Service-level agreements (SLAs) have become standard operating procedure for organizations. It makes sense: In a distributed digital world, companies need to ensure services will be available as required, while providers must be able to stand on their reputation for meeting service targets.

The problem? SLAs are naturally restrictive; as noted by CIO, some companies are now shifting away from SLAs because they’re unable to meet the rapidly-changing needs of mobile-enabled and IoT-driven tech environments. In addition, service-level agreements can’t account for the human factor: Employee experience. Sure, the dashboard reads as “all green”, but does that mean employees are satisfied with the IT experience? Or are SLA metrics hiding bigger issues?

While SLAs remain a critical facet of IT services, there’s an emerging need for experience level agreements (XLAs or also abbreviated ELA) that focus on what services employees are consuming and how improved service can help drive business value.

Standard Operating Procedure

According to Tech Target, an SLA “ensures a minimum level of service is maintained.” These documents were critical in a burgeoning cloud marketplace where new providers emerged every week but not all could live up to their own hype. Service-level agreements set out expected standards for uptime, bandwidth, latency and incident response time along with penalties imposed if providers weren’t able to meet agreed-upon targets.

And while these agreements paved the way for more stable cloud services, they also came with caveats. First and foremost? SLAs are effectively “good enough” in writing — so long as providers met SLA obligations, there was no need for improvement. But as organizations began looking for constant improvement in IT environments this quickly became restrictive. Broken promises were also an issue: Many contracts contained ambiguous wording that let providers off the hook. Even if culpability was acknowledged, the loss of revenue and productivity caused by service failure far outweighed any minor compensation.

The New Experience

XLAs, meanwhile, focus on service but shift the metric. Instead of meeting arbitrary targets, XLAs measure both hard and soft data to discover how satisfied customers and employees are with IT services. It’s a critical factor: As noted by recent research, while service providers continue the “race to zero”, data shows that many companies are willing to pay more for better service. Why? Because staff expect the ability to leverage cutting-edge cloud services, connect to corporate networks from mobile devices and easily implement new IT services. XLAs measure what matters to employees: Day-to-day experience.

In addition, XLAs shift from service reviews and penalties to a model of continuous service and improvement. By deploying XLAs with closed loop feedback cycles, data about how employees interact with IT services and how they feel when they encounter specific issues drives ongoing improvement to boost overall satisfaction.

Carl Buehnen (often misattributed to Maya Angelou) puts it simply: “They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.” 

Of Watermelons and Kiwis

Secrets, lies and assumptions. It’s the other interpretation of SLA, one that often mimics the enterprise experience.

Think of it like this: Typical SLAs are like watermelons. Large, heavy and green on the outside — but a completely different color and consistency within. While they look appealing, there’s often a disconnect between what companies think they’re getting and what’s on the plate.

XLAs, meanwhile, are like kiwis. Small, lightweight and consistently green throughout. They’re exactly as advertised and don’t overcomplicate IT environments with complex language and arbitrary expectations. Instead, continuous improvement of the end-user experience takes precedence over hard numbers to provide consistent growth.

SLAs aren’t dead, but XLAs are gaining ground. Bottom line? It’s time to toss inflexible metrics and streamline tech agreements by focusing on what matters most to your organization: end-user experience.