Are we witnessing the death of the Service Level Agreement (SLA)?


Reflecting on interactions with clients over the past few weeks, I realize our conversations no longer revolve around Service Level Agreements (SLAs). There was a point not too long ago that SLA commitments were a cornerstone of each deal. Now, the dialogue has shifted to: How can we improve the employee experience? How can we improve their productivity? How can we blur the lines between home and work? It’s all about Experience Level Agreements (ELAs) now.

Metrics drive behavior, but SLAs have not driven the right behavior. Service providers compete to deliver SLAs at the lowest possible price points. The result? Users and businesses suffer as the Quality of Experience degrades.

Providers may trumpet their greatness with green light SLAs, but these “watermelon metrics” mean that, despite green SLAs, users / businesses are often left red with frustration. It is quite pointless if a service that supposedly “delivered well” fails to help the business meet its objectives.

This is not to say SLAs don’t matter any longer. Customers need guaranteed uptimes and resolution times, but what is more important is the users’ experiences with the service.

SLAs take a very technology-centric view of the service, whereas ELAs deal with how it is received by the user. The key is to understand the business/user expectations and connect those to relevant IT goals.

Similar thinking can be used when thinking about the employee experience as well. Technological advancements mean employees are coming into work expecting the same experience with technology as at home. As the war for talent rages on, companies that provide great employee experience will attract and retain the best talent.

But who is accountable for driving experience for both employees and customers?

So far, it has been the responsibility of the IT organization. HR, using new technologies of their own, could certainly drive employee experience, and product managers, with support from marketing, could better understand and lead the customer experience. Or perhaps a new type of “CeO” – a Chief Experience Officer – in charge of employee and customer experience, could emerge.

Already, customer experience experts are being hired around the globe. The next level of maturity would be to create a function focused on driving experience: a team – under this new CeO – that wakes up every morning worrying about improving employee and user experience.

Irrespective of who drives this charter, the shift is clear. From an inside-out to outside-in perspective. From technology to user (business) centricity. From Quality of Service (QoS) to Quality of Experience (QoE). From SLA to ELA. The watchword in today’s Digital era: Experience!

Sabyasachi Das (Saby) is the Product Engineering leader for Workplace & Mobility in DXC Technology. He has been in the industry since 1994, spending the last 16+ years with HPE / DXC. He joined the company in 2001 as a Business Manager in California. Prior to HPE, Saby worked with IBM selling mainframes to enterprises across India. Saby has also worked with leading Indian IT companies like HCL and Microland in various functions across Marketing, Sales Support and Field Services (Customer Support). He is currently based out of Bangalore, India.


  1. I agree and I have been saying this for years! Customer Satisfaction is the most important metric!

  2. Dhananjaya P says:

    Interesting I am sure lot will have change as part of the Business model to track

  3. Very well written Saby.

  4. hello Saby, I very much agree and indeed I raised this as an issue at the DXC customer advisory board in New York. My Organisation , Uniper, would be happy to reset our joint targets

  5. Nataraj. says:

    Saby – As much as I agree, what do you suggest should be the alternative to SLA apart from CSAT. Any examples or best practices across Organizations for a BFSI domain.

  6. Prashanth N says:

    Very well articulated. Thanks

  7. Interesting as to how we might measure and track ELAs. Or are ELA’s a proxy for end-user satisfaction surveys? From a contract perspective, one would not want to be held to ELAs unless a supplier was responsible for both designing and running the relevant service for which the ELA was being measured. Indeed with the increasingly fractured nature of IT outsourcing, the client’s CIO is probably the only person who has enough control over the end user experience for an overall ELA measure to be meaningful.

  8. Dhaivat Oza says:

    Hello Sabyasachi, completely in agreement. A very good insight on today’s market..!! Compliments to you for articulating it so well.

  9. Praveen BV says:

    Fantastic article indeed! Really a new line of thoughts after reading this. Thanks much Saby!

  10. Srinivas Kollur says:

    Interesting thought, but earlier we had people suggesting to move from SLA to BLA(business outcome level agreement) but that also didn’t see much progress beyond measuring transaction times or transaction productivity. ELA is a good thought but it will be interesting to know some examples here about what those experience measures can be. For example, people can also argue that a service desk agent responding to a phone or chat in 30 seconds is an experience SLA, while others might say that it is old fashioned. Or the server uptime of 99.999% is a traditional infra SLA but fact that it is usable (Uptime is defined as when server is available in a functional state) for 99.999% is an experience level agreement.

  11. Rajesh Mohan says:

    well said, indeed reflects the current expectation in apt manner. have seen accounts in red in spite of SLA being green preciously for this reason.

  12. Sarvendra Vikram Singh says:

    Great thought but how ELA is different from traditional Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) surveys? and bigger challenge is to define and measure ELAs..

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