What is a Service Level Agreement (SLA)?
Find out what a service level agreement (SLA) is and the growing importance as businesses increasingly turn to external suppliers.
It’s important that there are clear definitions of what is to be provided; the obligations of parties on both sides; and the standards of performance the supplier is expected to meet.
A service level agreement (SLA) is the document that puts all of this down in black and white so that both sides know what to expect. Now we’ve established the basics of what is a service level agreement? we need to look at the sort of things it is used for and what it needs to include.
Where are SLAs used?
You’ll most commonly encounter service level agreements in the provision of business services. This can range from office services through to accountancy, but they are particularly found in IT services such as leased lines and internet connections.
The importance of SLAs in providing telecoms and computing services is that they can define key aspects including the connection speed. They can also govern the time taken to resolve problems, contention ratios on internet connections, system uptimes, availability and more. For this reason, SLAs are most commonly encountered in technology services.
What needs to be included in a service level agreement?
So, when it comes to the things you need to include, just what is a service level agreement? And what should it cover? The SLA is there to set out customer expectations. It does this by specifying metrics in various areas to allow the service to be measured against the agreement.
Here are some of the things you might expect to see:
- Uptime and availability – this sets out the percentage of time the customer can expect that services will be available.
- Performance benchmarks – measurements against which the service provider can be compared to see if it’s meeting the provisions of the agreement.
- Response time – in the case of cloud applications, the time in which the software should deliver a response, this will usually be specified as a range.
- Notice of changes – the amount of advance warning the service provider must give before making any changes to the service that may affect users.
- Helpdesk services – this will set out the help desk service provided, together with response times that can be expected for different classes of problems.
- Statistics and reporting – defining the statistics and reports that the service provider will offer and the intervals at which they’ll be provided.
We don’t like to think about what happens when things go wrong, but in posing the question, what is a service level agreement? we need to cover the penalties and other enforcement options. It’s the job of the SLA to define what happens if the standards set out in the agreement aren’t met and what compensation will be available to the customer in the event of failure.
The SLA will also cover exclusions, for example, problems caused by the customer misusing the service, or events beyond the control of either party. Once again, it will set out what happens and what remedies are available in the event of such an occurrence.
When signing up for almost any IT or communications service, you will be presented with an SLA. It’s therefore vital that you look carefully at what’s included and ensure that it is in line with your expectations.
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