An Ethnographic Study of SLA Enactment

Conference Paper
Stern, Andrea
Davis, Joseph
2015, March
Published in: 
The 23rd European Conference on Information Systems (ECIS 2015)
Published in: 
Munster, Germany
Service level agreements (SLAs) for complex IT-intensive business-to-business (CITI-B2B) services are high-level representations of services to be enacted, with predominantly quantifiable performance targets. Inevitably, there is a gap between this representation and the nuanced practices of enactment adapting to emergent conditions over time. Overarching terms in the master agreement anticipate this gap; however, the nature of practices that manage that gap is not well understood. This study aims to develop a deeper understanding of these everyday practices to identify potential areas for improving value realisation in SLA enactment. We conducted a long-term ethnographic study of the enactment of an SLA by a global IT provider and global financial services company, framed by relational theory of contract. Our analysis showed the gap was bridged by a cycle of enactment in which emergent conditions triggered relational interactions among participants, culminating in decisions to adapt the terms of the SLA in pursuit of value realisation. Further, our analysis showed that this cycle is enabled by informal mechanisms of learning, negotiating, and adapting that we refer to collectively as relational capability, which is amenable to representation. Exploiting this capability and the information pro-duced during the cycle of enactment could enable the transformation of SLAs as evolving learning instruments.