UK business are failing to accurately measure the performance of their IT systems, according to a report released today.

Research conducted by YouGov found that 21 percent of businesses don’t use service level agreements (SLAs) to measure whether IT systems deliver the promised level of performance. The most commonly cited reasons for not using them were that agreements are too difficult to negotiate and too time-consuming to operate.

Even where companies do use SLAs, YouGov found that many agreements only measured very basic technical performance levels. For example, 68 percent of IT directors surveyed said that their SLAs measured basic metrics such as overall uptime or data throughput rates.

This type of agreement could expose companies to unnecessary risks, said Thomas Mendel, a senior analyst with Forrester Research. Without measuring the full performance of IT systems, companies can’t hope to have a full picture of their business performance.

Inadequate SLAs also mean that companies could be enforcing agreements that don’t deliver any additional benefits, he added: "It’s important that companies monitor service quality and report on that data, but only where the underlying IT infrastructure can be mapped to the business process," he said.

The findings show that IT directors are wasting time and resources on SLAs that don’t properly meet their needs, argues Sean Larner, European general manager of Managed Objects, which commissioned the research. "Businesses are right to insist on setting SLAs but often they don’t have the tools to create SLAs that are effective," Rather than specifying uptime of a particular server, for example, an effective SLA would specify the performance of email communications, says Larner.

The report also comes just a week after a survey by Dynamic Markets revealed that 70 percent of IT managers only learn that their network isn't performing properly when they are contacted by users, and nearly a third only notice a problem when it crashes.

Managed Objects has recently launched a new version of its business service level management (BSLM) tool, which allows IT directors to convert technical performance data into a report analysing the effect on specified business functions or goals. The advantage of this technology over conventional service level management systems is that the analysis is automated and transparent, Managed Objects says.

However, there are obstacles to creating business-focused SLAs. The YouGov research found that 30 percent of UK IT directors believe that the board would not be interested in this type of SLA because "the board thinks the IT department is incapable of seeing beyond the server room".

In addition, vendors may not be willing to adapt standard SLAs for smaller customers, where the contract is of a lower value. Business-focused SLAs might also be problematic where business services depend on more than one underlying IT system, Larner admitted. "Traditionally, vendors and customers haven’t been able to have this kind of dialogue because the information hasn’t been there. However, once customers start pushing for this kind of relationship, it will be a powerful source of competitive advantage," he said.