How XLAs Provide a Clearer Measure of Success for IT Initiatives

Forrester report highlights the benefits and challenges of experience-level agreements, and best practices to consider

Although experience-level agreements (XLAs) are still a relatively new concept, they’re getting plenty of buzz among forward-thinking IT organizations.

After all, XLAs work differently than traditional service-level agreements (SLAs), focusing on value outcomes rather than technical outputs. Each one can be tailored to the needs, goals, and desired business outcomes of organizations. They can also be a massive opportunity for enterprises that struggle to provide quality end-user experience (EUX) and meet the demands of modern digital environments.

Especially in the today’s work climate, where employees are no longer bound to the office and must depend on technology to work from anywhere, employee experience is key to attracting and retaining talent, according to a new Forrester report on XLAs.1 It’s not enough to just measure the uptime of a service — it’s critical to know how that service impacts end users, productivity, and the overall business, too.

“As organizations modernize their tech stack to better align to employee needs, they’re realizing that the traditional way of using service-level agreements (SLAs) to measure success of their technology initiatives no longer suffices in the age of demanding, tech-savvy employees.”

Andrew Hewitt, Bill Martorelli, et al, Forrester Research, Inc., November 10, 2021

That’s where XLAs come in. But before IT teams start overhauling their operations, here are a few insightful takeaways from Forrester’s report, Best Practices: Embrace Experience-Level Agreements (XLAs).

SLAs Alone Aren’t Enough

Despite being a traditional part of IT service management (ITSM) for decades, SLAs alone can’t fully manage complex workplaces. In fact, Forrester’s XLA report — which includes Forrester Analytics Business Technographics® Workforce Survey, 2021, data and interviews — points out that SLAs:

  • Fail to measure employee’s daily experiences.
  • Leave IT blind and reactive to experience issues.
  • Create a race to the bottom for workplace service providers that are unable to differentiate themselves.


Best Practices: Embrace Experience-Level Agreements (XLAs)
XLAs Improve Traditional SLAs But Require a Thoughtful Approach


That’s because a typical process-focused SLA is designed only to measure availability, serviceability, and reliability of technology. It doesn’t take into account the frustration end users might feel, the effect on productivity, and the impact on business outcomes. This causes what’s commonly referred to as the Watermelon Effect, where everything seems good and green on the outside but red and messy on the inside, according to Forrester’s XLA report and also noted in Lakeside’s own XLA e-book, “Inside the Watermelon: How XLAs Deliver a Full Measure of Digital Employee Experience.”

For example, a traditional SLA to reduce help ticket volume might be a technical success with fewer tickets, higher first-contact resolution, and faster mean time to resolution (MTTR), but that doesn’t necessarily mean a quality service was provided to end users.

“The easiest way to reduce your help desk tickets is to provide horrible service,” said Lakeside Software founder and Chief Strategy Officer Michael Schumacher, as quoted in Forrester’s XLA report. “That way, no one ever wants to call in.”

Filling in these blind spots requires an added measure — one that focuses on the human side of operations rather than just the technical.

Venn diagram graphic showing the differences and commonalities between SLAs and XLAs

Value-focused XLAs provide the perfect complement, concentrating on qualitative business outcomes by analyzing KPIs that influence end-user experience.

“Fundamentally, the XLA is all about putting employee experience at the center of your digital workplace strategy and defining success based how the technology improves or hinders EX,” the Forrester report states.

By using SLAs and XLAs together, organizations can get the full measure of their digital environments to improve operations as well as end-user experience.


Inside the Watermelon
How XLAs Deliver a Full Measure of Digital Employee Experience


XLAs Show Promise in Prioritizing EX

At its core, an experience-level agreement helps internal IT and managed service providers (MSPs) understand employee experience (EX) from their perspective and recognize opportunities for improvement.

Those advantages are promising for digital workplaces prioritizing digital employee experience, and have led Forrester to identify employee outcomes, ongoing satisfaction measurement, and benchmarking with real-time user experience as key ways XLAs reach beyond SLAs.

In the case of Lakeside client LexisNexis, for example, establishing XLAs allowed the organization to proactively predict problems and file service tickets on behalf of customers. After a year, about 5% of the logged incidents were filed proactively, and the current goal is to reach 20% by the end of this year.

Creating XLAs Can Be Challenging

Successfully creating and implementing XLAs takes more than just measuring a few end-user experience metrics. It requires organizations to adopt a completely different mindset, too, according to Marco Gianotten, founder and CEO of Giarte, a research and consulting agency pioneering digital empathy and XLAs.

“We have a problem with empathy in enterprise IT. We show more apathy than empathy,” Gianotten said during a session about XLAs during Lakeside’s DEXterity Virtual Conference 2021. “We need to see and feel IT from the users’ perspective, and that starts with empathy.”

In its XLA report, Forrester notes that XLAs need careful consideration as well as a foundational commitment to employee experience across the organization.

“XLAs require a thoughtful approach to implement correctly, especially when the XLA aims to quantify a difficult-to-measure, intangible business benefit, such as increased employee satisfaction or innovation.”

But there are undeniable challenges that can get in the way of successful XLAs, according to Forrester. Defining XLAs, interpreting them correctly, ensuring privacy, and preventing unintended consequences are among some of main obstacles.

So how can organizations avoid these pitfalls? Well, that depends on the scenario.

Planning, Technology Make the Difference with XLAs

When implementing experience-level agreements, there are two ways to go about it: Deploy them internally or leverage them using a managed service provider. And depending on the situation, the process for defining and building those XLAs can vary greatly.

To help organizations start these XLA journeys, here are a few best practices Forrester recommends for each scenario.

Deploying internal XLAs

Without assistance from an MSP, creating and monitoring internal XLAs can be tricky. It takes a few key elements — including resources, careful consideration, and an organization-wide commitment to improving digital experiences — to get XLAs off the ground successfully.

Organizations can start by assessing which tech solutions (such as enterprise service management (ESM), endpoint management, end-user experience management (EUEM), and more) they need, processes that will help fill in knowledge gaps, and expertise or staffing required to implement and manage XLAs. It’s also crticial that project leaders keep XLAs simple yet well defined, and focused improving digital employee experience (DEX).

Leveraging XLAs with MSPs

Although they most often deal in SLAs, MSPs can also be a good option for managing XLAs — especially for organizations that don’t have the budget to build out their own teams. Implementing XLAs with an MSP can be a good way to evaluate the relationship between an enterprise and its provider, too.

In this scenerio, however, it’s important to use XLAs and SLAs in tandem to deliver quality service, and to include objective data as well as subjective sentiment with XLAs for more accurate measure of service performance.

With these practical suggestions, organizations can start to build a fundamental understanding of employee experience, as well as how services impact productivity and business outcomes.

1. Best Practices: Embrace Experience-Level Agreements (XLAs), Andrew Hewitt, Bill Martorelli, et al, Forrester Research, Inc., November 10, 2021 ↩

Start Your XLA Journey with Lakeside

Discover how your organization can plan, implement, and monitor XLAs with help from our EUEM solution — the Digital Experience Cloud, powered by SysTrack. Request a demo today.

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