What Tier Is It?

July 3rd, 2017 | Posted by Don Boylan in Incident Management | Service Level Management

Wow, I can’t believe the amount of stir there is around this topic. Why is there so much confusion? Organizations try to put ridiculous rules, that are for the most part poorly defined and even more poorly enforced, around how critical their IT Services are to the operation of the organization.

  • Does it affect customers’ experience? If so, then it’s a Tier 1 Service!
  • Is it related to sales? Lost sales mean Tier 1!
  • Are executives affected? Our executives only use Tier 1 Services!
  • Is it an enterprise utilized Service? Enterprise = Tier 1!

No, no, no, and no.

None of these measures mean anything.

There are multiple arguments around whether a Service should be defined as Tier 1. Most of those arguments boil down to one thing: Politics.

Tier 1 Services are by definition the most important and need the most funding, staffing, support efforts, etc. so everyone wants to have their Services defined as Tier 1. i.e. The Director who has the most Tier 1 Services wins.

Or it’s the case where the person with the most political weight have their Incidents prioritized as the highest priority. “If my email is down then email damn well better be a Tier 1 application! Oh, your application is down? Well, that can wait.”

At the end of the day if every Service is Tier 1, then effectively, nothing is Tier 1.

For the support organization responsible for fixing Incidents, other measures are applied:

  • How much work will there be?
  • How much will this affect my other projects?
  • Will fixing this issue garner me any favor with my superiors?

Again, none of these mean anything as to the true Tier of the Service.

The only thing you need to know about a Service to determine its Tier is who gets notified when it goes down.

  • Tier 1 Service = Notify the CEO
  • Tier 2 Service = Notify the Service Owner’s Directors
  • Tier 3 Service = Notify the Service Owner’s Managers
  • Tier 4 Service = Notify the Service Owner and Service’s Subject Matter Experts

Because really this is what it is all about. Tier 1 Services should be those that can make or break a corporation’s ability to function.

If you own a Service that is so critical to the organization’s operations that when it goes down, the company’s CEO needs to be informed (24/7), then you own a Tier 1 Service. If you aren’t willing to march into the CEO’s office and tell them when a critical component of their organization’s operation has failed, and that their company is potentially going to suffer significant disruption if it isn’t fixed, then perhaps you don’t have the “right stuff” to be a Tier 1 Service Owner.

This definition also helps when negotiating with Service Owners about how their Service should be defined. Let’s look at a conversation between the Service Level Manager and a Service Owner for an on-line retailer:


Service Level Manager: “Hello Service Owner. Next we want to discuss your Service’s Tier. We have four Tiers for Services.

  • Tier 1 Services are critical to the company and cannot withstand any significant downtime e.g. Website or credit card processing
  • Tier 2 Services support significant aspects of the organization and need to be recovered as quickly as possible e.g. Email or inventory reconciliation
  • Tier 3 Services are important but have minimal impact to the company’s operation for brief interruptions e.g. Shipping or Customer Service operations
  • Tier 4 Services can withstand a day’s outage without significant negative impact e.g. Fax services or project time tracking

What Tier do you think your Service should be defined as?”

Service Owner: “Well my Service is a Tier 1 Service!”

Service Level Manager: “Ok, let me write that down. You realize that means when it goes down at 2am on Sunday we are, by policy, going to have to send a page the CEO’s personal cell phone.”

Service Owner: “Wait a minute, maybe it’s only a Tier 2 Service. Who do you page when a Tier 2 Service goes down?”


So if your organization adopted this method to define your Service Tiers, how many Tier 1 Services would you have? How often would they go down?

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