SLAs 101: How to Get the Best Support From Your IT Provider
Service-Level Agreements (SLA) are common in the Information Technology (IT) industry. They are typically used to define the level of services and their availability provided by one party to another party. SLAs are even used by companies to define how one department – the IT department, for example – will provide service to another department.
When it comes to outsourcing IT services to a Managed Service Provider (MSP), there is typically a written contract between the MSP and the customer. This is a Master Services Agreement (MSA). In addition, the schedules in the MSA provide for specific SLAs that define details of the agreement in terms of what is covered, how, when and by whom.
Robert Frost said, “Good fences make good neighbors.” In a similar way, “Good SLA make good partners.” The following topics are intended to help you understand the components SLAs and to guide your discussions with your MSP to ensure you are getting the best support.
Definition of the services to be provided
This should clearly define the services to be provided. Ensure there is enough detail so that it is clear what is within the scope of the agreement and what is outside the scope of the agreement. A well written agreement will detail specific services which are in scope and out of scope. If the list is definitive it’s likely anything not listed is considered out of scope, make sure that both you and the MSP agree to the specific items that are most important to your business.
Reliability and responsiveness of the provided services
The terms “reliability” and “responsiveness” help define the overall quality of the services to be provided and can be used interchangeably so understand what is being promised.
The reliability of the service defines how often and how long the service will be available.
- “Uptime” is a common measurement of reliability that is intended to describe the percentage of time that the service will be available to potential consumers of the service.
- Uptime is typically used to measure network, power and other specific items that may be provided by a hosting provider but should be a red flag if a service provider guarantees uptime or time to resolution.
- Typically service SLAs define the time to start work on resolving an issue and are measured in hours.
- An example of responsiveness is how long it takes an order to be placed when the “submit” button is clicked on a web page (seconds) or when product will arrive following an order (days)
- When you are negotiating responsiveness for your SLA, be sure to define if you are looking at average responsiveness, or a maximum commitment from the provider.
- Make sure that whatever measurement you choose is the one that provides your team and users with the best value.
Monitoring & Reporting
One of the most critical aspects of the SLA is determining how success will be measured and monitored. Begin by defining the key metrics that will be measured, and how often they will be measured. Is a quarterly or annual business renew more appropriate for your needs? How often will you revisit the arrangement and what kind of reporting is available from the provider?
Work with your MSP to define who will provide reports, to whom they will be provided and what you expect to get out of the reporting. Having reports generated won’t do much good if you don’t plan to review them. Often pulling numbers over a longer period is best as it provides a fuller picture not just a snapshot of a particularly busy month.
A good Service-Level Agreement defines the scope of the agreement using terms that both parties can understand and agree upon. It also defines who is responsible for each aspect of the agreement and who will provide the reporting to show both parties that things are working as desired. One of the key factors in quality management is measuring how you are doing against your plan. Your Service-Level Agreements are tools you can use to measure the success of your MSA and to ensure that your managed services provider is providing the services you need in a timely manner.