The Future of Service Desks with Experience Level Agreements (XLAs)

  • April 17, 2023

The IT service desk has been about for almost 30 years, originating from the emergence of desktop computing, which propelled the significance of the IT help desk. Initially, IT support teams used some help desk tools, but these relied heavily on conventional approaches to address employee needs. However, technology and implementing ITIL process-based perspectives have evolved. This evolution has led to the development of a more sophisticated IT Service Desk and management that prioritizes achieving business outcomes.

The current levers of service desk operations

Organizations have continued to add new ITSM capabilities in response to rising demand for speedy issue resolution. Regardless of their scale or maturity level, most service desk operations now include the following:

  • Always-on support, which provides consistent support across all communication channels, such as email, phone and chat.
  • Self-service capabilities, which offer proactive employee services to reduce ticket volume and minimize downtime.
  • Workflow automation, which streamlines service desk administration by automating business processes.
  • Service orchestration capabilities that use standard templates for service lifecycle management.
  • Knowledge management capabilities that make organizational memory accessible to a wider team.
  • AI-enabled IT support capabilities, which incorporate predictive analytics, intelligent portals and chatbots to provide 24/7 support with the right balance of digital and human interaction.

To track the performance of IT service desks, SLAs have traditionally measured metrics, such as the time it takes for services to be delivered and incidents to be resolved. KPIs, including ticket volume trends, response time, first-call resolution time, mean time to resolution and cost-per-ticket, are often used to evaluate these metrics. Despite consistently achieving — or exceeding — defined KPIs, the service desk's performance doesn't always translate into increased employee satisfaction or a better overall experience. This disparity is particularly noticeable when service desk operations are heavily reliant on remote resolutions in a hybrid work environment. Optimizing the IT service desk to improve the experience remains a key challenge, despite incorporating advanced technologies such as omnichannel support, workflow automation and service orchestration capabilities.

Advanced service desk operations powered by XLAs

The evolution of IT service desk operations leads to the adoption of Experience Level Agreements (XLAs) in place of, or in conjunction with, traditional SLAs. XLAs focus on experience-related targets and enable organizations to assess the IT service desk's performance in meeting business and employee needs and related outcomes. Implemented effectively, XLAs can significantly bridge the gap between expectations and perceptions. Metrics that only show that defined service targets have been met don't fulfill their purpose of improving both operations and outcomes. While most service desks already have performance metrics in place, XLAs must focus on measuring the most critical indicators from an outcomes and experience perspective that align with organizational goals and employee satisfaction.

How to move ahead

  1. Adopt top-down approach — Business leaders from various functions should engage key business services stakeholders to define the XLAs-based KPIs based on business priorities. They should observe the friction factors of employees through surveys and interviews. Infrastructure and operations leaders can then map them to respective IT enablers that measure performance of relevant IT services. Leaders should agree with these KPIs to deliver business success and align with IT goals.
  2. Define XLAs & KPIs with the organization’s maturity level — Every organization is unique and so should be the KPIs considering the organization’s maturity level. A less mature, operationally structured organization will have limited resources and lack the technology to measure, report and take the necessary actions to improve. Defining KPIs without considering maturity levels can lead to undesirable outcomes and less productivity.
  3. Measures based on channel effectiveness — Omnichannel user support operations will always have the right balance of human and digital interactions, and employee satisfaction differs across different support channels. It's critical to measure performance separately for different channels as employee expectations and experiences will vary. Organizations must leverage insights from data to measure the experience across different channels. NTT DATA’s Digital Experience Manager can quantitatively demonstrate the organization’s real-time experience across channels and how they can improve the employee experience by highlighting corrective measures.
  4. Setup KPI governance and continuous improvement model — Time-to-time check of performance against ITSM KPIs will make sure defined objectives are met. Stakeholders can maintain periodic reports aligned with their business objectives. Establishing a formal KPI governance will also provide continuous improvement and stay relevant by revalidating IT goals with business goals. Governance frequency can be flexible based on the target to deliver results. Consider using NTT DATA’s Command Center for Service Desk which helps in visualizing comparisons between targeted vs actual service quality, operational cost savings, and improvement recommendations for service desk operations.

Time to pivot

With employees working in diverse locations, the IT service desk must pivot from being reactive to leveraging tools that can take proactive actions to reduce or avoid issues altogether. At the same time, it's critical to ensure the employee experience isn't compromised. Moving to an XLA based operating model, organizations can track how well their IT service desk is truly delivering a first-class employee experience and enabling clients to deliver business outcomes.

Read the 2023 Gartner® Magic Quadrant™ for Outsourced Digital Workplace Services report and learn more about NTT DATA’s capabilities about advanced service desk operations.

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Vishal Brown Headshot
Vishal Brown

Vishal is the Chief Evangelist and Dynamic Workplace Leader at NTT DATA with over 20 years of industry experience. Focused on elevating the employee experience and productivity, he brings modern workplace expertise and leverages AI, automation, machine learning to enable the digital workplace ecosystem.


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