Crafting Realistic SLAs

Scott Calonico

When you report on performance against your service level agreements, you obviously want your clients to see good, consistent results.

The most crucial thing you can do to ensure this happens is to spend time ensuring that the SLAs you implement are realistic.

This may mean that you agree different SLAs with each of your clients rather than using a template SLA for all customers. Why this may make sense will soon become clear.

Before crafting an SLA, you should consider the following issues:

1.     Your Staffing Levels

The kind of service you can deliver, especially in terms of response and resolution time, will differ considerably based on your staffing levels. If, for example, you are a one or two-man-band, you are unlikely to be able to offer the same response time as a larger firm, as the larger firm probably has a team of people permanently manning a helpdesk.

2.     The Stability of the Client Network

Imagine two client infrastructures; one with nearly-new, well configured servers, multiple redundancy features and a tested disaster recovery solution, and another that it showing its age, with a fileserver that frequently falls over and various stability issues.

It makes little sense to agree to the same uptime percentage and resolution times on both networks, as achieving SLA targets on the first network would clearly be more realistic than achieving them on the second.

3.     The Client’s Working Practices

Every client works differently, and has different priorities. A traditional firm of accountants or surveyors may religiously work from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday and have no interest in home and remote working. A cutting-edge media company may have people hot-desking and logging on from airports, and require support during rather more unsocial hours.

As you can see, the same SLA is unlikely to be realistic for both of these companies.

Once you have a good idea of these factors, you are then in a position to discuss exactly what you can realistically offer to your customer.

Some compromises are likely to be necessary. Only the largest firms can offer high quality, 24/7 support; businesses that need it also need to be ready to pay for it. It is vital to only offer what you can deliver – this will save heartache and potential for disagreement further down the line.

Don’t be afraid to be honest with customers if shortcomings within the infrastructure mean that you can’t offer the kind of resolution times and uptime percentages they feel they need. For example, if they have a server on a warranty where replacement parts don’t arrive until the next business day, you cannot promise a four-hour resolution time.

Clients must be aware of the “what if” scenarios. If they then decide that their business would rather risk a day of down-time than spend money on superior hardware or warranties, it is their decision, and the SLA can reflect it.

By getting these things out in the open at an early stage, it can then be easy to work out the numbers and percentages and ensure that SLAs are truly realistic.