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Understanding Service-Level Agreements (SLAs) in IT Support

In a number of fields that involve the outsourcing of outside vendors, including IT and tech support areas, the use of what's known as an SLA, or service-level agreement, is common. An SLA lays out all the expectations of the vendor, including any metrics that will define their performance, plus what will happen if these expectations are not met in the proper ways.

At Onward Technology, we're proud to offer a wide range of managed IT and support services to our clients throughout Utah, with programs provided to schools and numerous other organizations. We regularly utilize SLAs as part of our agreements with clients, ensuring you're protected and have legal documentation of our partnership. What are the elements of an SLA our clients should be aware of, and what are some common metrics often included in them? Here's a basic primer.

Common Elements of an SLA

Typically, there are four sections to a standard SLA:

  • Service-level objectives: A basic outline of the scope of work from the provider, plus plans for how to measure performance.
  • SLA services list: A list of deliverables or actions expected from the provider.
  • Conflict resolution process: A path for dealing with disputes between the provider and client.
  • Consequences for poor performance: This section covers a number of potential consequences, including both fines and credits.

Important Metrics to Monitor

As we noted above, an SLA will include certain metrics that help track the performance of the provider. Within the world of IT support and managed IT, here are some of the important metrics to consider including:

  • Service availability
  • Defect rates
  • Security quality
  • Business results

Simple But Specific

When determining the specific metrics and KPIs (key performance indicators) to include in an SLA, it's important to be as specific as possible -- without creating confusion regarding what you expect. For example, if you state "time-to-repair will always be less than four hours," what is the basis for that measurement? If we're tracking time from when a user calls in and then gets an answer on their support ticket, that's three different metrics: time to open a case, time to resolve a case, and time to first response.

The goal is always to link back specific SLA performance metrics to the areas of value they're creating within the business. Over time, you should be able to link back your SLAs to these specific benefits, making them invaluable for both you and your provider.

Provider Defines the SLA Process

The primary driver of whether your SLA process will be smooth and simple or perhaps more arduous: The vendor you're working with. A quality vendor with a good reputation and a long track record in the industry will allow for a nice, easy process, where you can work together to determine the metrics and KPIs most important to your business.

A provider that has little experience in the IT industry or doesn't have an understanding of what is specific to your organization may not be able to meet that need with ease. If you're experiencing troubles with your current SLA process, it's likely due to issues with the company or entity you're working with -- and you should consider upgrading.

For more on service-level agreements within the IT and tech support world, or to learn about any of our managed IT solutions, speak to the staff at Onward Technology today.

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