Reading a standard service level agreement can be as dull and confusing as reading the fine print on your checking account agreement. However, understanding the way a maintenance firm operates will help you eliminate those that do not line-up with your business’ needs. To get a quick overview, review the standard operating procedures of the firm. This enables you to understand the type of service the company provides and quickly compare it to other firms.
Having too many SLAs makes tracking and discussing performance more difficult and tedious. - CIO from IDG
Allow coterminous agreements.
In contracts, the word coterminous is used to describe things that are equal in scope, extent, or length. Providers that allow coterminous agreements give flexibility to their clients. You can proactively and reactively add or remove equipment to or from an existing contract by merely providing notice. When equipment is removed, you will receive a credit. When equipment is added, the new equipment maintains coverage and end dates that are consistent with all hardware on the agreement.
OEM’s and independent network maintenance providers that do not allow coterminous agreements force clients to sign new contracts, with new dates and new terms, each time a piece of equipment is added. Additionally, equipment cannot be removed from an agreement, even if the hardware is retired.
Allow service contract customization.
Think of going to a restaurant and being told that you can only order a steak if you also buy an appetizer and a drink. That is how many IT support providers structure service agreements. Clients are only permitted to purchase the highest levels of technical assistance center (TAC) support if purchasing next day hardware replacement coverage. Alternatively, these providers may require clients to buy four-hour hardware replacement to be permitted to purchase a faster or more available TAC response. There are many examples of these if/then purchase options that limit access to support opportunities.
To avoid over-coverage (and overspending) in one area simply to gain access to the coverage needed in another area, look for network maintenance providers that allow service agreement customization. This will enable you to buy only the coverage you need without purchasing unnecessary and expensive options.
Only 20 to 25% of clients actively use SLAs that are distinguished by clear, simple language and a tight focus on the needs and wants of the business. – CIO from IDG
Match SLA terminology to the client.
It is likely that your organization has set of terms used to describe internal IT ticketing priorities. Some companies use P1, P2, P3, and P4 and rank from highest to lowest. Other may use severity codes one through three, with three being the least severe and one being the most severe.
When developing a new SLA, it is critical that everyone speak the same language. Partner with a maintenance provider that adjusts the contract to match your internal priority definitions. Mapping your internal terminology to your agreement allows you to avoid confusion and eliminates the need to re-train your staff to speak in the language of your service agreement.
‘Do not deny service’ policy.
Have you ever had an IT crisis, contacted your service provider and only then learned that the malfunctioning equipment is not covered under your current agreement?
The last thing you want in a moment of IT crisis is to be routed to the sales department. However, maintenance providers without a ‘do not deny’ policy have no other options.
A quality ‘do not deny’ policy states that if any client with an active contract contacts the firm for support, they will be treated as if the equipment is covered until told otherwise by a contract administrator or decision-maker within the client’s organization. This means that the team immediately begins troubleshooting and restoring service while the sales team reaches out to resolve the contract discrepancy.
‘Do not deny’ policies significantly increase uptime and reduce frustration by placing the priority on restoration and not on sales.
‘Issue a reasonable replacement’ policy.
How soon can you receive your hardware replacement? Even contracts with a four-hour hardware replacement guarantee can result in next-day replacements when not handled correctly. Troubleshooting a network and determining hardware failure can take hours. As a result, the maintenance provider may not diagnose equipment failure for hours, extending downtime.
Independent maintenance providers with an ‘issue a reasonable replacement’ policy ship replacement hardware as soon as it is determined that hardware failure is even a possible root cause while continuing to troubleshoot and attempt restoration. If functionality is restored, the hardware is routed back to the service provider. If functionality is not restored, the equipment often arrives ahead of the guaranteed time, not after.
To further decrease downtime associated with waiting for replacement parts, look for a provider that matches shipping cutoff windows to your local time. For example, instead of working with a cutoff window of 3:00 PM EST for your Los Angeles office, matching shipping cutoff time zones means that technical issues encountered after lunch may still receive same day hardware replacement.
Dividing an SLA into different performance levels, such as basic, enhanced or premium [allows] CIOs to easily weigh the resource and cost trade-offs required to achieve different levels of support - Alexandra Whitehead, VP G2R, Inc.
Allow the client to control escalation.
Many service providers require clients to go through a painful ticket escalation process with no escape hatch. This means that the client must complete all of the troubleshooting steps instructed of them by TAC before moving on to higher-levels of technical support, even in the highest priority cases. Any troubleshooting steps taken before initiating the service ticket must be redone, and resolutions that your internal engineers know will not resolve the problem must be attempted.
To avoid this, look for a service provider that allows clients to upgrade or downgrade ticket severity without approval from the service provider. This prevents you from waiting for the service you need and keeps you in control of your support.
Independent IT network maintenance providers vary greatly. Finding the right balance of service, support, and customization allows you to build a service level agreement that matches your business needs without overspending on unnecessary coverage or increasing downtime.