Monday, July 21, 2008

Thinking about service levels

One piece that I've banged on about consistently for the last few years has been the importance of SLAs. SLAs that define not simply things like security and reliability (technical elements) but which also define the business contract and costs. These contracts must always work two ways. The consumer has a contract of things they must do to invoke the capability and have certain expectations of what they want. The service must have a contract of what it commits to do and what are the costs (time, financial, etc) for doing so.

In part this for me is about making pieces like network latency visible to developers and architects but more so making the actual business costs and value visible.

As an example take Paris, that city of surly waiters, stunningly dressed women and the complete decampment of people in August (lots of restaurants and shops are closed in August). Now every tourist wants to "go up the Eiffel tower" but if we look at the contracts here then there are other options that you could take from a "business" perspective.

What do you want to really do? The answer is get a birds eye view of Paris and see all of its wonders laid out before you. Now what are the wonders? The Louvre, Notre Dame, The eiffel tower, arc de triomphe. Now I'd argue that there is a service out there which costs less, in both time and money, which provides a better view, because the Eiffel tower is in it and which therefore represents the best business choice.

So the choice is basically queueing at the Eiffel tower

Or viewing at the Tour Montparnasse


The point here is that its a contract that enables this visibility and choice to the developer/architect/business rather than it being something implicit in the behaviour of a service. If you don't know what the contract is and most importantly what its price is (remembering that time is a cost after all) then you can't make a rational decision. Note here that I'm not talking about UDDI style dynamic discovery and binding I'm talking about making business decisions on a contractual basis.

Another example from Paris (if you haven't been to Paris BTW, stay in the 6th when you do, its "real" Paris in terms of being what you imagine). Now people catch trains and often you want to have a meal or a snack before you travel. Each of these places offers a varying type of contract which broadly covers the following
  • Quality of food
  • Quality of surroundings
  • Speed of service
  • Cost
Now lots of train stations have fast food joints, sit down light bite places and even sometimes something where you can get a reasonable meal. The point as a consumer is that my contract is defined by when my train leaves as well as my budget, this impacts what service I will use. If I know about the services before hand however I can plan to arrive at an earlier point if there is something I want to go to.

Now in Paris at Gare de Lyon there is "Le Train Bleu" this is just about the best damned railway restaurant in existence. They have a set of different menus including a "short" (by French standards) one for those who are about to travel.

The point here is that the contract for what could seem to be the same service (food at a railway station) can vary hugely from fast food through to a gourmet experience in an amazingly decorated french restaurant the contract isn't simply about price, or time, or quality, or trust its about a combination of those things and then weighing up which makes the most sense from a business perspective based on the current demands and ambitions of the business.

Exposing network effects to developers and architects is a tiny part of the problem, the real problem is exposing them to the business costs of their decisions and that requires a different degree of formalism and planning.

Once contracts are formalised it becomes possible to automate but the first key is being able to understand the contracts. There is still no WS-SLA or WS-Contract and the current push appears to be away from considering these elements and back to considering only technical aspects of service.

So think about the full contract not just on the immediately obvious this means not following the tourists in wasting 1/2 a day queueing for the Eiffel tower, but going to Montparnasse and having time to take in the cemetery and Jardin de Luxembourg and finishing up at Saint Sulpice having an espresso watching the beautiful people walk by. Now that is quality of service.

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1 comment:

Rob Eamon said...

Excellent description on what seems to me to be zeroing in on requirements at the right level. Too many times the "requirement" is presented as "must go up the Eiffel tower" (the how) rather than "view the total city and not spend half a day waiting to do so" (the what).

One challenge here is avoiding the perception of "you always over-analyze things--I just need A to talk to B. Why do you want to complicate this?" Of course if you just make A talk to B in the way they think they want, you may get skewered later for an inflexible solution.

I think a key is in understanding the business to the same or better degree than the various project participants. Only then will requirements planning, SLA and contract definition session turn into a collaborative discussion rather than an info extraction exercise.