So you’re looking to work with an IT provider and you keep seeing the term SLA banded about. But what is an SLA? The acronym means Service Level Agreement but just to confuse you, SLA can be used to describe two different aspects regarding contracts. It is often used as an alternative title for the terms of the contract, so each element of the agreement you have with a provider, explaining the exact services they will provide to you.
However, in this instance, we will discuss the more common use of SLA in the MSP (Managed Services Provider) world. If you work with an IT provider or are looking to outsource your IT, it is more likely that you will come across an SLA in this guise. It will outline the standard of service you can expect, response times and how your IT issues will be prioritised.
But what does it mean?
It’s all very well having a document making promises but what is the significance of an SLA and what does it actually mean for your business?
Firstly, it is an industry standard document. It is the foundation of what a good IT provider sets out to do. To fix your IT problems quickly and efficiently and minimise any downtime.
It is generally presented as a set of timings based on the severity of the issue and represents the provider’s ability to respond accordingly.
It is also the standard by which you can raise any concerns about the service. If the provider has promised to deliver within the time frames and they don’t, you have a document to refer to as part of any discussions.
Why is it important for your business?
• It defines the relationship you have with your IT provider. You both understand and have agreed from the start what is expected of them.
• It helps you and your teams understand how IT issues will be dealt with and in what timescale.
• Gives you confidence in the provider to meet the needs of your business and fix issues within your agreed timelines.
• Gives you some guarantees and some comeback if you feel that your IT provider are not delivering on their promises.
Standard v’s customised SLA’s
Most Managed Service Providers will have a standard SLA that they work to. If you have more specific needs then you may be able to negotiate these standards prior to agreeing to work with them.
However if you feel that the SLA presented to you by any IT provider doesn’t already meet your needs then question if they are the right partner for you.
What is not included in an SLA?
You will need to refer to your individual providers SLA document to be clear but there are often some elements that are not covered under an SLA agreement.
This can generally refer to the hours covered so make sure you check if the SLA only refers to your standard hours of support. If your support contract only covers 9-5pm each day, bear in mind that any issues that arise over a weekend for example may be dealt with under a different set of terms.
How does an IT provider prioritise an issue?
It’s human nature to want an issue fixed there and then but every IT provider will follow a procedure to assess the severity and establish the priority level.
This is a standard approach and adopted by most good IT providers. When you log a ticket, the helpdesk will ask a series of questions to ascertain the severity and the impact of this issue, in particular how many people it is affecting.
It’s generally a sensible assessment to make sure that a server offline which has left the whole business unable to work is given a higher level of priority than one user needing a printer installed.
Response times v’s resolution time
It’s important to understand the difference between response time and resolution times. Although most IT providers will guarantee their response times and provide you with an estimate in terms of resolving issues, it is sometimes impossible to ascertain how long a serious issue could take to resolve.
Here is an example of a Service Level Agreement priority table which shows resolution time targets once the priority has been decided.
|Who is affected?||Standard||Medium||High||Critical|
|Priority Level||Priority Description||Target Resolution
(examples of priority levels)
|1||Critical System Outage||3||The business is non-operational.|
|2||Urgent Problem||5||Multiple users have an issue with a system that is having a severe impact on the business.|
|3||Escalated Problem||7||Multiple users have an issue with a system that is causing business disruption.|
|4||Standard Problem||12||Multiple users have issues with a system.|
|5||Standard Incident||25||Single user has an issue with system.|
|6||Standard Request||100||Non urgent request for a single user.|
Working in partnership
Although SLA’s are an important part of your agreement with your IT provider. They are no replacement for establishing a strong relationship with them from the start.
Good, regular communication with your provider will ensure you are all working towards the same goals and that any issues that arise are dealt with efficiently and within a timeline that works for your business.
Things to remember
• Ask for an IT providers SLA (Service Level Agreement)
• Make sure you understand it and if not, take the opportunity to ask the provider to clarify it early on.
• Check the hours that the SLA covers. Is there an alternative SLA for out of hours?
• Makes sure everyone in your organisation understands the SLA for your provider. This will help manage expectations regarding response times.