators make money from the advice they give, often in the complexity of migration, and in the payment to the service provider for selecting them. Ask yourself: why is the consultant or advisor recommending a Service Provider? It is common practice for Vendors or Providers to provide incentives to consultants to recommend their services or equipment. At times, those services or equipment are the best for the job, but customers must question whether the advice they have been given directly benefits them and their business requirements, or whether the solution presented benefits someone else first, the customer second. Whilst this observation isn’t SLA specific maybe it should be. Businesses are being built at times on a one-eyed view.
Service Provider and customer partnerships should be mutually beneficial, and when drafting a Service Level Agreement, this relationship should be foremost in each party’s mind. Business is business, and everyone is working to further theirs. But, does your business grow by doing as little as possible to achieve a set outcome? Let me ask this another way: Is doing just enough, managing your customer agreements to the lowest contractual service level the best way to do business? Or, are you working in partnership with your customers to progress both of your companies? Are you providing a service or are you building a relationship?
I don’t have all answers to the above issues but, watching what goes on, I think we as an industry owe it to ourselves, our futures, and to the futures of the businesses we represent and service to think about how we can all move forward together.
Bring on the multi-cloud world.
But, please, bring on some rounded assessment.
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