What is a Service Level Agreement and why are they important?
Time is money in today's high tech environment. When an organization has a lapse of service, even for an hour, it could cost the organization thousands of dollars in lost productivity and revenue. With the potential loss of revenue and productivity, many organizations are contracting IT support services with an internal, local or national company to provide services or monitoring over their networks.
With outsourcing so prominent, organizations need to protect themselves; this is where a Service Level Agreement, or SLA, comes into play. An SLA, is a legal binding contract between two parties, in which an internal or external IT Support Center provides service(s) to the second party for an agreed upon amount of money. When negotiating the SLA, the customer must consider the following:
What services will be provided?
With this trend, both the corporation and the IT Support Center must protect their own interests. The Support Center must find out what the customer is looking for in an agreement, decide if the request is possible, then negotiate with the customer for the best possible agreement for the two parties. The largest concern for the customer is seeing the dollar-to-support relationship and if they are getting good value for their money.
- Will the provider guarantee network connections at the customer's site?
- What availability is offered to the customer, i.e. 24/7 service or set times?
- What is available for the monthly fee? Is there a set number of calls or hours of support?
- Will there be any exclusions from the outlined SLA? What will the security be like, i.e. firewalls, virus detection, etc.?
- Who is responsible for changing/adding user access?
- Will the service be provided on-site, via phone or e-mail?
- What will the response time for each type of issue be?
- The providers network may fail, there is recourse, but what happens when the link to the providers network fails, whose responsibility is it to get you back up and running?
If setting up an internal SLA allocate the hours available per month, this will make tracking the "users of the resource" much easier.
How the performance of the services measured?
Is there an auditing software package in place with reporting capability to measure services?
How will the service provider ensure the utmost performance on issue resolution?
Are there incentives for the provider if they exceed the performance guidelines?
What are the ramifications of the vendor failing to deliver the stated services?
As a vendor, can you perform the tasks within a certain amount of time?
Over promising and not delivering is guaranteed to make the vendor/customer relationship strained. If your organization is a SLA provider, don't assume, ask exactly what the end user is looking for.
Will the service provider be fined for not meeting expectations?
In the unusual circumstance in which the service provider is not meeting the criteria set forth in the agreement, there should be a penalty enforced upon the service provider. This may consist of a fine or the cancellation of the agreement, which must be clearly stated in the final agreement.
Making the SLA work.
Once an agreement is signed, keeping the lines of communication open is a must. This insures all parties involved are in the loop and apprised of all situations - good and bad.
Once the above objectives are met, the end result is a long and prosperous relationship between the Support Center and the client.
If you are a Service Provider, there are Help Desk and IT Support software packages on the market to help you achieve your objective. These packages track service times by hour, per issue and by date, thus providing you with the tools needed to service the client. Whether you are purchasing or providing SLA's, the end result is quality customer service.
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