ITIL In depth:  comparing and contrasting OLA & SLA

While it might seem as though (to some people that) an OLA (operation level agreement) and a SLA (service level agreement) essentially take on the same roles and duties, it’s important to note that they actually differ in some key ways.  For example, SLA is really about forging a connecting contract with a proposed customer or consumer base.  An OLA on the other hand, is an agreement between or rather, amongst those in an IT department, for instance.

It’s also important to note that you can’t really set up an effective OLA without first having established some form of SLA.  This is because the operation level agreement itself is basically a contract between the individual groups (often referred to as “silos”) of an IT department in relation to how their various service level agreements policies have been enacted and established.  Another way of simplifying the concept would be to say that service level agreements help to define larger operational cycles, and operation level agreements help push for more expedient delivery of services.

The ITIL SLA (service level agreement)
The prevailing point of any ITIL SLA is to create both a lasting and mutually advantageous bond between those seeking to provide services and those looking to receive them.  An SLA is really a set of policies which seek to protect both provider and consumer.  While the actual components of any SLA are going to be numerous and complexly designed, the chief goals are relatively simple.  An SLA must be able to:

  • Institute and / or design some form of (real-time) monitoring system that works
  • Outline its main objective(s) with regards to service delivery to customer
  • Create compensatory policies in the event of service shortfalls
  • Chart rules for all involved groups / individuals

Additionally there are basically four different types of service level agreements:

  • Corporate – Arguably the most complex form of an SLA, comprising many different potential roles and directions.
  • Service-specific – All language is focused toward creating policies for specific services which are set up to be delivered.
  • Multi-level – A type of SLA which is designed to work on multiple levels simultaneously.
  • Customer-specific – The focus is on customer satisfaction and compensation in the event of the unforeseen.

Ultimately, use of an SLA allows an organization to conduct business on a much larger scale.  Likewise, through an SLA, more meaningful long-term business relationships / partnerships can take place, which usually translates into more opportunities across the board.

The OLA (operation level agreement)
The operation level agreement on the other hand, is not directly concerned with customers (although through its processes you could say that it is, but indirectly).  An OLA is, simply put; a set of policies which are established and enacted amongst individuals or groups which comprise an IT department.   Often times an OLA is created in order to better facilitate an ITIL SLA.

Constructing an OLA not only increases overall efficiency from a departmental perspective, it also helps create a more balanced operation overall, with much less potential for emergence of issues or crises.  Additionally, IT managers love operation level agreements because they foster the notion of accountability from all individuals throughout the entire department.   Moreover, an OLA is also often used to help delineate both group goals and individual roles, which eventually translates into increased ability and efficiency.

How do these do concepts (OLA & SLA) relate to ITIL, exactly?
Both operation level agreements and service level agreements are administrative elements / policies which seek to improve the ability of IT to consistently perform its duties (as a whole).  ITIL does the exact same thing, only from the perspective of providing methodologies for maintaining and improving upon IT infrastructure.  While it is certainly possible to run an IT organization without the use of ITIL, it certainly will not improve things in any respect.  This is to say that through the application of ITIL methods and practices an organization can significantly improve on its ability to deliver on current services, meet increasing demand, avoid crises / issues, and of course, create additional value through deflating operational costs.

The simple fact of the matter is that ITIL helps to build a better, stronger IT department through application of knowledge and wisdom.  This is because the ITIL itself is nothing more than a collection of the most meticulously researched and effective methods for servicing IT infrastructure that has ever been devised.  When you take on the task of training or becoming certified in ITIL, you are literally filling your mind with the brilliant concepts of hundreds of IT gurus.

In order to truly capitalize, or rather, maximize one’s ability to enact or carry out an SLA / OLA it is important to have your entire IT team aboard the “ITIL express”, so to speak.  The facts don’t lie, IT departments with higher percentages of individuals certified in ITIL not only provide better, more consistent service(s), they’re also better at facilitating the goals of their entire company (which is crucial given the vital role that IT and technology plays in today’s modern business environment).

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