Experience Level Agreement (XLA): User Experience as the central measure for evaluating IT quality

In the past, the focus of evaluating IT performance was primarily on metrics related to IT operations or associated performance (such as performance, availability, etc.). However, this focus is increasingly shifting towards the experiences that end-users have when using a particular IT service. As a result, "experience" replaces "performance" as the benchmark for evaluation, transforming the Service Level Agreement (SLA) into the Experience Level Agreement (XLA).

XLA - What is it?

The easiest way to define the term Experience Level Agreement (XLA) mis to contrast it with the traditional Service Level Agreement (SLA). In short, XLAs aim to define and evaluate the outcome and benefits of an IT service for the user, rather than making contractual agreements based solely on technical metrics, as with SLAs.

While SLAs assess the process or achievement of a goal, XLAs measure the result and the benefit of the service provided. The difference lies in the evaluation by the end-user. Thus, while the KPIs agreed upon in an SLA may give the IT department a sense of security that everything is "green," end-users may still complain about poor experiences despite seemingly smooth IT operations (the "watermelon effect").

Unfortunately, there is no universally applicable framework for XLAs that companies can use. Instead, they must be tailored to each company's specific IT environment, desired outcomes, and end-user expectations.

The following comparison provides an overview of the differences between XLA and SLA:

SLA - Service Level AgreementXLA - Experience Level Agreement
Measures IT performanceMeasures the outcome/benefit of IT
Assesses processesEvaluates the added value and productivity of IT services
Focuses on overarching goals without a clear picture of what is actually happening in ITDirectly focuses on end-user experiences and needs
Verification of whether IT projects are delivered within the correct timeframe and budgetary constraints - however, it ignores the true measures of project success.With XLAs, the business value can be increased, and end-user productivity can be enhanced.
Focuses on sanctionsFocuses on rewards
Measurement remains constantMeasurement goals change constantly


Benefits of XLAs

As mentioned, there are no standard specifications for XLAs that can be applied to every company. However, in practice, the following are general benefits of XLAs that can be realized within a company:

  1. XLAs evaluate the business value of provided IT services.
  2. XLAs lead to better collaboration between IT and business.
  3. XLAs provide additional motivation for IT operations teams.
  4. XLAs drive increased business value.
  5. XLAs ensure that new goals are always being pursued and that satisfaction with current achievements is never enough.

XLAs thus measure the benefit of provided IT services from a business perspective. This eliminates one of the most common pain points in service management, which is that it is seen as a relevant function from the company's perspective. With XLAs, you measure what matters, not just what happens in IT operations.

For example, instead of saying that 10,000 tickets were processed this month, the question should be: Why were there 10,000 tickets this month? This example not only demonstrates the transition from SLAs to XLAs but also indicates that the service provider or service owner should focus on the reasons for the tickets and which part of the end-user experience needs to be improved to reduce the number of tickets.

Addressing the issues that lead end-users to create tickets leads to more end-users reporting satisfaction with the service provided or experiencing increased efficiency compared to the previous month.

This is the point at which the company begins to listen and recognize the changes and impacts that IT can have on business value. Fewer tickets, more efficient employees, better service experience.

XLAs: What's in it for me?

As is usual when introducing a new evaluation method, this question naturally arises for all involved parties - especially if SLAs are already in use and one may come to the conclusion that everything is fine.

In the following list, we summarize the key benefits and changes in the way of working associated with migrating from SLA to XLA.

RoleFocus on performance (SLA)Focus on outcome/benefit/customer experience (XLA)
CIO / IT Manager / IT Management TeamSLAs are necessary to control what we and our partners do. If all traffic lights are green, we're good.I give my IT department the focus and direction to empower them to provide our end-users with good experiences. In this way, we as IT prove our value to the business and increase the productivity and satisfaction of our end-users.
Service Owner: Service ManagementSLAs must be met because this is what my superiors value.Together with my service providers, I analyze experience data and develop solutions to improve satisfaction and productivity.
Service Owner: End User ServicesIt is the responsibility of the service desk whether people are dissatisfied with the service. I only operate the service and orient myself to metrics like "uptime" or availability.I monitor and analyze the experiences of my end-users to ensure that the IT service meets their expectations. They are my allies, and I want them to be able to do their work productively.
Service Owner End DevicesI optimize the cost structure for our devices and develop policies for them. Every unspent euro is also an earned euro.I understand the workings of different end-users and their device requirements. I try to save them time, which saves the company money and makes our employees happier and more productive.
Service Owner: Service Desk OutsourcingI outsource the work to an external service provider and ensure that sanctions are imposed if customer satisfaction scores (CSAT) do not reach the level agreed upon two years ago.We add experience values to our contracts as XLAs, which are rewarded when they exceed the expectations of our end-users. I work with them to ensure that this happens.
Service Desk ManagerI discuss escalated cases in our team meetings and ensure that the entire team adheres to the defined SLAs. My concern is not the end-user.I share all experience data in real-time with all colleagues in the service desk. 75% of it is positive, and I know that I have a positive influence on my colleagues' motivation. Employee satisfaction is directly related to end-user experience, and I can prove that with data. We can also talk to service owners about how their service is perceived, showing that it is not only the service desk responsible for it.
IT Department (including Service Desk Agents)I make sure "the light is on" and the systems are running. I hate it when end-users complain because they don't understand that I can't help them.I come to work every day to provide our employees with the most productive IT solutions so that they can serve our external customers well.
End users - the company's employeesThey just want to get rid of me. It's always my fault.They are there for me and help me. The feedback I give is appreciated and used to improve IT services.

The lineup illustrates that the transition from SLAs to XLAs affects the thinking and working methods of all parties involved - both IT and business - and will ultimately make all parties - both IT and business - more efficient and productive, and significantly increase job satisfaction - both IT and business.

XLA Implementation in Reality

The following practical examples illustrate the results that can be achieved with the use of Experience Level Agreements.

Ahlstrom-Munksjö, a globally leading provider of fiber-based materials (including specialty papers), has been adopting the XLA concept since 2018. As internal analyses show, the company was able to increase end-user satisfaction by 150% from October 2019 to 2021, while simultaneously measuring 57% less downtime for end-users.

Reckitt, a global manufacturer of cleaning products and household goods, sought a way to transition from CSAT and ad-hoc surveys to systematic use of IT experience data. In 2019, the company introduced formal XLAs with its IT service providers to jointly focus on the user experience.

Reckitt succeeded in increasing end-user satisfaction by 52% and reducing lost time due to IT incidents by an average of 51 minutes per ticket. For a company that registers over 300,000 tickets annually, this translates to over 250,000 hours of lost employee productivity per year.

XLAs as an integral part of klaricore

At the BizOps Forum Masterclass in October 2023, we introduced klaricore, our self-developed SaaS solution for SLA management and KPI reporting, to the public for the first time. Since we are convinced of the benefits of the Experience Level Agreement concept, XLAs will also be an integral part of klaricore. 

If you would like to learn more about it, please contact your representative at amasol.