It's 2AM, systems are down and your IT services provider is fast asleep. If you don't have a clearly defined SLA from the outset, it could be you who's in for the nightmare.
Over the last several weeks my family and I have been living through some pretty substantial home improvement projects. The updates were needed and the results have turned out well so far, but the work has dragged on much longer than expected. In the majority of cases, the delays have had nothing to do with us. The contractor has continually run into problems, causing him to either show up late, need to leave early or sometimes, not show up at all. Added up, it has pushed the originally promised delivery time back nearly two weeks. It's made me wish I would have laid out some SLA terms with him before signing the contract.
Of course, SLAs, or Service Level Agreements, aren't typically included in the services we engage with in our personal lives. Good luck holding the restaurant liable for slow service, or the train operator for missing the arrival schedule. SLAs just aren't a factor in the majority of personal service transactions we encounter. If you're unhappy enough with the deliver of service, you simply don't use that provider again. There's no place for metrics and time guarantees on when exactly my morning paper will arrive or when the doctor will finally call me in from the waiting room... although, I do recall getting a free pizza or two after the thirty-minute mark threshold was crossed.
But SLAs are a part of the delivery of IT services. And if you're engaged with an IT Services Provider, it's important that you have a well defined one in place. Let's break down the key components of a Service Level Agreement and what IT leadership should do to ensure the business is covered.
The following is based, in part, on CIO's Service-Level Agreements 101 by Lauren Gibbons Paul
SLA metrics are the criterion defined between the customer and service provider which define the quantitative target(s) that must be achieved for the service provided. Failure to achieve these targets results in the service provider being liable to the customer for the prescribed remedy,
Examples of metrics include:
Response time- This is the amount of time the service provider must respond to service incidents and requests. Individual metrics are usually defined for the time for initial response, the time to plan a resolution, and the time for resolution delivery. These metrics may also be influenced by a severity prioritization schedule which each incident or request is categorized by.
Defect rates- These are counts or percentages that measure the errors in major deliverables, including number of production failures per month, number of missed deadlines, number of deliverables rejected (reworks), and so on.
Technical quality- In the case of outsourced application development, this includes measurements of the technical quality of application code, normally produced by commercial tools that look at items such as program size, degree of structure, degree of complexity and coding defects.
Service availability- This indicates the amount of time/window of time that the services managed by the outsourcer are available, ranging from online application availability to delivery of reports by a specified time of day. Measures can be reported positively or negatively and usually incorporate some level of tolerance (for example, online application availability 99 percent of the time between the hours of 8:00 am and 6:00 pm).
Service satisfaction- This relates to the client's level of satisfaction with the perceived level of service provided by the outsourcer captured for each major function through internal and/or external surveys. Ideally, these surveys are conducted periodically by a neutral third party. Although subjective, they are a good double check on the validity of the other SLA metrics.What are the typical up-time provisions for an IT network services provider?
When it comes to hosted network services, most companies will need at least 99 percent up-time; many providers will offer 99.9 percent up time or higher. It is important to understand exactly what this means, as 99.9 percent up-time equates to 43.2 minutes of unplanned downtime per month. For many enterprises, that level of availability is not acceptable. It is a common practice for a provider to offer nearly 100 percent up-time for certain business-critical applications, but you must be prepared to pay for this guarantee. Many providers offer different levels of up- time guarantees, priced accordingly.Should SLAs be review periodically?
In a word, yes. The service-level commitments contained in the SLA are developed from estimates of current and desired service levels that are subject to fluctuation. Accordingly, the SLA should be viewed as a dynamic document and should be periodically reviewed and changed when the following events occur: