In today’s “Back to Basics” blog post, we’re going to tackle yet another IT acronym: SLA.
Service-Level Agreement (SLA)
An SLA occurs between a vendor and a customer, establishing a contractual relationship among the service provider and end user. The SLA contains several metrics and descriptions of the provider’s specific services. These might include: application response time, performance benchmarks, warranties, and service availability. SLAs also include the penalty if a vendor fails to provide the required service.
When you purchase a software product, there are also contracts involved. However, the key difference between software contracts and SLAs is that an SLA involves continued levels of service beyond the purchase point. An example of an SLA usage: IT departments often use SLAs with internal customers, in this case the customers being internal end users. The SLA allows the organization to track and benchmark their quality of service, giving insight into when change and improvements are necessary.
SLA Management: Steps to Assessing SLA Performance
Without metrics, numbers are meaningless. Therefore, step one is creating numeric goals. This can be done by defining various service desk procedures in SLA terms, and measuring their performance against the set target performance goals. Here’s an example: SLA says that 95% of the time, in the occurrence of a high-priority problem, the problem should be assigned to a technician within one hour of the notification, and it should be resolved within 24 hours of notification. By setting this clear performance goal, the organization can periodically analyze their high-priority problem statistics and see if their resolution goals were indeed met at least 95% of the time.
So, let’s say your organization has successfully put metrics in place that allow you to assess your SLA performance. This is only one part of SLA management. The other part involves taking the assessment results and actually improving your SLA performance.
Improving SLA Performance
In the case when an SLA target isn’t met, it’s crucial to dig deep and find out why. This goes back to the topic of problem vs. incident management. Organizations must take a problem management mentality and understand why the goal failed to be met, how to put the organization back on track to meet its SLA goals, and how to prevent this type of failure from ever occurring again. Whether it’s something completely in your control like an understaffed service desk, or something out of your control like an array of unexpected incidents that disrupted operations, there can always be preventive measures taken to maximize the likelihood that your SLA goals are met in the future.
Two Sentence Summary: SLA
A service-level agreement is a contract signed between a service provider and customer. It clearly defines the parameters of the service to be provided, payment amount and frequency, and the penalty should either side breach the contract.
It’s pretty simple when you put it that way.
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